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In addition to a comprehensive set of recommendations to the Croatian government, Human Rights Watch addressed detailed recommendations to the international community – including to the E.U. and the OSCE – on their role in advancing refugee return to Croatia in its September 2003 report, Broken Promises. Those recommendations, and the need for continued international engagement to progress on return, remain equally important today. Facilitating refugee return to Croatia, however, is fundamentally the responsibility of the Croatian authorities. Only the Croatian government has the power to resolve the issues that currently inhibit return and to live up to its obligations and commitments. The recommendations that follow are therefore directed toward the Croatian government. Human Rights Watch encourages Croatia’s international partners, particularly the E.U. and its individual member states, to make Croatia’s implementation of the below recommendations an integral part of their bilateral relations with the Croatian government.

To the Croatian Government:


On the Repossession of Property:      

  • Temporary occupants who refuse housing care (stambeno zbrinjavanje) or temporary alternative accommodation offered by the government should be evicted after prompt proceedings meeting due process standards;
  • Croatia should fully implement the legislation, adopted in July 2002, which denies entitlement to alternative housing care to temporary occupants who own vacated property in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia and Montenegro;
  • Owners of temporarily occupied property should receive just compensation from the state for continued deprivation of the use of property, as provided by law, as well as compensation for deprivation of the use of property in the past;
  • Courts should use expedited procedures for resolving repossession cases, irrespective of whether these have been initiated by the state prosecutor or the property owner; verdicts reached under the Law on Areas of Special State Concern should be promptly executed;
  • Temporary occupants’ use of Serb houses for business purposes should be promptly ended;
  • Temporary occupants who use the property only occasionally, while living and working elsewhere, should be deemed multiple occupants and evicted without prior provision of alternative accommodation; the Law on Areas of Special State Concern should be amended accordingly;
  • Wherever members of a family lived in the same household before the war and now occupy two or more Serb houses, it should be considered a case of multiple occupancy and the temporary occupants should be evicted without prior provision of alternative accommodation; the Law on Areas of Special State Concern should be amended accordingly;
  • Temporary occupants who are determined to be financially or otherwise able to make other housing arrangements should be subject to eviction without prior provision of alternative accommodation.

On Looted and Damaged Properties:

  • The government of Croatia should introduce looting and property damage as ex-officio prosecutable criminal offenses tailored for the specific circumstances of occupied property, rather than acts prosecutable in civil proceedings;
  • State prosecutors should prosecute temporary occupants who intentionally damage or loot property that has been allocated to them;
  • If reasonable grounds exist for concluding that a temporary occupant damaged or looted the property allocated to them, the government should consider that person ineligible for state-provided housing care even before the conclusion of the judicial proceedings.

On Tenancy Rights to Socially Owned Properties:

  • Where apartments have not been privatized, original tenancy rights holders should be given an opportunity to repossess them, and they should be offered an opportunity to obtain a protected lease or purchase the apartments on terms comparable to other privatizations;
  • Where the apartments have not been privatized because they were destroyed after the termination of the pre-war tenancy rights, the pre-war rights holders should be beneficiaries of the building reconstruction or should be entitled to a similar apartment in another location;
  • Where the post-conflict occupant has purchased the apartment, the former tenancy rights holder should be entitled to a property of equivalent value;
  • If the former tenancy rights holder does not choose any of the solutions from the above, he or she should be given fair compensation.

On War Crimes Prosecutions:

  • Authorities should show a greater commitment to apprehending and trying fairly war crimes suspects irrespective of their ethnic origin;
  • Given the high number of dropped charges and acquittals in war crimes cases against Serb returnees in recent years, the authorities should wherever possible pursue provisional release as an alternative to detention of indictees pending trial;
  • As part of the government’s ongoing statewide review of outstanding war crime indictments and supporting evidence, those indictments for which the state prosecutor does not have a prima facie case should be dropped.

On Employment and Pensions:

  • The government should closely monitor employment practices in state institutions and enterprises. Pertinent ministries should intervene in cases in which discrimination on ethnic grounds is apparent and develop a proactive strategy for recruitment and hiring of qualified minority candidates;
  • The government should end discriminatory practices and ensure fair employment opportunities for Serb returnees in the state administration and state-owned enterprises;
  • Croatia should vigorously implement the July 2003 amendments to the Labor Law, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, among other grounds;
  • With respect to pensions, the government should establish a new deadline for submitting requests for the validation of work completed between 1991-95 in areas under the control of de-facto Serb authorities;
  • The government should relax the requirements for proving 1991-95 employment status, by unequivocally eliminating the requirement that only witnesses who have validated their own employment status can testify that the applicant was employed in the same company. Witness statements should be considered to create a rebuttable presumption of the applicant's wartime employment.

<<previous  |  indexMay 2004