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Report on activities of Croatian watchdog NGOs – July 2013

Discriminatory standards and practices in the Croatian laws

Croatian Government put to parliamentary procedure on 4th of July 2013 a draft proposal of the State Assets Management Act, with the final draft proposal of the Act. In the proposed Article 56, Paragraph 3, Indent 2 has been stipulated that state assets can be given, among other things, for the purpose of “conducting deinstitutionalization programs of people with intellectual disabilities.” Association for Social Affirmation of People with Mental Disabilities Sjaj expressed disappointment over the highlighted discrimination in the existing draft and with complete exclusion of the possibility that the State assets can be given for deinstitutionalization programs of persons with mental disabilities, and valorized the deinstitutionalization process itself as completely inadequate for people with mental disabilities, discriminatory and contrary to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (provision on non-discrimination and integration of persons with disabilities). Sjaj sent a proposal through the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth that the Croatian Government puts an amendment on the existing draft which would made possible the donation of state assets to deinstitutionalization programs for all persons with disabilities. Sjaj’s proposal was eventually added to the existing text of the draft proposal proving that this watchdog organization became uncontested expert in the field of integration of persons with disabilities. More information is available here.

In order to pressurize and remind, Serbian democratic Forum submitted the Motion for Review of constitutionality of Law on Areas of special state concern to the Constitutional Court of Republic of Croatia. In the meantime, the same law is implemented and produces legal practice witch is in contradiction with the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the European Court in Strasbourg, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (provision on non-discrimination). Therefore, there is urgent need to stop the implementation of the Law on areas on special state concern and amendments until it equals the rights of all victims of war related to housing and the realization of the right to a home. State housing in Croatia is not arranged in a unique way, and all Croatian citizens do not have the same legal position in regard to the exercise of their rights to housing, or the extent of that right, and does not apply the same legal regime or the same laws, leading to gross violations of the rights of certain groups of victims of war and discrimination. Current legal arrangements and practices show that the the returnees does not have the same right to donate the house and an apartment owned by the state – this refers to the Serbian national minority, Croatians and other minorities who left from Serbia, as well as to returnees who are outside the areas on special state concern. More about this issue is available on the SDF’s website.

Citizens and watchdogs united against economic inequality

Press conference organized by Franc Association, GONG, Human Rights House and the Centre for Peace Studies.

Franc Association has achieved a historical victory in the dispute against eight commercial banks. Judge has reached the first instance verdict completely in favor of “Consumer” Association and thus supporting Charter’s provision on a high level of consumer protection. The judge ruled that the banks acted contrary to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Law since they contracted currency clause in Swiss francs while not informing the consumers about the potential risks. The banks have also violated the provisions by contrating variable interest rates without determining the calculation parameters. Interest rates varied according to the one-sided bank decisions without the client being informed about the precise calculation method or parameters used. More about the issue can be read here.

Franc Association, GONG, Human Rights House and the Centre for Peace Studies, held a press conference and presented an open letter to the institutions of the Republic of Croatia and the EU, in which they strongly opposed the attempt of violating the basic principles of tripartite government. It was the reaction on the recent meeting of the government and bank representatives, and the statement of Deputy Prime Minister Branko Grcic who, by talking on the implications of the rulling stated that the rulling couldn’t go in favor of the Government’s efforts for economic recovery and that the government cares that the destabilization doesn’t happen in any way. Associations sent a message that it is unacceptable and illegal for banks to try to influence through lobbying on decisions of the judiciary and that the judiciary must remain and be independent, uncorrupted, that it must act solely on the principles of professionalism and independence, and according to Croatian laws, not interests of the banking lobby. Also, they have said that they will jointly monitor the actions of all relevant institutions that are supposed to guarantee the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Croatia and vigorously fight against any form of pressure on Croatia’s judiciary. Open letter in Croatian can be found here.

These events indicated possibility for significant real changes in the sphere of economic policy, which so far has been impossible due to banks’ superiority in Croatia.

An arrow.

New ways for cooperation – NGO’s and Trade Unions

Centre for Peace Studies, Organization for Workers’ Initiative and Democratization and Right to the City organized a round table concerning the emerging need for closer co-operation of trade unions and civil society organizations around the themes seeking a common commitment to creating a wider social mobilization. The aim of discussions was to answer the question what are the areas in which organized and coordinated activities of trade unions and NGO’s are now necessary, what are the possible obstacles for collective action, and in which ways that cooperation can be concretized. Videos from the round table in Croatian can be watched here.

Joint action / Activism in Europe

Round table.At a time when the main economic and social policies that at the level of the EU aren’t supported by the open political debate, nor include the views and considerations of civil society, what such dismal political and economic trends mean to activists across Europe who still believe that a common European future – based on solidarity, human rights and broad citizen participation – still make sense? European Civic Forum (ECF), Human Rights House and GONG organized a round table to exchange views and experiences on what it takes and what it means to promote democracy and human rights, social inclusion and solidarity in the current EU context, and what kind of initiatives look promising in terms of encouraging some significant social and policy changes at the national and EU level. The purpose of this round table was to act as a “trigger” for a more detailed individual and group discussions and exchange of experiences. Some of the main questions raised in this discussion were: How to deal with the EU institutions, while retaining the hustle and impartiality? Who are allies in the political arena? How are complementary policy initiatives at local and global levels? What kind of activities attracts a wide range of citizens and local initiatives, and who can benefit from the media attention? To read more about the event click here.

Human Rights House in cooperation with several organizations involved in advocacy coalition Platform 112 have expressed full support to the Spanish organizations fighting against the decision of the Spanish Government to abolish civic education in schools. On this occasion, civil society organizations from the Croatia signed Memorandum to the Council of Europe and expressed full support to the Spanish civil society organizations in their struggle to defend education for democratic citizenship and human rights in school programs. You can read the support letter in English here.

NGOs pressure for the good administration

GONG, Center for Peace Studies and Green Action stated in a press release issued on the occasion of putting the State Assets Management Act proposal to urgent parliamentary procedure that instead of a public discussion on state assets management, “the public was invited to participate in a farce“. The government put the Act proposal to the urgent parliamentary procedure, although public consultations hadn’t been over yet. They also stated that the content of the Act proposal was in conflict with the State Assets Management Strategy planned till 2017 and adopted about a month ago, because, for example, instead of strengthening the capacity of the State Assets Management Agency, the proposal planned its abolition, without any explanation at all. They pressure is in line with the Charter’s provision on right to good administration. They asserted that they certainly will not watch idly Deja vu of the privatization of the 90s and therefore called upon the responsible authorities to respect their own legislation on which the rule of law in Croatia is based upon. You can read the article in Croatian here.

Platform 112, a group of nongovernmental organizations, at the end of July intervene and alert on members of the executive government to refrain from verbal attacks on the judicial authority and especially to avoid direct confrontations with certain judges regarding the way they are handling ongoing cases. More about this issue can be found here.

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.

 

This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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