Croatia: No justice for victims of war crimes as EU considers accession

There continues to be widespread impunity for past crimes committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs, the organisation said.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“While the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity and, in some cases, are still in positions of power at local level, the victims of past human rights violations and their families are denied justice and redress.

“The Croatian judicial system has overwhelmingly failed to address these violations and courts are applying ethnic criteria in investigating and prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The report focuses on the failure of the authorities to:

  • thoroughly and promptly investigate unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations;
  • disclose information on the fate and whereabouts of missing Croatian Serbs and to bring to justice members of the Croatian Army and police forces responsible for 'disappearances'.

Although the Croatian government has pledged full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the authorities have so far been unwilling or unable to arrest and transfer to the Tribunal’s custody Ante Gotovina.

Ante Gotovina is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against the Krajina Croatian Serb population in 1995 and is currently at large and believed to be in Croatia.

Amnesty International notes that the European Commission and the European Council have concluded that Croatia meets the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993.

The Copenhagen Criteria require that institutions in candidate countries guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of ethnic minorities.

The organisation considers that the failure of the Croatian authorities to address the human rights legacy of the war remains an obstacle to the full realisation of the rule of law and seriously undermines post-war reconciliation.

Notes to Editors

Background

Croatia's declaration of independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in June 1991 was followed by an armed conflict between the Croatian Army and Croatian Serb armed forces, aided by the Yugoslav People's Army, which ended in 1995.

During the 1991-1995 conflict, massive and serious human rights violations were perpetrated by Croatian and Serbian forces, as well as by the Yugoslav army.

These violations included arbitrary killings, torture including rape, 'disappearances', arbitrary detention and forcible expulsions; hundreds of thousands of people became refugees abroad or internally displaced.

Approximately 300,000 Croatian Serbs left Croatia during the conflict. More than 200,000 Croatian refugees, mostly Croatian Serbs, are estimated to be still in neighbouring countries and beyond.

Croatian Serbs who returned continue to face discrimination in employment and housing and access to other economic and social rights.

Public statements by Croatian officials usually cite a figure of about 1,200 missing persons the Croatian authorities are still looking for. However, this figure does not include those, mostly Croatian Serbs, who went missing in the last phase of the war.

The Croatian government officially applied for membership in the European Union (EU) in February 2003.

In April 2004 the European Commission issued a positive opinion on Croatia's candidacy formulated on the basis of the Copenhagen Membership Criteria of 1993.

In June 2004 the EU granted Croatia the official status of candidate country. Amnesty International takes no position on whether or not any candidate country should join the EU.

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