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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Despite significant improvements in terms of equality, which took place in Croatia in recent years, discriminatory practices remain an obstacle in establishing a harmonised society in the country.

In 2013 according to the Commissioner for Human Rights 57 complaints about discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour or national origin were noted, accounting for 23% of all complaints about discrimination. Furthermore, it was reported that 6 complaints about discrimination were based on political opinion, 5 – based on religion, 4 - on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 2014, Commissioner for Human Rights received 49 complaints related to discrimination on the grounds of race, country of origin or ethnicity (22 complaints were filed by ethnic Serbs, 14 – by Romani people), 14 complaints related to discrimination on the grounds of religion and 2 complaints related to gender identity and sexual orientation. Compared to 2013, the number of complaints increased by 9%. However, the real number of discrimination incidents may be significantly larger, Commissioner believes, as many such cases are not reported by the victims.

Roma people and Serbs are among the most vulnerable groups in Croatia. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Serbs, once driven from their homes, encounter serious administrative and other barriers when trying to restore their rights for property Furthermore, Serbs are limited in the right to use their native language Serbian minorities in Osijek-Baranja and Vukovar-Sriemskaya report feeling distrust of the local authorities towards them. There have been cases of discrimination in employment. Ethnic Serbian citizens are having problems with returning their apartments that have been abandoned during the Croatian War (1991-1995).

On May 5, it became known that in Croatia in 19 years about 30 thousand Orthodox Serbs converted to Catholicism. The main reason for this according to experts is the unwillingness of parents to have their children traumatized in school due to bullying from other children for what they are - Serbs.

In June 2014, the State Election Commission declined the request by the Serbian Democratic Forum to publish all materials for the elections in Vukovar in both Latin and Cyrillic.

Roma face difficulties in accessing basic public services including health, social care and education They find it hard to obtain identity documents, which in turn complicates their obtaining citizenship Only 20% of pre-school Romani children have access to relevant education facilities. Parents are either unaware of the existing local pre-school institutions or are unwilling to do so due to lack of Romani teachers or assistant teachers, or are unable to do so due to unemployment and the financial burden paid education poses. As a result, Romani children are underprepared for schools and fail to achieve good results.

Isolation of many Roma settlements in Croatia prevents their successful integration in the education system. Poor quality of life and unsanitary conditions have a serious detrimental effect on Roma children’s health in these regions In average, Roma have access to 12.9m2 of floor area per person, while non-Roma in Croatia have 35m2 per person. 53.8% of Roma families have no access to sanitation, 51.3% do not have a toilet, 50% do not have a bathroom and 46.5% do not have access to clean water in their home. 18.7% of households have no kitchen area and 12.4% have no power.

According to UNHCR, there are approximately 1000 Roma stateless persons in Croatia, which follows from the fall of Yugoslavia, where they often had no citizenship. As a result, they were unable to automatically receive citizenship. Instead, they have to go through the process of naturalisation, which was problematic, because they often lacked the necessary documents Roma are also subjected to racial profiling by the Croatian police.

The Action Plan on the realisation of the Constitutional Law on National Minorities, which aimed to ensure 5.5% of civil servants are ethnic minorities by the end of 2014, had failed to achieve this target – the real figure was only 3.65%. However, even this figure does not proportionally represent minorities in the population. For example, the proportion of Serbs in the population is 7.65% - represented by 3.65% of public service workers; proportion of Roma is 0.41% - represented by 0.05% of public service workers According to the 2011 population census, minorities constitute for more than 30% of the population in 27 municipalities, but only 10 municipalities prescribe them the right to use their native language. Another 12 municipalities provide vague general provisions on the rights of minorities to use their native language, the remaining five municipalities do not mention this at all in their local legislation.

In 2014, Croatia signed an agreement with the Protestant Church. However, unlike similar agreements with other religious organisations, this agreement only regulated issues mentioned in the 2010 ECHR ruling.

Integration procedure in Croatia is unnecessarily complex. Candidates who meet legal requirements can be arbitrarily denied citizenship. Applications for asylum are considered by the court of Zagreb in absentia, which violates the rights of migrants. In 2014, the Ministry of Internal Affairs refused in some cases to extend residence permits for refugees residing in Croatia due to expired passports. Some of them would have to return to the countries from which they fled to obtain new documents.

The Croatian Supreme Court in October acquitted two former Croatian police officers, Frano Drljo and Bozo Krajina, of killing six elderly Serbs during a police operation in the village of Grubori in 1995.

At the beginning of 2022, it can be stated that despite the wide range of measures taken by the Croatian authorities (from measures aimed at improving the efficiency of criminal investigations to measures aimed at effectively reviewing and monitoring hate crimes), Croatia is still faces problems of application of legislation in accordance with the requirements of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Police, prosecutors and courts continue to face challenges in detecting hate crimes/speech and enforcing the law. The main problem is that the aforementioned prosecution authorities do not define the hate motive as the basis for an effective investigation.

Another problem is inadequate prosecution; Hate violence is being prosecuted as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, likely with the intent of a faster prosecution.

In addition, underreporting of hate crimes remains a serious problem. Recent incidents of hate crimes against minority groups, Serbs and LGBTQ people are creating an atmosphere of intolerance in Croatia. There is no unequivocal condemnation from the government and other dignitaries, making such violence trivial.

Despite the existence of the Hate Crimes Monitoring Working Group in Croatia, statistics on hate crimes, including hate crimes, are not published in an appropriate form that could serve to further subject analysis of this type of violence. Only bare numbers are available on the official website. There is no disaggregated data showing hate crimes based on various grounds of bias.

The training of police officers in the field of hate crimes is mainly carried out as a result of long-term cooperation between civil society organizations and the Political Academy. While this is an example of good practice, the prevalence of discriminatory attitudes and prejudices points to the need for continuous and systematic implementation of education involving all stakeholders who come into contact with victims of hate crimes.

Institutional attitudes towards asylum seekers arriving in Croatia have worsened compared to 2015, when the so-called "Balkan Migration Route" was created. The Ministry of the Interior adopted a stricter security policy, and from late 2016 to 2021, NGOs reported mistreatment and illegal deportation of immigrants to the territory of the Republic of Serbia. According to the Aliens Act, a report on the reasons for expulsion from the Republic of Croatia is mandatory and the entire process must be carried out on a case-by-case basis with a translation service provided. Many migrants complain about the inability to seek international assistance and about police brutality and inhumane treatment.

The most prominent case, which has resonated deeply in the media and public discourse, is the six-year-old Afghan girl Madina Hosseini, who was killed in November 2017 in a train incident while returning to Serbia with her family. According to testimonies, the Hosseini family crossed the Croatian border from Serbia with a group of immigrants, but were forced by Croatian police forces to return to Serbia instead of registering as asylum seekers at the nearest Croatian police station. In June 2018, the ECtHR upheld the Hosseini family's complaint about inhuman living conditions and the unlawful detention of the entire family at the reception center in Tovarnik.

On October 6, 2021, the RTL television network published news footage showing masked men in Croatia forcibly pushing migrants back to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The footage was filmed in collaboration with a consortium of European journalists affiliated with Lighthouse Reports as part of an eight-month investigation. The video showed people wearing masks, vests and batons being used by the Croatian riot police. The head of the border police, Zoran Niceno, said that the Police Directorate had formed a task force to investigate the incident, which reportedly took place in June, and stressed that such physical violence had no place in police procedures, a view echoed by Interior Minister Davor Božinović. Prime Minister Plenković stressed the country's duty to protect the border and prevent illegal migration, but noted that everything must be in accordance with the law. Police Director General Nikola Milina said on October 8 that the authorities had suspended three police officers in connection with incident, and added that the police are in close contact with public prosecutors and the country's independent monitoring mechanism.

In the first half of 2021, the non-governmental organization Danish Refugee Council stated that 3,629 people were returned from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), 144 from Croatia to Serbia, and from Slovenia, Italy and Austria through Croatia in BiH - 275. In the second quarter, there was a significant increase in the number of alleged returns from Croatia, and this mainly concerned citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Morocco. During the same period, the Croatian migrant rights NGO Center for Peace Studies said it received 224 requests from 178 groups of potential asylum-seekers (including 82 groups including children) and other migrants that did not include less than 658 people. seeking legal advice or other assistance.

According to the Serbian National Council (SNV), the Serbian national minority still encountered at the turn of the 20s. 21st century with discrimination including hate speech, hate attacks and anti-Serb graffiti. The most horrific and tragic attack took place in April 2019 on Radoj Petković, 63, vice-president of the Council of the Serb National Minority, representing the Croatian Serb minority, in the town of Kastav, near Rijeka. On June 10 of the same year, he died without regaining consciousness. The killer was a veteran of the Croatian war early. 90s Ilija Glavić, who was previously suspected of committing war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In this context, mild punishment for the offender is interesting. On February 25, 2020, he was sentenced by the Croatian District Court in Rijeka to only 4.5 years in prison. Glavich, who pleaded guilty, was tried for grievous bodily harm resulting in death, not for murder. Although the media wrote that national intolerance is behind everything, such a qualification was not discussed in court.

Serbs were also discriminated against, especially in Eastern Slavonia. SNV also stated that members of the Serb national minority face significant employment discrimination and there are long-standing issues of Serbian school registration in Eastern Slavonia and the justice system, especially regarding missing persons and unsolved war crimes cases.

In May 2021, a member of parliament representing national minorities was quoted by the Croatian media as saying that cases remained in a local hospital in northeastern Croatia where Roma patients were placed separately from other patients.

The government has not always effectively enforced statutory prohibitions against discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judiciary and other public services.

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