Human Rights Developments
Although there were some human rights improvements in Croatia in 1994, the Croatian government continued to evict persons living in housing formerly owned by the Yugoslav army and to impede the functioning of a free press. To its credit, the Croatian government pressured its surrogates in Bosnia to accept a peace plan between Muslims and Croats in late February, which had a positive effect on human rights in that country. Having already "cleansed" non-Serbs from much of the area under their control, insurgent Serbian forces in Croatia continued to deny water to the civilian population in Croatian government-controlled areas and to impede cooperation with U.N. officials investigating war crimes.
In 1992, the Croatian Defense Ministry had assumed the right of ownership of all property belonging to the Yugoslav army (JNA), including apartments and homes owned by the JNA which housed its personnel. As in 1993, the Defense Ministry continued to forward eviction notices to those who were granted tenancy rights to JNA-owned property after October 1991, usually non-Croatian former JNA personnel or their families. Those evicted were not always granted the opportunity to appeal to an independent entity, such as a civil court. When the court did rule in favor of the person being evicted, the Defense Ministry did not always abide by the court's ruling and often forced people from their homes.
In July, the Croatian Ministry of Culture and Education revoked the tax exempt status of the independent weekly Feral Tribune despite the fact that such exemptions were normally granted to the print media as a form of public subsidy. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes this action was politically motivated because Feral Tribune consistently criticized government policies and satirized Croatian government officials, thereby invoking the ire of the Croatian government and conservative members of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The 50 percent tax on profits that the paper was thus forced to pay, threatened its very existence.
Physical violence against Serbs and their property and mistreatment of Muslim refugees lessened in 1994. Also, some decisions to refuse citizenship to some non-Serbs were reversed, and the refoulement of Bosnian refugees decreased. On the other hand, trials of alleged "war criminals" in Croatia continued to suffer from lack of due process. Most trials continued in absentia, and those who were physically present for their trials were not always allowed to call witnesses for their defense, or had been mistreated while in police custody. Moreover, the Defense Ministry did little to discipline members of the military police, who were responsible for most abuses in Croatia during the year.
Thirty percent of Croatia remained under the control of Serbian insurgents in 1994. Efforts to open peace negotiations between the Croatian government and the authorities of this area_the self-proclaimed "Republic of Serbian Krajina" (RSK)_produced little result. Serbian authorities in the Obrovac area continued to refuse to supply water to the civilian population in government-controlled areas around Zadar. Bosnian Serb forces shelled the Dubrovnik area intermittently during the summer and Zupanja and Bosnjaci in the fall. Most non-Serbs had long been expelled from Serbian-controlled areas of Croatia, but 1994 saw an influx of Bosnian Muslim and Serb refugees into Serbian-held areas of Croatia. As of mid-November, there were no reports of mistreatment of either the Bosnian Serb or Muslim refugees; indeed, before they fled the Velika Kladusa area, fleeing Muslim refugees and their leader, Fikret Abdic, advocated cooperation with and were supported, in part, by Serbian officials in Croatia.
The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) continued to operate with little success in Serbian-controlled areas in Croatia. The UNPROFOR mission was not sufficiently forceful with the Serbian authorities and, as a result, continued to be unable to fulfill its mission. For example, the repatriation of the displaced was part of the U.N.'s mandate in Croatia, yet not one displaced non-Serb was repatriated to Serbian-held areas in 1994. Moreover, the U.N. did little to pressure the insurgent Serbian authorities to resupply water to the civilian population in parts of government-controlled Croatia, despite the fact that the denial of water to civilian populations was contrary to international law. Finally, although the U.N. was to have demilitarized Serbian-controlled areas of Croatia, U.N. forces did nothing to prevent Serbian forces in Croatia from launching attacks against the safe area of Bihac in northwestern Bosnia in late 1994.
The Right to Monitor
Although conservative members of the government and ruling party took issue with positions taken by some human rights groups, the Croatian government generally did not interfere with the activities of domestic or international human rights organizations. The Croatian Helsinki Committee continued its second year of operation, and local human rights groups in Split, Osijek, Rijeka, and Zagreb worked generally unimpeded. Serbian political and cultural groups also continued their human rights activities in Croatia. The Croatian government cooperated with efforts by a U.N. forensic team to exhume the remains of Serbs summarily executed by Croatian soldiers in the Pakrac area in 1991. Amnesty International established a local chapter in 1994, and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives continued to operate within Croatia throughout the year.
Although the U.N. monitored human rights abuses in Serbian-held areas of Croatia, Serbian authorities generally were not willing to cooperate with international human rights groups. In November 1993, authorities in the self-proclaimed RSK continued to prevent a U.N. forensic team from exhuming a mass grave containing the remains of approximately 200 Croats summarily executed in Vukovar, after that city fell to Serbian forces in 1991.
U.S. policy toward Croatia was dominated by concern for Croatian government involvement in the war in neighboring Bosnia. The U.S. nonetheless took some action to press the Croatian government to improve its human rights performance at home and brought attention to the need for accountability for crimes committed during the 1991 wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
In January 1994, Madeline Albright, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited Croatia. In a strong, important speech delivered at the site of the mass grave in Vukovar, Ambassador Albright stated that the U.S. would oppose lifting sanctions against Serbia unless the authorities in Serbian-held areas of Bosnia and Croatia and the governments of Serbia and Montenegro cooperated with the international war crimes tribunal by permitting unhindered investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity and by extraditing those indicted for these offenses. But this position was later abandoned; the U.S. agreed to ease U.N.-imposed sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro following the Yugoslav government's isolation of the Bosnian Serbs, despite a lack of progress in cooperation with the tribunal.
To its credit, in early 1994, the U.S. pressured Croatia to withdraw its military and financial support from the Bosnian Croat militia (HVO) in their war against the Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army. During her January visit to Croatia, Ambassador Albright responded to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's threats to send Croatian troops to Bosnia, warning that any increased Croatian presence there could be met with U.N. sanctions against Croatia.
By early March, the U.S. had brokered a federation between the Bosnian Croats and Muslims, and the governments of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina agreed to form a confederation. Instrumental to the success of these negotiations and the consequent human rights improvements in central and southwestern Bosnia was the role the U.S. played in convincing Croatian President Tudjman to exert his influence with the Bosnian Croat leaders. According to the international media, a particular incentive to President Tudjman was the U.S.'s promise to take a more active role in finding a satisfactory solution to the struggle between the Croatian government and Serbian insurgents in Croatia.
On June 30, Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia, warned the Croatian government that despite U.S. recognition of Croatia's territorial integrity, the Clinton administration discouraged the forceful reintegration of Croatia's Serbian-occupied territories. Arguing that Croatia did not possess the strength to complete a successful military takeover of the occupied territories, Galbraith urged the Croatian government instead to improve its treatment of Croatia's Serbian minority and create an environment conducive to peaceful negotiation. Galbraith's comments came in the wake of increasing threats on the part of Croatian officials to resort to force should negotiations with Serbian leaders of the self-styled RSK make no progress by the fall.
In October, Ambassador Galbraith, along with representatives from the United Nations, European Union, and Russia, attempted to broker a peace between the Croatian government and Serbian insurgents. The proposed peace plan granted a high degree of autonomy to Croatia's insurgent Serbs if they returned oil wells and farmland to Croatian control and allowed Croats expelled from Serbian-held territory to return to their homes. The plan was unacceptable to both parties.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
In order to monitor and respond to violations of civil and political rights and the rules of war in Croatia and Croat-controlled areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued to maintain one or more staff members in Croatia throughout 1994. Staff representatives sustained contacts with human rights activists, government officials and the press in Croatia. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki conducted a mission to Croatia in March and April to investigate the status of the Croatian government's prosecution of alleged war criminals. In September, we sent a letter to the Croatian government protesting continued impediments to freedom of the press. We continued to monitor U.N. operations in Croatia and to lobby for member states' cooperation with the international tribunal established to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia.