Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of parliament. The latest presidential election was held in 2015, and the president was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that the presidential election and parliamentary elections held in 2016 were free and fair, and the State Election Commission reported no major irregularities during the May European Parliament elections.

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. The president is commander in chief of the Armed Forces. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: intimidation and isolated instances of censorship of journalists; reports of acts of unjustified police violence targeting irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; corruption; and discrimination and violence towards members of ethnic minority groups, including Roma and Serbs.

The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) reported that lawsuits against journalists and media outlets were used as a form of censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and (the World War II regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences to malign influence.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On March 7, Office of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir expressed concern about a March 6 police visit to the online news portal Net.hr, ostensibly to verify the identity and home address of journalist Djurdjica Klancir. Ivo Zinic, the head of Sisak County and a member of the Croatian Democratic Union, had previously filed a private defamation lawsuit against Klancir, and Desir alleged the police visit was conducted to intimidate Klancir. Zinic denied having anything to do with the police incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, being sued, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

On September 16, Gordan Duhacek, a journalist for the online portal index.hr, was detained by police and later fined at Zagreb’s Misdemeanor Court for a July 2018 Twitter message that discussed police treatment of those arrested and contained an antipolice message. Duhacek also faced a court judgment for another tweet, a satirical rewrite of the lyrics of a patriotic song. The CJA labeled police treatment of Duhacek as intimidation. On September 17, OSCE representative Harlem Desir expressed concern about the case and stated, “Such treatment of journalists for their views is unacceptable. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and should be respected as such.” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said the arrest and fine for Duhacek “amount to pure intimidation of the press” and called on authorities to protect media freedom and avoid undue pressure on journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio Television (HRT), filed more than 30 lawsuits against its own and other journalists, including HRT journalist and CJA president Hrvoje Zovko, who complained of censorship at the HRT and was later dismissed from his position as HRT editor. On October 29, the Zagreb Labor Court found the HRT’s dismissal of Zovko illegal and ordered him reinstated. On March 2, several hundred journalists rallied in Zagreb against the curbing of media freedoms in the country. The CJA reported there were more than 1,000 ongoing lawsuits involving journalists or media outlets. The CJA viewed these lawsuits as attacks on the independence of the media. Responding to the CJA’s claims on February 6, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said, “Croatia is a free country with free media and free media ownership structure,” and “to say today that there is no media freedom in Croatia means that the person making this claim is neither reading the papers, listening to the radio, nor watching television.” On March 6, the OSCE’s Desir expressed his concern about the high number of lawsuits filed against journalists and outlets, claiming that defamation laws were being misused to intimidate journalists.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International and domestic NGOs and international organizations outside of the country such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported police pushbacks of migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers, attempting to enter the country illegally, particularly on the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and alleged border police subjected migrants to degrading and abusive treatment, including theft and destruction of migrants’ property during pushbacks. Human Rights Watch claimed that reported police pushbacks of migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina were illegal under international law. Amnesty International also reported police abuse of migrants and pushbacks. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic denied reports of migrant abuse. According to Bozinovic, the Ministry of the Interior received more than 200 complaints of alleged illegal and violent pushbacks of migrants, but, following investigations, found no evidence to support the allegations.

In March the ombudsperson received an anonymous complaint by a border police officer alleging that illegal mistreatment of migrants was ordered by police superiors. The ombudsperson notified the State Attorney’s Office and requested an independent investigation. In the absence of a response from the State Attorney’s Office, in June she notified parliament. The Ministry of the Interior ultimately dismissed those claims as unsubstantiated and inaccurate.

In November there were reports of two separate shootings of migrants by police, both resulting in injuries. In the first incident, police reported an Afghan migrant was shot accidentally when a police officer fired a warning shot. The officer evacuated the migrant, who was in critical condition, to a hospital. In the second incident, police reported a migrant was accidentally shot while resisting arrest. The investigation into the first shooting was completed in December and it was found to have been an accident. There was no additional information on the status of the victim. The investigation into the second shooting was ongoing at year’s end.

Interior Minister Bozinovic said the country encouraged and promoted strengthening legal pathways for persons in need of international protection and carried out an EU resettlement program for Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government in most cases cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. NGOs reported authorities at the borders between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina prevented some migrants from applying for international protection, although officials denied these reports.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government received 98 refugees and asylum seekers under the EU Resettlement Program, for a total of 250 refugees and asylum seekers since the program began in 2015. In accordance with decisions of the Council of the EU to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece, the government received an additional 81 asylum seekers and resettled 250 Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of September, the RHP had provided housing to 289 families (674 individuals) in the country.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of Interior reported that from January to December 11, the government provided asylum to 153 refugees who had a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to their home country. The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum and granted protection to one person during the year.

According to the last census, from 2011, there were 2,886 persons stateless or at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: The country last held national parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2015. European Parliament elections were held in May. According to observers, elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political processes, and they did participate. Representation of minorities is guaranteed by law. Minorities have eight guaranteed seats in the 151-seat parliament. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the 2016 elections, the electoral commission noted all major political parties fell short of this threshold.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several major corruption cases involving mayors, politicians, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were frequently overturned on appeal. Corruption remained a problem, and significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway.

Corruption: Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending. On May 23, the Supreme Court increased the corruption sentence of former prime minister Ivo Sanader to six years’ imprisonment, after prosecutors appealed an earlier four-and-a-half-year sentence from a lower court. Sanader was found guilty of assisting former Croatian Democratic Union member of parliament Stjepan Fiolic in a 2009 real estate deal that provided Sanader 17 million kuna ($2.6 million) in proceeds. Separate trials continued against Sanader on other corruption-related charges. On December 30, in one of these, the Zagreb County Court sentenced Sanader to a first instance appealable ruling of six years’ imprisonment for accepting a bribe of approximately $11 million during 2009 negotiations with Hungarian energy firm Hungarian Oil and Gas Public Limited Company, which was seeking management control of Croatian energy firm Oil Company, Public Stock Company.

The Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime launched an investigation into former administration minister Lovro Kuscevic, who, while mayor of a municipality on Brac Island, was suspected of initiating an unlawful change in the municipality’s urban plan as well as enabling his brother-in-law to buy a government-subsidized flat. He resigned as minister in July and returned to parliament, which later stripped him of immunity from prosecution. The investigation covered three other officials suspected of abuse of office, incitement to abuse, and giving false depositions. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires that public officials declare their assets and income, and government officials generally complied with this requirement. This information was available to the public. Fines are the penalty for noncompliance. During the year the Commission for Dealing with the Conflict of Interest fined two members of parliament, Ivan Sincic and Anka Mrak Taritas, and one state secretary, Zeliko Uhlir, for irregularities in their financial disclosure forms.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups sometimes operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues, however, reported police pressure. Two NGOs claimed their contracts to provide refugee services in asylum seeker reception centers were terminated due to their public criticism of police for alleged violence against migrants (see section 2.f.). Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, disabled persons, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases effectively enforced. A separate law provides misdemeanor sanctions for family violence. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment; the law provides for misdemeanor punishments and further protects victims’ rights. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. Six family members, including a 10-year-old child, were shot and killed in Zagreb by a 30-year-old man who later killed himself. Local media reported the suspect’s former wife and her partner were among the victims. In another high-profile case, police charged five suspects with raping and blackmailing a 15-year-old girl in the Vrsi municipality near the city of Zadar. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Domestic violence NGO #spasime (“Save me”) held protests in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split to show support for victims and demanded that the “system” adequately protect victims. Prime Minister Plenkovic attended the protest held in Zagreb, met with protest leaders afterward, and said he was ready to address the issue of domestic violence.

Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape. According to the 2018 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 10.7 percent since 2017; however, the same period saw an increase in the percentage of criminal acts committed against close family members, indicating the severity of domestic violence offenses.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, religion, inheritance, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. In practice, women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the consequence is death of a child. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. On February 28, a 54-year-old man threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home, significantly injuring one. Following the attack, all the victims were released to their mother. The father was detained for 30 days and indicted with a charge of attempted murder. Both parents were previously convicted in 2017 of child neglect. The ombudsperson for children reported that police and prosecutors generally were responsive in investigating such cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent (see Sec. 7.c.).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year, and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish community at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism, and some students reported bullying in schools. The January Holocaust Revisionist Report, a study examining how individual EU states deal with the legacy of involvement in or complicity with the Holocaust, pointed to the contemporary use of the wartime Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (“For the Homeland, Ready”), and to the government’s and the Croatian Catholic Church’s apparent unwillingness to address the roles of the state and the church in the Holocaust as issues. The report also noted that the country lacked a consensus about what happened at the concentration camp in Jasenovac. On January 24, the Catholic Church unveiled a large banner on the Zagreb Cathedral commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, “declared it unacceptable to permit the re-emergence of anti-Semitism.” Observers from minority religious groups noted that this was a conspicuous and positive gesture given complaints by minority groups that the Church minimized its complicated role in the country during the Holocaust.

The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism. For example, the NGO Simon Wiesenthal Center urged authorities to ban a book denying crimes committed by the country’s pro-Nazi regime during the Holocaust, saying the book “denies that mass murders of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croatian antifascists were carried out frequently in the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.” The book was not banned. The law imposes a maximum sentence of three years for creating or distributing printed material which incites violence or hatred against a group of persons based on religion and national or ethnic origin, or approves, denies or diminishes the crime of genocide.

On April 14, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac. The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council (SNV) and the Alliance of Antifascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the fourth year in a row and held their own commemorations on April 12. Jewish Community leaders said the separate commemoration was necessary due to the government’s “tacit approval” of the use of the Ustasha salute and increased revisionism regarding the history of the country’s World War II fascist regime. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Jasenovac memorial site on her own on April 13.

On August 14, media reported that the High Misdemeanor Court fined a singer who used the Ustasha-affiliated salute “Za Dom Spremni” in the performance of a popular nationalist song. The court stated that the salute conveys hatred toward persons of different races, religions, and ethnicities, and fined the singer 965 kuna ($150). The ruling contributed to a body of legal decisions that characterize the use of “Za Dom Spremni” as hate speech.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system or other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The 2018 Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities Report stated that the government inspected state care facilities for persons with disabilities and found cases of use of questionable forms of restraint, including separation and physical restraint, but no human rights violations were recorded. The ombudsperson, however, remarked that the findings proved that certain state facilities’ protocols for restricting the behavior of persons with disabilities violated the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced hate speech, graffiti, physical assaults (including an assault against Serbian seasonal workers) and significant discrimination in employment registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia, and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and war crimes cases.

On August 21, masked assailants wielding clubs and a machete attacked patrons and damaged property at a cafe frequented by Serbs in Uzdolje, during the airing of a Serbian soccer match. Police reported 16 suspects to the state prosecutor in connection with the attack and charged them with violent behavior, destruction of a property, and causing bodily injuries. As of December, 11 of the suspects remained in investigative detention. The state prosecutors reported at year’s end the investigation was ongoing.

On February 9, a group of reported nationalists attacked Serbian water polo players in Split ahead of a match. Four suspects were arrested on February 11 and charged with several criminal acts, including hate crimes. The State prosecutors reported that at year’s end the cases were still ongoing.

On July 12, the president of Constitutional Court, Miroslav Separovic, announced a July 2 ruling by the court that the use of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script for official purposes in Vukovar city should be enhanced. According to the decision, ethnic Serb city councilors should have the same access to official documents in their own language and script as ethnic Croatian councilors.

The government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained a problem. According to a World Bank Group report from February, 93 percent of Roma lived below the national at-risk-of-poverty threshold in comparison to the overall rate of 19 percent, and only 30 percent of Romani women and men had completed primary education. Completion rates of schooling at upper secondary and higher-level educational institutions were 6 percent for Romani women and 24 percent for Romani men. The unemployment rate for Roma 16 years and older was 74 percent for men and 51 percent for women. The report further stated that Romani girls were disproportionately excluded from early childhood development opportunities in comparison with their male peers, and 78 percent of Romani girls left school early, in comparison with 60 percent of Romani boys.

In June approximately 1,000 individuals rallied in the northern town of Cakovec to protest the alleged dangerous and criminal behavior of the Roma in their community. Protesters claimed state institutions failed to “protect” them from the local Romani population. After the rally, Medjimurje County police affirmed their decision to allow the protest, which they said included no hate speech or incitement to racial, religious or ethnic intolerance. The Government Office for Human and National Minority Rights condemned the protest.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. In response to civil society concerns, the government revised the 2016-20 National Plan for Combating Discrimination to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues.

LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns about the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. The Split Municipal State’s Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment on October 3 against a 34-year-old, who was charged with inciting violence and hatred against LGTBI persons on Facebook during a pride parade in Split in mid-June.

Organizations which opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention continued promoting anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In June during Split’s pride parade, graffiti appeared on an overpass stating, “only dead gay is OK.” Following the pride parade in Zagreb, the Zagreb Pride Association noted a decrease in violence and discrimination.

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, with some facing discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for civilian employees of the military. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, any participant may be dismissed, and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced laws effectively. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy in the country overall and could hamper redress for antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Through July 31, the state prosecutor reported one case of criminal charges for forced labor, which remained pending at the end of the year.

Penalties for conviction of forced labor were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, if enforced, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The government collaborated with several NGOs on public awareness programs.

There were isolated reports that Romani children were at risk of forced begging. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2017 (the last year for which data were available), there were 233 such requests, of which 183 were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor and the Pension System, the ministry’s Office of the State Inspectorate, and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation and did so adequately.

There were isolated instances of violations of child labor legislation. Labor inspectors identified 34 violations involving 21 minors in 2017. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality, retail, services, food service, and tourism sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations (see also section 7.b.).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation. Nonetheless, sporadic discrimination in employment or occupation occurred on the bases of gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce. A World Bank Group report in February stated that, overall, the country made progress on promoting gender equality into its policy agenda. Eurostat reported the wage gap was higher among older employees. The government did not effectively enforce the law and the penalties for discrimination were not sufficient to deter violations.

According to the 2018 annual report of the ombudsperson for disabilities, legislative changes strengthened the system for professional rehabilitation to facilitate employment of those with disabilities. The ombudsperson for disabilities noted progress in 2018 in the employment of persons with disabilities but said the government should take additional steps to reduce workplace discrimination and barriers to employment. NGOs noted discrimination and harassment against LGBTI employees in the workplace, particularly in the health and hospitality sectors. According to the NGO Freedom House, although legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTI persons sometimes refrained from publicly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The minimum wage was slightly above the official poverty income level. The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours annually.

Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker.

Some employees worked in the informal sector without labor protections. There were instances of nonpayment of wages, as well as nonpayment for overtime and holidays. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty sufficient to deter violations, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs. During 2018 inspectors filed 122 reports (down 14 percent from 2017) seeking criminal proceedings against employers for nonpayment of wages or for not registering employees properly with state health and pension insurance.

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