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Report on activities of Croatian watchdog organizations – June 2013

This is the country for us all

On the occasion of the success of the referendum initiative “In the name of the family” in the collection and delivery of more than 710,000 signatures of citizens calling for a referendum on the definition of marriage in the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, many watchdog organizations have decided to express their opinion and to raise this issue due to a sense of social responsibility and accountability to its users. The Croatian watchdogs’ supported Charter’s of fundamental rights of the European Union provision on non-discrimination, respect for private and family life and the rights of the child, by using both its expert functions and its alerting capacities.

15 of June 2013 Zagreb Pride organized the 12th consecutive Zagreb Pride, which this year attracted about 12,000 people. The slogan of this year’s pride parade was “This is a country for us all” through which the participants wanted to send a message that they want to live in a country of equal citizens who accept others and to warn the Croatian government and public about the risk that for civil and minority rights presents a petition of initiative “In the name of the family” which has managed to collect more than 700,000 signatures with the goal to gain public support to organize a referendum in order to change the constitution, in which would be introduced discriminatory provision that the marriage is exclusive right and union between a man and a woman. Split Pride was organized a week before by Iskorak and Kontra in cooperation with Split Rišpet Association.

Except reacted on the mentioned referendum initiative, organization Roda – Parents in Action has supported the campaign Not my Crime, Still my Sentence of the European Network for Children of imprisoned Parents (EUROCHIPS) and enabled on their web site on-line petition that asks for better conditions for children of prisoners! EUROCHIPS is the European Network for children of imprisoned parents. The 2013 Not my Crime, Still my Sentence campaign ran through entire month of June with the aim to ensure that the topic of children with imprisoned parents is included in the conversation surrounding children’s rights at the international level. In Croatia, it is unknown the exact number of children whose parents are deprived of their liberty, but it is estimated that thousands of children are separated from their mothers or fathers. Although the children don’t serve the sentence, prison becomes a living environment for these children if they want to see their parents. You can sign the petition here.

Astonished with the indifference of the public on the making of the new Family Act and concerned about the possible outcomes that proclaim presented Theses and Statements, organization BaBe! together with an experts with years of experience working on issues related to family relations have gathered on and analyzed in detail the two document that were published on a web page of the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth. Comprehensive case with very specific questions and comments was submitted to the Ministry so this watchdog organization BaBe! once again confirmed their expert function in the field of women human rights. It is also believed that it is equally important to start a public debate in which can participate all the stakeholders due to the fact that the consequences of the Family Act will „feel on their skin“ a large number of citizens because they will significantly affect the quality of their lives.

New era of democracy and human rights in Croatian schools

On 18th of June 2013 Center for Peace Studies in cooperation with the Croatian Youth Network and GONG held a conference on the introduction of civic education as part of the project “New era of democracy and human rights in schools”. The conference was organized on initiative of civil society organizations after the first year of the experimental implementation of the Civic Education Program (GOO) in schools with the purpose of presenting the results and the announcement of activities in the next school year. These civil society organizations have joined their expertise in order to, among other things support Charter’s provision on the right to education. The conference was attended by key persons in the current and future implementation, such as Minister of Science, Education and Sport, Director of the Agency for Education, Head of the service of the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, head of the professional services of the authorities, representatives of the Office for Human Rights, the Office for the Civic Organizations, the National Center for the Evaluation of Education, researchers and education experts, representatives of civil society organizations with expertise in civic and human rights education and teachers who participate in the experimental implementation of the Civic Education Program. The conference resulted in a series of conclusions and recommendations regarding the introduction of Civic Education Program in school curriculum. You can read more about project in English here.

One World – One Struggle

In June Human Rights House in cooperation with several organizations involved in advocacy coalition Platform 112 have expressed full support to the protests in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina by alerting Croatian and international public and institutions. Human Rights House in its mission promotes freedom of assembly and of association, as well as freedom of expression and information, Articles 11 and 12 of Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. Protests of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina were caused by the irresponsible behavior of the BiH government institutions that failed to adopt on time the Act on unique personal identification number (JMBG) and thus put in direct life danger a three-month old girl Belma Ibrišević who wasn’t assigned with personal identification number and that’s why she couldn’t get a passport to go to the immediate medical treatment in Germany. Thanks to the irresponsibility of legislation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, every child born after the 12th of February 2013th couldn’t get a unique personal identification number (JMBG), so that children born after that date were practically administratively nonexistent. This occurred after the Constitutional Court annulled Article 5 of the Act on unique personal identification number and the Act stopped being valid after the expiration of the time period in which had to be changed.

Photo from protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Zagreb (5 June 2013).

Photo from protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Zagreb (5 June 2013)

In front of the Turkish Embassy in Zagreb Human Rights House organized and coordinated action of solidarity and a press conference with the aim of showing support for Turkish citizens in the struggle for democracy, human rights and the preservation of public goods. On the occasion activists displayed a banner with the message “One World One Fight: Croatia with solidarity by Turkish” citizens in Croatian and Turkish. Previously, the Human Rights House and many other human rights organizations had sent a support letter to Turkish protesters, available here. The video of Croatian support to Turkish citizens in English can be watched here.

Pressure for dealing with the past in the new EU future

In order to pressurize and remind Croatian government on the need for dealing with the war past on the occasion of Croatia’s accession to the EU, Croatian watchdogs organized several public events at the end of June.

Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past, Civic Committee for Human Rights, and the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights Osijek on 17th June organized a discussion entitled “Compensation for the victims of criminal acts – Possibility of new models of compensation of civilian war victims.” The reason for the debate is the fact that with the Croatian accession to the European Union on 1th of July 2013. will start the implementation of the Act on compensation for victims of criminal acts, which regulates the right to financial compensation to victims of violent crimes committed with premeditation with use of force or violation of sexual integrity or endangering the lives and property by dangerous act or means causing death, serious bodily injury or serious impairment of health of one or more persons where the Republic of Croatia gives compensation on the principles of social solidarity and justice. Therefore, these organizations were examining the possibility that the Act on compensation for victims of criminal acts gets extended with the provisions on compensation to civilian war victims, to who, in the opinion of mentioned organizations, are not recognized suffering and compensation for the inefficiency in processing of war crimes in Croatia. Act on compensation for victims of criminal acts was adopted on the basis of the European Convention on the Compensation of the Victims of Violent Crimes, which obliges member states to ensure damage compensation in cases of intentional crimes and killing due to the commission of violent acts.

Document and coalition Platform 112 organized the press conference on 28th June on which they released the public statement on the occasion of Croatia’s accession to the EU and Report on open issues related to legacy of war, confronting the past and peace-building at the moment of Croatia’s accession to the EU. With Croatia’s accession, the European Union is getting a member who brings an authentic, added value – its recent experience of the war as well as social, political and economic transition. New opportunities arise for Croatia, primarily its young, educated professionals that could have barely been dreamed of by previous generations. Yet, on the day of Croatia’s entry to the EU, many Croatian citizens see themselves more easily as losers of all the changes, accompanied by numerous injustices that took place over the past two decades. Many challenges lie ahead of us in our struggle for democracy and respect for human rights and we should never forget the imperative of solidarity with all victims of war, violence and transition. According to the Platform 112’s Report on Open Questions related to the Legacy of War, Dealing with the Past and Peacebuilding, civilian victims of war are still waiting for the resolution of burning issues. It is necessary to improve the victim and witness support system, shed light on the destinies of the missing persons and provide reparations to the victims of war. Instead of a Union of the North and the South, creditors and debtors, bureaucrats and populists, the Union should ground its policies in solidarity and democratic legitimacy, hence ensuring dignified life to all of its citizens. Platform’s 112 Statement on Croatia’s accession to the EU and the Report on Open Questions related to the Legacy of War, Dealing with the Past and Peacebuilding you can read in English here.

Platform 112 – for Croatia governed by the rule of law, the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia and the Independent Trade Unions of Croatia addressed an Open letter on regulation of European Affairs in Croatia to the Government and Parliament on the occasion of parliamentary debate on the long-awaited draft of the “Cooperation between the Croatian Parliament and the Croatian Government in European affairs Law” because none of their objections or suggestions wasn’t included in the text of the Act that was on the parliamentary debate, and deputies did not get an explanation of the outcomes of the public consultations. This action called into question the meaning and credibility of public consultations. Organizations signing the letter called on all members of Parliament to seek from the Committee for European Integration all comments made during the public consultations and to get involved in the drafting of the final version of this brief but important Act with ultimate responsibility and thoroughness. In accordance with Article 144 of the Constitution, this Act should ensure effective Parliament monitoring of all aspects of government activities in the EU institutions, what is not only a matter of future European regulations, but is also refered to the control of all commitments and reforms of the accession period. Open letter in English can be found here.

Making changes in the protecting of public resources and goods

In the month of June, many of the watchdog organizations continued with expression of their dissatisfaction with a bill on strategic investment projects, claiming that the bill was not transparent and facilitated shortcuts for “privileged investors”. You can read more in English here.

At the beginning of the month of June the Green Action succeed to implement real change in line with the Charter’s provision on environmental protection. They received a letter from the President and Board Directors of the EBRD that following the detailed consultations with HEP and relevant authorities in Croatia regarding the findings of the independent biodiversity study, EBRD and HEP have agreed to cancel the EBRD loan. This letter was an answer in regards to the letter sent by Green Action and around forty other environmental organizations to the President and Board of Directors of the EBRD on 14 May in which they expressed the civil society concerns regarding the Ombla project in Croatia on behalf of a number of local and European civil society organizations. The research conducted showed that the construction of the Ombla hydropower plant would have irreversible and long-lasting impacts on the Vilina Cave – Ombla Spring system and could permanently destroy habitats that are set for protection as part of Croatia’s future Natura 2000 network and already form part of the country’s National Ecological Network. A lawsuit was filed in mid-June against the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection (MENP) for issuing environmental permits for the construction of thermal power plants “Plomin C” by Green Action and Green Istria, several people from the area of Labinštine and by the County of Istria. The watchdog calls on the new administration of HEP to make a shift in current policy and to not proceed with the construction of the “Plomin C” thermal power plant. They emphasized that this power plant is injurious to health, economically unprofitable, leads to energy dependence on imported coal, is at odds with the zoning of Istria and globally contributes to climate change. You can read more in English here.

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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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