Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation in Croatia remained poor in 1996. In particular, the few ethnic Serbs who remained in Croatia after the Croatian Army recaptured western Slavonia and the Krajina from rebel Serbs in the summer of 1995 faced discrimination and mistreatment by the government of President Franjo Tudjman. Few Serb refugees who fled these areas in the face of the army=s offensive were allowed to return to their homes. In eastern Slavonia, which is still under Serb control but is slated to be gradually reintegrated into Croatia, the situation remained tense. Meanwhile, Croatia=s increasingly autocratic ruling HDZ [Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica] party, led by President Tudjman, frequently sought to suppress domestic political opponents and independent media.
Human rights violations against Croatia=s remaining Serb community in the Krajina region included the summary execution of elderly and infirm Serbs and the wholesale burning and destruction of Serb villages and property. Most of the remaining Serbs were ultimately forced to flee the area, reducing the proportion of Serbs in Croatia=s population from about 12 percent to between 2 and 3 percent. Local human rights monitors reported that an estimated eighty elderly Serb civilians were executed in the months from November 1995 to April 1996, long after the Croatian government was in control of the region. The Croatian government was aware of the killing and did little to stop it.
By March, according to the UNHCR, 14,000 Krajina Serbs had applied for permission to return home, but only 2,500 applications had been approved, despite President Tudjman=s assurances that Croatian Serbs who had not committed war crimes and were ready to accept Croatia as their homeland would be allowed to return. U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith and others expressed concern over the slow pace of repatriations. Moreover, Serbs living elsewhere in Croatia also suffered discrimination, especially in the workplace. In April, the government cut off funds to the Serb newspaper Nas Glas (Zagreb), citing the paper=s Aanti-Croatian stance.@
The mistreatment of ethnic Serbs in the Krajina region did nothing to ease the fears of Serbs living in eastern Slavonia, scheduled by the U.S.Cbrokered Dayton peace agreement to be disarmed and brought back under Croatian rule by mid-1997. The area is patrolled by peacekeeping troops of the United Nations Transitional Authority in eastern Slavonia (UNTAES). According to many reports, local Serb leaders have encouraged Serb refugees from elsewhere to resettle in eastern Slavonia and, in a move inconsistent with the Dayton agreement, indicated that they would seek a referendum to determine whether the region should be returned to Croatian authority. However, in early May, the Croatian government adopted a program for the area=s peaceful reintegration and passed a law granting amnesty to rebel Serbs who had not committed war crimes. Fifteen SerbsCincluding Goran Hadzic,@interim president@ of the eastern Slavonia Serbs who had been sentenced in absentia to twenty years in prison for war crimesCwere specifically excluded from the amnesty. In late September, Croatia drafted a new amnesty law covering all Croatian Serbs who took part in the 1991-95 rebellion, not only those living in eastern Slavonia. Article 3 of the bill listed twenty-one offenses not covered by the amnesty, including genocide, war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war, and the desecration of religious monuments. A U.N. spokesman said on September 25 that the U.N. was Apleased with the new amnesty,@ and that AThis should give a sense of confidence to the people in the region [eastern Slavonia].@ According to UNTAES, demilitarization and demoblization was completed in eastern Slavonia without any problems by June 21.
President Tudjman=s autocratic tendencies and impatience with democratic opposition surfaced conspicuously with several attempts to quash domestic critics. In October 1995, an opposition candidate won the mayorship of the capital, Zagreb. In December, Tudjman told the state news agency HINA (Hrvatska Informativna Novinarska Agenicija) that he would not Aallow Zagreb, whose population count constitutes a quarter of the whole of Croatia=s, to get a city or county authority that would oppose state policy.@ During the next five months, the opposition-dominated Zagreb City Assembly elected one mayor after another, only to have President Tudjman bar each one from taking office. Finally, in April, Tudjman dissolved the assembly and called for a referendum. In May, in a rare show of independence, the country=s highest court annulled the dissolution. However, a legally elected mayor has not yet been appointed to Zagreb.
The regime also harassed Croatia=s few independent media outlets. The HDZ dominated the electronic media and applications for broadcast frequencies by many independent TV and radio stations were rejected by the government. At the beginning of July, ASlikom Na Sliku,@ an independent television news program, was suddenly canceled without warning. In February, HRTV director Ivan Parac was replaced after accusing his predecessor, Antun Vrdoljak, a member of HDZ, of corruption. HDZ parliamentary deputies blocked discussion of Parac=s charges, prompting an opposition walkout. Two weeks later, Deputy Prime Minister Borislav Skegro brandished a pistol in the face of a journalist from Novi List, one of Croatia=s leading independent dailies which is based in Rijeka, an area where the HDZ has little support. In late March, the HDZ introduced press laws giving the government broad powers to launch legal proceedings against journalists for reporting vaguely-defined Astate secrets@ and for offending or slandering the president and other officials. The Croatian Journalists= Society and Croatian PEN Club denounced the law. Days later, tax authorities hit Novi List and an Italian minority periodical, La Voce del Popolo (Rijeka), with a dubious bill for U.S. $2.5 million for alleged customs violations. In May, citing environmental and property law violations, financial police temporarily closed down Panorama (Zagreb), an independent newspaper that had criticized Tudjman. On June 14, a reporter and editor-in-chief of Feral Tribune, an independent weekly in Split, were put on trial for satirizing President Tudjman under new legislationCan amended section of Article 71 of the Croatian criminal codeCwhich mandates criminal punishment for journalists who defame top government officials. Although the slander trial ended with the acquittal of The Feral Tribune on September 26, the Croatian parliament immediately began reviewing a draft law on public information which would require all media sources to take out a compulsory insurance policy to fund any possible trials against them. Party leaders of the HDZ have already threatened to sue the editor of an independent weekly newspaper, Globus (Zagreb), for slander.
Croatia continued a policy of not cooperating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Persons indicted for war crimes continued to move about freely in Croatia. Ivica Rajic, a Bosnian Croat wanted by ICTY for having taken part in a central Bosnian massacre of Bosniak civilians in the village of Stupni Do, was spotted residing with his family in a motel owned by the Defense Ministry in Split. Dario Kordic, former leader of Tudjman=s HDZ party in Bosnia-Hercegovina and indicted for killing Bosniak civilians during Aethnic cleansing@ campaigns in central Bosnia, settled into an apartment in the capital and moved about Croatia unrestricted. Under American pressure, the highest ranking indicted Croat, Bosnian Croat Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, voluntarily gave himself up to the Hague on April 1. Meanwhile, in April, Zagreb=s own war crimes tribunal made a show of trying eight Croatians for killing eighteen elderly Serbs after Croatian forces retook the Krajina. In mid-July, the court found no evidence to incriminate six of the eight and sentenced the other two for burglary.
The Right to Monitor
The Croatian government generally did not interfere with the activities of domestic and international groups monitoring human rights in their country; however, local groups were, at times, harassed and intimidated by local extremists. Human rights groups continued to work to prevent forcible evictions and other human rights abuses in their respective localities and brought their concerns to the attention of the local and national authorities. Many times, the results of their work were also published by the independent press. But, most distressingly, human rights monitoring efforts by local organizations in Croatia came under a steady barrage of criticism and threats from the leading political party and government headed by President Tudjman through the government-controlled media. Specifically targeted was the Croatian Helsinki Committee led by Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, and a number of Croatian intellectuals including Yale professor Ivo Banac who were labeled Aanti-Croatian,@ Afascist,@ and even Aenemies of the state.@
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations
With NATO troops taking over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia-Hercegovina and most of the contested areas of Croatia retaken by Croat forces, the U.N.=s largely ineffectual peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR, was left mainly with the mission of patrolling eastern Slavonia. In January, the Security Council authorized a reconstituted 5,000-strong force led by retired American Gen. Jacques Klein and renamed the UNTAES. Klein was to oversee the region=s demilitarization and the return of refugees, as well as its reintegration into Croatia by mid-1997.
In January, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning Croatia=s human rights abuses in Krajina, including AKillings of several hundreds of civilians, systematic and widespread looting and arson, and other forms of destruction of property.@ The resolution called on Zagreb to stop blocking the return of refugees, to bring war criminals to justice, to restore Serbian property rights and to stop discriminating against the remaining Serb civilians. Under pressure, the Croatian parliament voted to reverse an earlier decision requiring Serbs who fled Croatia to reclaim their property within three months. But U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, in an August report to the Security Council, criticized Croatia for continuing to violate the rights of the Serb minority and preventing the return of some 200,000 Serb refugees.
By late September, the U.N. had also clearly become frustrated by Croatia=s failure to cooperate with the ICTY and extradite Bosnian Croat war criminals residing in Croatia. On September 20, Adeploring the failure of the Croatian authorities to execute the arrest warrants issued by the ICTY,@ the Security Council called for the execution of those arrest warrants without delay. It remained unclear, however, what pressure - if any - the Security Council would be willing to exert on Croatia if it continued to ignore the warning.
In March, the tribunal issued a warrant for the arrest of Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic for a rocket attack on Zagreb in 1995. The tribunal also indicted several Serbian officers of the Yugoslav Army for their role in the massacre of some 261 people, including hospital patients, in the Croatian city of Vukovar during the 1991 war in eastern Slavonia.
The European Union
On August 4, 1995, almost as soon as the Croatian Army launched its offensive in the Krajina area, the European Union announced that it was suspending negotiations on a trade and cooperation agreement with Croatia. The E.U. move appeared to be motivated by irritation with Croatia for having resorted to military means to regain control of its territory. As of mid- October 1996, negotiations between the E.U. and Croatia on the trade and cooperation agreementCwhich includes both a human rights conditionality and suspension clauseCremained suspended.
The Council of Europe
In April the Council of Europe=s Parliamentary Assembly voted to admit Croatia as a member. Although the Council of Europe=s Committee of Ministers was expected to confirm the decision of the Assembly soon after, it decided to postpone Croatia=s membership into the Council indefinitely because of its disregard of commitments made in March. In early July the Committee of Ministers again specified various conditions that Croatia had to meet by September 30, before becoming a member of the Council of Europe. The conditions included allowing the safe return of Serb refugees from Krajina, recognizing the results of Zagreb=s mayoral elections, ending the government=s crackdown on the independent media, and cooperating fully with the ICTY, including the apprehension of suspected war criminals. On October 16, the Committee prematurely admitted Croatia as its 40th member stating that it had not been able to endorse such membership in May because Zagreb had at that time not fulfilled all conditions required for membership. However, despite Croatia=s failure to apprehend indictees or allow most Serb refugees to return safely to Krajina, the Committee of Ministers now found it sufficient that Croatia had made promises to implement the Dayton agreement, cooperate with the ICTY, respect human rights and the rights of minorities, refugees and displaced persons, and allow freedom of the press and local elections.
The United States
As architects of the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the overwhelming U.S. priority in the region was to ensure compliance by all three sides: the Bosniaks, the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Serbs. For the latter two, this often meant that U.S. diplomacy was conducted in the respective Amother@ countries to make sure that Zagreb and Belgrade would exert pressure on their counterparts in Bosnia. Thus, the U.S. continued to pressure Croatia to support the fragile peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina, while at the same time overlooking, and often failing to condemn, the deteriorating domestic human rights situation in Croatia. Croatia, on the other hand, continued to support the HDZ=s hard-line nationalists in Bosnia who resisted cooperating with the Bosniaks, their nominal partners in the American-brokered Federation. On August 17 and 18, at the seventh U.S.-sponsored meeting in as many months to strengthen the Bosniak-Croat Federation in Geneva, President Tudjman agreed to dismantle the Bosnian Croat, self-styled, para-state of AHerceg-Bosna@ by August 31. However, once again Tudjman and Bosnian Croat leaders ignored the U.S.-brokered deadline without any repercussions from the Clinton administration.
The Czech Republic
Human Rights Developments
The Czech human rights record for 1996 was mixed. Despite the generally laudable reforms of Czech democracy, the government failed to ensure many basic human rights to the Roma minority. The continued effects of a discriminatory citizenship law and the state=s unwillingness to combat growing racist violence revealed a pattern of discrimination along ethnic lines.
The biggest problem stemmed from the local police, who sometimes displayed an open sympathy for Askinheads,@ allowing them to hold unauthorized marches and threaten non-ethnic Czechs. Police were often slow to respond to Romani calls for help and hesitant to make arrests, even after a violent attack. In some cases, police themselves used excessive force against Roma.
Despite noticeable improvements in 1996, the judicial system did not always punish the perpetrators of racially motivated violence to the fullest extent of the law. When cases did go to court, the attack was often viewed as a Apersonal fight@ rather than a premeditated act of violence against an individual on account of his race, ethnicity or color. Sentences were often light, which sent the message that such attacks are not considered serious.
Racist attacksCand the government=s lack of responseCwere the most serious concern of Roma in the country. But Roma also continued to face state discrimination in other areas of daily life, such as education, housing and employment. They were often segregated in Aspecial schools,@ denied residency permits and refused jobs, solely because of their race or ethnicity.
The issue that received the most international attention is the country=s controversial citizenship law, which came into effect after the division of Czechoslovakia in January 1993. Although the law does not specifically refer to Roma, its requirements on residence, ancestry and criminality had a clearly disproportionate impact on Roma, and as such are discriminatory. In addition, many Roma who met all of the requirements of the law were arbitrarily denied citizenship by local officials.
As a result, many Roma living in the Czech Republic in 1996 did not have Czech citizenship even though they are long-time or lifelong residents of the republic. Those denied citizenship were unable to vote, run for office, participate in the privatization process or seek redress for wrongs committed against them during the communist regime. Some non-citizens had difficulty receiving permanent residence, which is necessary to receive social benefits from the state. An undetermined number of people were deported to Slovakia, while others became stateless altogether. Although it is difficult to prove with certainty, evidence suggests that the law was drafted with the specific intent of hindering citizenship for Roma and facilitating their removal from the Czech lands.
Parliament passed an amendment to the law in April 1996 after substantial international criticism. According to the amendment, the Ministry of Interior may waive the five-year clean criminal record requirement, which is the clause that had prevented many Roma from obtaining citizenship. As of August, the ministry had waived the requirement for all sixty-two people who had applied. Even as amended, however, the law remains inconsistent with the Czech Republic=s international commitments.
Parliamentary elections in June kept Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus in power. The far-right Republican Party won eighteen seats (an increase of four seats) with a blatantly anti-Roma program. Former high-ranking communist party officials and secret policemen were banned from running for office under a Alustration law@ (screening law) that was extended until the year 2000 in September 1995. In February, the minister of the interior proposed that the Party of Czechoslovak Communists be prohibited from participating in the elections, since the party was banned in 1993, but the government took no action.
The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempts by the Czech government to impede human rights monitoring and reporting in 1996.
The Role of the International Community
The United States
Relations between the U.S. and the Czech Republic remained friendly throughout 1996. However, the U.S. Helsinki Commission did express frequent and pointed criticism of the citizenship law and its effect on the Roma minority. The section on the Czech Republic in the State Department=s Country Reports for Human Rights Practices for 1995 was largely accurate.
The Czech Republic is, together with Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, considered a leading candidate for early membership in NATO and the European Union because these countries meet, or are close to meeting, essential conditions set out by NATO in 1995. These condition, among others, include internal democracy and civilian control of the armed forces.