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The United Nations

The United Nations Transitional Authority for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) concluded its two-year mandate in January 1998. With the termination of the United Nations Police Support Group on October 15, 1998, a small liaison office, staff from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the ICTY in Zagreb, and UNHCR are all that remain of the U.N.’s former presence. Croatia remains in the mandate of Special Rapporteur for the Former Yugoslavia Jiri Dientsbier. As noted above, the success of the UNTAES mission in the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Sirmium was not matched by the mission’s efforts to prevent the exodus of Serbs from the region, with more than 45,000 leaving Croatia altogether since the start of the UNTAES mandate, including upwards of 17,000 long-term residents.2 Efforts to create a multi-ethnic police force were more successful, with standards of policing generally higher in the region than elsewhere in Croatia, although Serbs complained about frequent identity checks and the failure of police to investigate adequately crimes reported by them. The mission’s legacy is difficult to assess, but many of the achievements during the mandate period, including the Operational Agreement on Return (the “Joint Working Group Agreement”), the Program on Trust, and the amnesty and convalidation laws, have failed to live up to their potential.

OSCE Mission to Croatia

The OSCE Mission to Croatia has become the preeminent international organization in Croatia since the departure of UNTAES. The mission’s mandate, which expires in December 1999, includes assisting with and monitoring “Croatian legislation and agreements and commitments ...on: two-way return of all refugees and displacedpersons and on protection of their rights, and the protection of persons belonging to national minorities,”3 as well as assisting and advising in “the protection of human rights” and assisting, advising, and monitoring “the proper functioning and development of democratic institutions, processes and mechanisms.”4 Since the termination of UNPSG in October 1998, the mission has also undertaken police monitoring functions in Eastern Slavonia. With 280 international personnel (including 120 police monitors) and 320 national staff deployed in twenty field offices and three regional coordination centers as well as the Zagreb headquarters, the mission is well placed to engage in pro-active human rights monitoring and to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes.

Unfortunately, the mission has functioned more like a diplomatic mission than an international field operation.5 Senor staff in the mission’s Zagreb headquarters explained to Human Rights Watch that the purpose of the mission’s offices and personnel in the field is to provide data to enable the headquarters to make more effective diplomatic interventions with the Croatian government in the capital. At the same time, human rights protection has been given an inadequate priority in the mission’s day-to-day activities. There are few designated human rights officers outside headquarters and few field officers have a background in human rights. Training is also inadequate, as senior staff have admitted to Human Rights Watch. Field staff lack clear terms of reference to monitor or document human rights abuses, and rely on office hours and complaints received rather than seeking out and documenting patterns of violations. There is no standardized system of human rights reporting in the mission, making case trend analysis difficult. Recently, the mission has displayed more willingness to publicize concerns regarding Croatia’s noncompliance with its commitments and obligations. The January 1999 Report on Croatia’s Progress in Meeting International Commitments is the mission’s most critical assessment to date, and includes a stronger emphasis on the legal and political obstacles to improvements in human rights than previous reports.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNHCR remains the leading international agency for matters related to the return of refugees and displaced persons in Croatia, despite a dwindling budget.6 Budget constraints have played a large role in UNHCR’s decision to consolidate its operations in Croatia within three field offices in Osijek, Sisak, and Knin and reduce international personnel. Other field offices, including Vukovar, have been closed. This contraction comes at a time of growing need for the protection of Serb returnees, and higher demand for assistance with return from Serbia and Bosnia, created in part by the new mechanisms for return. Officially, UNHCR Croatia has welcomed the adoption of the program for return, while stressing the need for its full implementation. Privately, some officials are more skeptical. A staff member in UNHCR Knin admitted that it “will be very hard to implement the program.”7 Others note an improved cooperation with ODPR: “Their...attitude is better [and] much more pro-active,” explained another UNHCR staff member in the same office.8

UNHCR has also worked to facilitate the return of those Bosnian Croats who express a desire to return to their homes in Bosnia, publicizing Bosnia’s new property and tenancy right laws and arranging “go and see visits” as well as assisting with transportation. Similar public information and “go and see visits” are being arranged for Croatian Serbs in Republika Srpska and Serbia, where UNHCR is working with refugee associations to create registers of refugees and assist with return applications. Nevertheless, coordination between its offices in Croatia and those in Bosnia and Serbia could be improved, particularly in terms of direct lateral coordination between field offices, for example between Banja Luka-Sisak and Osijek-Novi Sad.

The Return Facilitation Group

The regional dimension of return in Croatia was explicitly acknowledged by international participants at the April 1998 regional return conference in Banja Luka. The linkage to resolution of the situation of Bosnia’s internally displaced is especially clear, since Croatian Serbs in Republika Srpska often occupy the homes of Bosnian Croats, some of whom are refugees in Croatia. The high degree of international involvement in Bosnia’s administration also creates potential to address jointly the situation in both countries. In recognition of this linkage, and the need for international participation to implement the return program, a Return Facilitation Group was established in September 1998. Members include the OSCE Croatia and Bosnia missions; UNHCR Croatia, UNHCR Bosnia, and UNHCR FRY; the International Office for Migration; the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia, the European Union, and its Monitoring Mission; the United States, and the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). The group “aims to ensure adequate coordination of activities between its facilitate the implementation of the return program by the government of Croatia.”9 It includes area return facilitation groups in Knin, Sisak, and Osijek. Whether such a body is a necessary addition to the plethora of international coordination bodies in the region — which already includes in Croatia, the Joint Working Group, the Article 11 Commission, and the Return Program Coordination Committee — or a distraction from the actual business of inter-agency coordination remains to be seen.

The European Union

Closer integration into so-called “Euro-Atlantic structures,” including the European Union and NATO, are key elements of Croatian foreign policy. The European Union therefore plays an influential role in Croatia. E.U. relations with Croatia are governed by the union’s “Regional Approach to Countries of South-East Europe,” which conditions the granting of trade concessions, reconstruction assistance, and other relations with all countries in the region on a comprehensive set of human rights criteria, including the creation of conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons and respect for the rights of minorities. There are also country-specific criteria which, in Croatia’s case, include cooperation with OSCE and UNHCR and compliance with the Erdut agreement. Periodic reports on compliance with the criteria are prepared by the European Commission, based on reports from its monitoring mission (ECMM) which has offices in Zagreb, Vukovar, and Knin. These reports form the basis of a six-month review of relations with each country by the E.U. Council of Ministers.

At the last review in October 1998, the council decided that relations should remain unchanged, citing “a discrepancy between statements of intent and their practical implementation” as well as “problems...with respect to the treatment of minorities” and a “very slow” return process.10 Croatia currently enjoys autonomous trade measures (ATMs) with the E.U., but was suspended from the PHARE reconstruction assistance program soon after it originally became eligible in 1995 due to the military actions “Storm” and “Flash.”11 Aid during 1998 was limited to 6.65 million ECU of humanitarian assistance and 2.7 million ECU in support to independent media. The threat by the E.U. to suspend ATMs is widely regarded as instrumental in the decision of the Croatian government to adopt the Mandatory Instructions for the procedure on individual return in May, and the return program in July.12 As noted above, the E.U.’s threat not to participate in the December reconstruction conference helped persuade the Croatian government to adopt “mandatory instructions” on the eve of the conference (although its significance is far from clear). There is disagreement among E.U. member governments as to how much progress toward the regional approach conditions is required before Croatia should become eligible once again for its PHARE program assistance.

The United States

The United States maintains a close relationship with Croatia. There are strong links between the two countries’ armed forces: U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen delivered a eulogy at the funeral of his Croatian counterpart Gojko Šušak, Croatia received $425,000 through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and the U.S. has indicated a willingness to support Croatia’s admission to the NATO Partnership for Peace program provided that progress can be made on refugee returns, Dayton implementation, and internal democracy. Although U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright was critical of Croatia’s progress in these areas during her visit to Croatia in August 1998, the focus of her criticism was related to Dayton implementation and democratization rather than the return of refugees and the treatment of Serbs. The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb generally take a more conciliatory line than the European Union toward the Croatian government on the obstacles to the return of Serbs and their rights in Croatia. U.S. and European diplomats in Zagreb speak of good cooperation, however, and the U.S. reportedly joined the E.U. in threatening nonparticipation in the December 1998 reconstruction conference. The U.S. Agency for International Development is undertaking a two-year reconstruction assistance program targeted

at the return of refugees and displaced persons into their former communities.

2 UNHCR Belgrade estimates that 47,000 Croatian Serbs have arrived in FRY since the start of the UNTAES mandate. “Report of the OSCE Mission to the Republic of Croatia on Croatia’s Progress in Meeting in International Commitments since September 1998,” January 26, 1999.

3 Decision of the OSCE Permanent Council, 26 June 1997, Journal No. 121 (PC.DEC/176).

4 Decision of the OSCE Permanent Council, 18 April 1996, Journal No. 65 (PC.DEC/112).

5 The mandate and functioning of the OSCE mission are reviewed in more detail in a Human Rights Watch paper entitled “Assessment of the OSCE Mission to Croatia,” December 1998. The paper is available on request from Human Rights Watch.

6 The financial year 1999 budget for UNHCR in Croatia is $18.5 million, of which $13 million is allocated for program activities. (Source: UNHCR Zagreb.)

7 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR official, Knin, July 1998.

8 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR official, Knin, July 1998.

9 Joint UNHCR Croatia/OSCE Mission to Croatia Press Release “Establishment of Return Facilitation Group of International Representatives,” September 17, 1998.

10 European Union General Affairs Council: “Council Conclusions, Western Balkans: Conditionality,” (12516/98 Annex), October 29, 1998.

11 In addition to its economic impact, the granting of PHARE has political significance, since it indicates greater convergence with E.U. membership criteria.

12 See, for example, Mark Turner, “New Croatian Law Delays Sanction Threat,” European Voice, May 20, 1998 and “E.U. Executive Urges Croatia to Focus on Refugees,” Reuters, July 30, 1998.

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