Ensuring minority rights remained
The government failed to enact a long-pending constitutional law on minority rights. In February, the cabinet rejected a draft produced by a working group that included minority representatives. The cabinet then established a new working group, this time without minority representation. As of November, the group had not presented a new draft.
Seven years after the
Dayton Peace Agreement brought peace to the region, by the close of 2002 most
of the 350,000 displaced Croatian Serbs had still not returned home. Between
January and August, 7,800 Serbs returned (primarily elderly persons returning
to villages), increasing the total number of returnees to 110,000, according to
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). An unknown number of
returnees had departed again for F.R. Yugoslavia or
On July 12, the Croatian Parliament set a December 31 deadline for the government to issue administrative decisions on return of occupied private properties to their owners. For property not returned by this deadline, the government obliged itself to pay compensation to owners who had filed property claims. The amendments disbanded the inefficient local housing commissions and vested the State Prosecutor with the authority to file lawsuits against temporary users who refused to vacate occupied property. The amendments left in place, however, a number of obstacles to repossession of property. Most significant among these was the requirement that before evicting temporary occupants the authorities must provide them with alternative accommodation, which often proved difficult. The right to alternative accommodation applied even to temporary occupants who could afford to obtain other housing and to occupants who had previously lived within a single household but since the war had multiple homes thanks to their occupancy of Serb houses.
While eviction of illegal occupants of Serb properties was legally mandated, in most cases in which they refused to vacate the property, the competent housing commissions had not sought court-ordered eviction. Only at the beginning of 2002 did the Supreme Court abandon its earlier position and rule that owners, as well as the local housing commissions, could sue to evict illegal occupants. Even where courts had rendered final decisions in favor of the owner, however, the judgments rarely led to actual repossession.
The situation was even more hopeless for those who had pre-war tenancy rights in apartments. Deputy Prime Minister Zeljka Antunovic stated in November 2001 that during the war Serbs had left their apartments voluntarily, and accordingly, they had as a matter of law lost their tenancy rights. Lovre Pejkovic, head of the government's Directorate for Expelled Persons, Returnees, and Refugees, stated in March 2002 that the government had no obligation to former tenancy rights holders.
Roma continued to suffer
discrimination in all fields of public life. The Law on Citizenship required
citizenship applicants to have five years of permanent residence and excellent
Croatian language skills, preventing many Roma from obtaining citizenship.
Romani children were segregated into separate and educationally inferior
Roma-only classes. On April 19, a group of fifty-seven Romani children assisted
The judiciary continued to suffer from a large inherited backlog of pending cases, inexperienced judges and staff, and political influence at the local level, particularly among judicial appointees of the late President Franjo Tudjman.
In a step back from its
previous cooperation with the ICTY, the government failed to arrest and
transfer former general Ante Gotovina to the custody of the tribunal. Gotovina
was indicted in July 2001 for crimes during and after the 1995 Operation Storm.
In a welcome
development, the authorities accelerated domestic prosecution of ethnic Croats
suspected of war crimes committed during the 1991-95 war. Serious concerns
remained about the quality of these proceedings, however. Judicial bias and
witness tampering characterized some trials, including the high-profile trial
The central government generally did not interfere with the independence of the media. In February 2002, the state-owned television station declined to air a program prepared by a renowned journalist on the contemporary heritage of the Ustashas, the Croatian World War II allies of Nazi Germany. In March, the Zagreb District Court upheld two lower court libel decisions imposing fines amounting to U.S.$24,000 on the satirical weekly Feral Tribune (distinguished for debunking nationalistic myths and researching war crimes against Croatian Serbs). In one of the judgments, the judge faulted Feral Tribune for publishing "cosmopolitan opinions and views."
Robust and professional
human rights organizations were active, particularly in the urban centers of
In its March 19
concluding observations, the U.N. CERD welcomed
Organization for Security and Cooperation in
The six-month report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Croatia presented on May 24 welcomed several important government policy statements on property repossession, judiciary reform, regional cooperation, and minority legislation. The report also pointed out the main areas of concern, including return of refugees and property repossession, the issue of tenancy rights, and the state of the judiciary and the rule of law. The mission attempted to develop a dialogue with the government while issuing reports critical of its return-related practices.
Council of Europe
In a March 1 decision in the case Kutic v. Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) addressed a Serb applicant's claim for compensation for property destroyed during the 1991-95 war. The case was typical of thousands of compensation claims filed by Serb property owners in Croatian courts, which had simply stayed the proceedings and failed to act on the claims. The ECHR held that there had been a violation of the right of access to courts and ordered Croatia to pay the applicant €10,000 in non-pecuniary damages. In several other cases, not related to return of Serb refugees, the court also found violations of the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time and the right to an effective remedy.
On February 6, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities published its April 2001 opinion on Croatia. The committee found that implementation of the Framework Convention had improved regrettably slowly and singled out employment as the area in which the protection of the Serb and Roma minorities merited urgent attention. In its response, the Croatian government invoked the consequences of war as a factor affecting the rights of minorities, and listed legislative and policy reforms underway to improve its record.
On September 27, Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer recalled that full co-operation with the ICTY was one of the commitments that Croatia undertook upon accession to the Council of Europe. He called for a swift and unconditional surrender of the recently indicted General Bobetko to the tribunal.
During a July 2002 visit
In July, the
In October, Ambassador
Prosper publicly reminded the government of