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Croatian Constitutional Court Upholds Decision to Deny Illiterate Romani Woman Citizenship

28 May 2004

According to Decision No. U-III-1918/2000 of the Croatian Constitutional Court of December 17, 2003, by a vote of 8 to 5, the Court upheld the June 2000 Decision of the Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia to deny Ms M.O., an illiterate Romani woman and long-term resident of the northeastern Croatian town of Slavonski Brod, Croatian citizenship. Ms M.O. was a citizen of the Former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, registered in the Republic of Bosnia. According to the Court's Decision, Ms M.O. put forth that, since 1987, she had lived in Croatia with her common-law husband, Mr D.L., who is a Croatian citizen. Ms M.O. and Mr D.L. also reportedly have three children, all of whom possess Croatian citizenship. The Court reached its decision on the basis that Ms M.O. did not prove an erroneous application of the law by the Administrative Court because she is, in fact, not formally married to a Croatian citizen and she is illiterate.

In their opinions, the dissenting judges argued that a more lenient standard should apply to citizens of the Former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia applying for Croatian citizenship than to other "foreigners", specifically regarding the literacy test. The dissenting judges further stated that the family should be under the special protection of the State and therefore, Ms M.O. should have been afforded protection of the Court as she met the more lenient criteria.

Since its adoption in 1992, the Croatian Law on Citizenship has received much criticism by international bodies because certain provisions of the law discriminate against non-ethnic Croats. In its "Status Report No. 10 - Assessment of Issues Covered by the OSCE Mission to the Republic of Croatia's Mandate since 21 November 2001" issued on May 21, 2002, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Croatia stated:

"Croatian citizenship legislation contains provisions that discriminate on the basis of national origin. These provisions impede the sustainable return of refugees and the integration of non-Croat long-term residents who remained in the country following Croatia's independence.

"For example, the 1991 Law on Croatian Citizenship provides for citizenship by naturalization to non-resident Croats under more lenient standards than to individuals of other ethnic groups who were permanent residents until the conflict. For this reason, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission recommended in March 2002 that the Law on Croatian Citizenship be revised. In addition, the Ministry of the Interior's insistence upon formal renunciation of another citizenship by non-Croat permanent residents, even in cases where such renunciation is not reasonably possible, effectively leaves such individuals unable to obtain Croatian citizenship."

The issue of citizenship and access to personal documents is a major human rights issue faced by Roma living in the countries formed following the dissolution of the Former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and other countries arising in similar circumstances. Roma Rights 3/2003 entitled "Personal Documents and Access to Fundamental Freedoms", which addresses this theme is available on the ERRC's Internet website at:
http://errc.org/rr_nr3_2003/index.shtml. For further information on the human rights situation of Roma in Croatia, see http://www.errc.org/publications/indices/croatia.shtml.

Personal Documents and Access to Fundamental Rights (ERRC)

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