The ERRC in Croatia
10 September 1998
Savelina Danova and Rumyan Russinov
The human rights situation of Roma in Croatia was the focus of our field research, conducted between May 28 and June 12, 1998. The first problem that we encountered was a drastic difference in the various estimates of the Roma population in the country, from 6,000 in the official statistics to 150,000 in the estimation of some Roma community leaders. The figure 6,000 given in the official statistics is certainly incorrect for two reasons. First of all, according to Alija Mešić, president of the Union of Roma in Croatia (Zajednice Roma Hrvatske) many Roma do not declare their identity. There is a lingering fear of persecution bred by history as well as contemporary events (one needs only to consider the mass killings of Roma in the concentration camp at Jasenovac during World War II). Secondly, the figure of 6,000 indicates only the number of Roma who have citizenship. Everywhere we went, there were Roma who did not have documents for citizenship, which means that they are not in the official statistics. However, none of the sources we asked, including Romani leaders, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia and the Zagreb-based organisation Center for Direct Protection of Human Rights, were able to give us any data about the number of Roma who do not have citizenship.
The figure 150,000 seems exaggerated since the average number of Roma in each of the seventeen Romani neighbourhoods we visited did not exceed 1000. In fact there were no more than three neighbourhoods where there were anywhere close to 1000 Roma. In most of the other Romani settlements we visited, Roma numbered between 200 and 800. According to our research, a reasonable estimate of the number of Roma in Croatia would be 30,000-40,000; this is also the number offered by the Council of Europe. Many Roma live in compact neighbourhoods usually located 10-15 kilometres from the central part of town. Romani neighbourhoods are visibly in worse condition than those of other residents of Croatia. In some Roma localities there is no electricity, running water or drainage. Most of the people with whom we met told us that a high percentage of Roma are unemployed. Few Roma have legal businesses; the majority are not able to obtain permits for trade and therefore sell goods illegally. A common means of making a living among Roma depends on scrap iron, which Roma gather from waste sites and sell.
There are Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim Roma in Croatia. A large group of Roma belong to the Boyash group. These are mostly Catholic, but a small number are Orthodox. Their language is not related to Romani - they speak an archaic form of Romanian. During the former Yugoslavia, Roma travelled freely within the borders of the Federation and many Roma from Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo settled in Croatia in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. At the time of the wars accompanying the break-up of former Yugoslavia, many Roma from Bosnia and Kosovo fled to Croatia, and many fled Croatia for countries in western Europe.
Political and Social Issues
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (1990) does not mention Roma among the other nations and minorities in Croatia:
...the Republic of Croatia is hereby established as the national state of the Croatian nation and the state of members of other nations and minorities, who are its citizens: Serbs, Moslems, Slovenes, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews and others, who are guaranteed equality with citizens of Croatian nationality...
This omission is reaffirmed in an amendment to the Constitution from December 15, 1997. This states:
...the Republic of Croatia is hereby established as the national state of the Croatian nation and the state of members of national minorities: Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Russians and others, who are its citizens...
Roma are not represented in the structures of the central and local governments. There is one Romani party - the Stranka Roma - which does not have any real influence in Croatian politics. During the last elections it went into coalition with the Social Democratic Alliance but was not able to secure enough votes to obtain seats in the Sabor, the Croatian parliament.
At the level of central government, the Office for Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities is the body that is supposed to address issues concerning Roma. It annually allocates funds to minority non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Roma NGOs. These funds go mainly towards cultural activities and the Office supports the publication of three magazines about Roma, basically representing two Roma organisations: the above-mentioned Union of Roma in Croatia and the Alliance of Croatian Roma (Savez udruženja Roma Hrvatske), whose president is Vid Bogdan, and the Board for the Pastoral Care of Roma of the Croatian Catholic Bishops' Conference (Odbor za pastoral Roma Hrvatske biskupske konferencije). The editorial board of these magazines is appointed by the Office for Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities. According to a recent decision by the Office, the three magazines will be merged into one, whose editor-in-chief will be Mr Neven Hrvatić, an ethnic Croat and a professor from the University of Zagreb who is employed by the Office.
The inability to obtain citizenship in the Croatian state is a major problem facing Roma in Croatia. A large number of Roma we met do not have Croatian citizenship. A small percentage of those who do not have Croatian citizenship have citizenship of Bosnia or Macedonia. The rest are stateless.
In former Yugoslavia, by law all persons had two citizenships - citizenship of the Yugoslav federation, and citizenship of one of the constituant republics; but in reality only the federal citizenship counted. Authorities in all of the successor states of ex-Yugoslavia now claim that every Yugoslav citizen had a documented republican citizenship, but this was not the case. Many persons never had republican citizenships. Additionally, many people never knew their republican citizenship, and were possibly not even aware that they had one, as the republican citizenship had little to no practical effect on their lives.
Upon declaring its independence from the Yugoslav federation, Croatia adopted new legislation on citizenship. The Law on Croatian Citizenship of June 26, 1991 is extremely restrictive, especially with respect to persons from the other Yugoslav republics. These are, in fact, not mentioned at all in the law. Article 30 is the first article in the Law's "Transitional and Concluding Provisions" and it defines Croatia's original body of citizens. The first paragraph of Article 30 declares that those persons who possessed republican-level citizenship shall become citizens of the new state by force of law:
A Croatian citizen is deemed to be a person who has acquired this status according to the Laws valid until the taking effect of this Law.
The Law on Croatian citizenship should contain provisions related to the status of persons who did not have Croatian citizenship, especially individuals from other republics of the former Yugoslavia, persons without any republican citizenship, and permanent residents of Croatia at the time of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Instead, however, Article 30 provides:
A member of the Croatian people who, by the date on which the Law takes effect, is not a Croatian citizen, and on the said date has a registered place of residence in the Republic of Croatia for a period of not less than 10 years, shall be deemed to be a Croatian citizen if he or she issues a written statement that he or she considers himself or herself a Croatian citizen.
The written statement from Paragraph 2 of this Article shall be submitted to the police headquarters or the police station of the municipality on whose territory the person resides.
Determination of the prerequisites from Paragraph 2 of this Article shall be carried out by the police headquarters or police station. If they shall determine that all the prerequisites are met, they shall order an entry into the Register of Citizenship without issuing a written decree. If they shall determine that all the prerequisites are not met, they shall deny the petition by a decree.
The written statement from Paragraph 2 of this Article has to be submitted within 6 months if the person lives in the Republic of Croatia, or within a year if he or she lives abroad, and the terms begin from the date on which this Law takes effect.
(All citations are from an official translation of the Law and its amendments.)
On May 8, 1992, the Law was amended: the last paragraph and the condition of at least 10 years of a registered place of residence were deleted. No provisions for ex-Yugoslavs or anyone else were added to Article 30 or anywhere else in the Law.
The effect of Article 30 was to put persons who did not have Croatian citizenship under pressure to feel Croatian, and to state that they were ethnic Croats. In practice, since being Catholic was held to be synonymous with being an ethnic Croatian, there was a wave of conversions to Catholicism, and the written statement of a priest was, in the first years of Croatian independence, useful for convincing authorities that the applicant was Croatian. Conversion as a method of demonstrating that one was a Croat proved effective for ethnic Macedonians, Serbs, and Slovenes alike, but it did not work for Roma. We did not meet a single Rom who had successfully claimed to be a Croat and had thereby been granted citizenship.
Roma with whom we met had been dealt with by the authorities as if they were foreigners in Croatia. That is, their applications had been processed - when they were processed and rejected with specific reasoning provided - under either Article 8 or Article 9 of the Law. Article 8 provides conditions for the naturalisation of foreigners and Article 9 waives some of the conditions of Article 8 if the person being naturalised was born in Croatia. Paragraph 1 of Article 8 states:
A foreign citizen who files a petition for acquiring Croatian citizenship shall acquire Croatian citizenship by naturalization if he or she meets the following prerequisites:
- that he or she has reached the age of eighteen years and that his or her legal capacity has not been taken away.
- that he or she has had his or her foreign citizenship revoked or that he or she submits proof that he or she will get a revocation if he or she would be admitted to Croatian citizenship.
- that before the filing of the petition he or she had a registered place of residence for a period of not less than five years constantly on the territory of the Republic of Croatia.
- that he or she is proficient in the Croatian language and Latin script.
- that a conclusion can be derived from his or her conduct that he or she is attached to the legal system and customs persisting in the Republic of Croatia and that he or she accepts the Croatian culture.
We met Roma all over Croatia who had been refused citizenship on the basis of points 4 and 5 of Article 8. For example, Mr Alija Jonuzi, born in Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbia, had lived for six years in Croatia. He was refused citizenship on grounds of failing to meet the language requirement in Article 8, paragraph 1, point 4 of the Law, in a decision by the Ministry of Interior dated March 23, 1995. Language competence of the applicants is tested by a commission located in the police station. Mr Jonuzi appealed the decision before an administrative court (Upravni sud). A decision by the court from December 21, 1995 cancelled the decision of the Ministry and returned the case to the same Ministry for reconsideration. In a letter to the Ministry of Interior from February 3, 1997 Alija Jonuzi complained that over a year after the court judgement no new decision had been reached by the Ministry.
Even where Roma succeed in meeting the language requirement in point 4, point 5 allows the police such broad powers of interpretation with respect to what constitutes the acceptance of Croatian culture, that Roma can still be turned down. And indeed they are. Mr Muhamet Hajrizi, a citizen of Bosnia, was refused Croatian citizenship on December 10, 1996 because he had evidently failed to convince the Croatian authorities that he was sufficiently wedded to Croatian culture as required under Article 8, paragraph 1, point 5. Mr Hajrizi told us that Ministry officials had explained that since he had not fought in the war for Croatian independence, he would not receive citizenship.
Article 9 of the Law on Croatian Citizenship allows authorities to waive the conditions in points 1, 2 and 4 of the Law if the applicant was born on the territory of the Republic of Croatia. However, the extremely subjective conditions of point 5 remain at the disposal of any authority who may simply not like Gypsies.
At the Croatian Law Center, members of the organisation told us about the case of a Rom who asked for legal aid to obtain citizenship. He was born outside Croatia and has lived in the country since 1986. His parents and siblings are Croatian citizens. He has five children and a wife who is not a Croatian citizen, although her father is. In 1996, he was refused Croatian citizenship by the Ministry of Interior because he had committed a crime. Upon appeal of the decision before the administrative court, the latter upheld the decision not to grant him citizenship. There is no requirement in the Law that an applicant have a clean criminal record, but since police are free to decide who "is attached to the legal system and customs persisting in the Republic of Croatia," they may choose to regard all persons convicted, charged or even suspected of any sort of crime as ineligible for Croatian citizenship. Since it is widely held in Croatia that Roma are born thieves, Croatian lawmakers have provided police with a mechanism with which to reject all Roma who apply for Croatian citizenship.
Many of the Roma we met had not been given any reason as to why they had been refused Croatian citizenship. Under the current Law, this injustice is perfectly legal: Article 26 of the Law states that the Ministry is not required to provide the reasons for the denial of citizenship.
There are cases in which Roma were informed only orally about a negative decision regarding citizenship. For example, Ms E.G. from Zagreb was not given any explanation of why she and her husband were not granted citizenship. She was allegedly told by the police to "Go home and wait." In another case, Mr A.R. from Rijeka was told several times by police at the station where he had repeatedly gone to file an application for Croatian citizenship, "You are a Gypsy and you will not receive any citizenship".
We spoke with many Roma who believe that administrative documents recording citizenship and legal residence have been destroyed by Croatian authorities, a practice which, if true, ruins the eligibility for citizenship of long-term residents. Mr Božo Nikolić, leader of the organisation Union of the Roma from Sisak-Moslavac Region (Udruženje Roma Sisačko-moslavačke županije), told us of one Romani woman, Ms Z.S., also from Sisak, who applied for citizenship but never received an answer to her application. When she finally contacted the Ministry of Interior in Zagreb she was told that she "was not in the computer". Ms Z.S. was born in Croatia.
Mr Bojan Munin of the Croatian Helsinki Committee told us that there are many allegations of deleted records from public registers in Croatia. He said "books were burnt", mostly those of ethnic Serbs. He did not know about Roma but assumed they were also affected. He said that there were around five thousand persons who had had their records deleted. It was our impression, however, that no one had ever gone to the pain of collecting evidence on what seems to be a widespread rumour among Roma.
Many of the people who were told that they were not in the Croatian registers have lived abroad. For example, Mr M. N. from Slavonski Brod was born in Croatia and lived there until 1991; then he left and lived in Germany for four and a half years. When he tried to acquire Croatian citizenship in 1995, he was told in the Croatian consulate that he "was not in the state books". He was not allowed to enter Croatia and subsequently lived for four months in Hungary. He entered Croatia illegally in 1995. After this, he managed to acquire citizenship with the help of a lawyer, to whom he paid six hundred German marks.
Although the Ministry of Interior is supposed to issue a decision on applications for citizenship within sixty days, in many instances people are left waiting for longer periods of time without any information about the progress of their application. Slobodan Jovanović, for example, was born in Croatia and had his ex-Yugoslav passport issued in the town of Sisak. He was refused citizenship when he applied to the Croatian Embassy in Austria, where he had fled during the war. Mr Božo Nikolić told us that he came back to Croatia in 1997 and at that time, the police in Sisak promised to grant him citizenship in 15 days. He did not have citizenship yet at the time we visited Sisak.
Long delays also plague the appeal procedure. For example, Ms Šefika Hanča lives in Slavonski Brod. She was born in Priština, Kosovo, in 1969 and moved to Croatia in 1992. She was refused citizenship on grounds of Article 8, paragraph 1, point 4 of the Law on Croatian Citizenship, the language provision. The Decision of the Ministry of the Interior is dated September 19, 1997. Since her application was lodged on February 24, 1997, the Ministry greatly exceeded the sixty day limit during which they were supposed to issue a decision. She appealed the decision shortly after the denial, but when we spoke with her she had no information concerning her appeal.
Some Roma we met had not applied for citizenship until very recently, and some could not have applied earlier, since they were required to submit documents such as birth certificates which they could not obtain, either because they had never been issued at all, or because during the war, offices were closed or impossible to visit in order to obtain duplicates.
Some of the stateless Roma we met have documents as foreigners, such as the osobna karta za stranca, which allow them either temporary residence of up to six months or permanent residence of up to five years, after which both documents should be renewed. Another type of document for foreigners that we saw is the "Residence and Address Change Notification" (potvrda o promjeni prebivališta). Roma from the Staro Brijeste neighbourhood of Zagreb with whom we spoke told us that they have to go twice each month to Bosnia and enter Croatia again. The permit is renewed at the border crossing as they enter Croatia. There are also Roma who live in Croatia without any documents issued by the Croatian state.
Of all the people we met, no one could offer any estimates of the number of Roma without citizenship. This included authorities such as the Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia. Leaders of the Romani associations with whom we spoke also told us they did not have figures. Mr Selman Gušani from the town of Vinkovci in eastern Slavonia told us that from his town alone, there were 86 Roma presently residing in France who have been unable to return or to go to any other country because the Croatian authorities had denied their applications for citizenship. He told us that all of them were holding old passports from the former Yugoslavia which were issued in Croatia. Our estimate is that thousands of Roma with genuine ties to Croatia have been denied citizenship.
The Croatian authorities could have provided all citizens of the former Yugoslavia with access to Croatian citizenship. Instead, they adopted a law and developed practices aimed at keeping people who were not ethnic Croats out of Croatian society.
The Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia, Mr Ante Klarić, told us that he had received no complaints from Roma about discriminatory treatment in the processing of citizenship applications by the authorities. He believed therefore that such treatment did not exist. His office has the authority to investigate allegations of arbitrary denial of citizenship, and to provide recommendations to the Ministry of Interior. Most Roma with whom we met were unaware of the existence of the Ombudsman and did not know that there was an office designed to hear human rights complaints. The Ombudsman's office had evidently not done enough to make its existence known among those persons who most need its intervention.
Violence against Roma
Roma with whom we spoke reported instances of ill-treatment by the police. What seem to be the most common situations in which Roma are subjected to police mistreatment are when Roma are apprehended for lack of legal documents for residence in Croatia and for lack of permission to conduct trade. We also met people who alleged that they were mistreated as criminal suspects. Mr A.R. from Rijeka had lived in Croatia since he was 9 years old. He had applied several times for citizenship and had been turned down. He claimed that each time the police detained him - at least twice a month - he was mistreated in the police station for not having legal documents. According to him the police mistreat Roma for the mere fact of being Roma. He told us about an incident on June 1, 1998, when the school near the Romani neighborhood, attended by both Romani and non-Romani students, had been vandalised. Since this incident, police had gone regularly into the Romani neighbourhood, detained Roma, and interrogated them in the police station. Over thirty young Romani men had been brought at various times to the police station to testify about the incident and, according to A.R., all of them had been beaten there. He asserted that no Croats had been detained to be interrogated about the incident.
Police ill-treatment is also alleged by Roma from Slavonski Brod in Eastern Slavonia and Zagreb who do not have registered firms and carry out illegal trade, selling clothes at markets. According to them the police confiscate their goods, and then take them to the police station, where they are mistreated for several hours, fined for illegal trade and released.
Roma with whom we spoke throughout the country alleged that once they commit a crime, the police treat them as suspects forever. Mr S.B. from Čakovec, who in 1993 spent time in prison for theft of hens, alleged that ever since then, whenever there had been a theft, the police would come to his house. They would accuse him and mistreat him to make him confess to crimes he had not committed. His compensation for one of these "interrogations", which took place in May 1997, was that the local policeman came to apologise after the police had discovered the real perpetrators.
A massive police operation took place in a Romani neighborhood in Čakovec in May 1996. During the event, around fifty armed policemen raided the neighbourhood in search of arms and abused dozens of Romani individuals.
Ombudsman Klarić told the ERRC that he did not know about incidents of police abuse against Roma, and stated that he believed that Roma actually live very comfortably in Croatia. He claimed that Roma are treated equally, and explained that the state supports Romani organisations, Romani culture and education. We attempted to set up a meeting with Mr Bukovac, Head of the Department for Foreigners at the Ministry of Interior, but he refused to meet us unless the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged the meeting, and he told us that this is the normal procedure with foreigners. We later found out from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it is only supposed to arrange the meetings of representatives of governments and that in our case their mediation was not necessary. The meeting with Mr Bukovac never took place, however, since it took us two and a half days to clarify the procedure and by that time Mr Bukovac had disappeared.
In Zagreb we had a meeting with the Chief of the Department for Control Over the Acts of the Police at the Ministry of Interior, Mr Ivanušec. He did not deny that our information about police abuse of Roma might be true. However, he told us that Roma do not report police misconduct to his department, so he felt there was nothing he could do about it. He explained that the Croatian state is very young - only eight years old - and that it takes at least eight years to become a professional policeman. So he hoped that in the future there would be fewer "unprofessional acts". It did not sound as if the Croatian authorities were doing much to expedite this process. He said that policemen are trained in human rights at the police school, but did not go into detail as to the content of such human rights training. Mr Ivanušec stated with evident pride that his department is staffed by the most professional and respected officers of the police force, a fact which, according to him, was enough to guarantee independent control over the police, and prevent biased treatment of Roma. He did not cite any examples of police officers being disciplined for abuse of their authority.
Civilian violence also exists in Croatia. Cases of attacks on Roma by non-Romani residents have reportedly occurred in the towns of Darda, Bilje, and Beli Manastir (Osiječko-baranjska županja, northeastern Croatia, close to the border with Serbia). Mr R.T. from Bilje abandoned his house and went to live with relatives because two months earlier his house had been attacked and partially damaged while he had been away. He said that there used to be forty to fifty Romani families in Bilje before 1997. In September 1997, ethnic Croats who had fled this part of the country during the war began returning to Bilje and Roma started selling their houses and leaving for other parts of the country or for Serbia because of systematic threats and maltreatment by ethnic Croats.
Roma from Darda also told us that they have been subjected to harassment by ethnic Croats, who call them "Serbs" and want to expel them from the town. Roma stated that they avoid going into the central part of the town because they fear attacks by non-Roma. We were told about a recent incident between Roma and Croats that took place on May 6, 1998. A car with four men in it arrived in the Romani neighbourhood at about 19:30. The car entered the neighbourhood at high speed and nearly ran down a Romani woman and a 10-year-old Romani boy who were in the street. The attackers then got out of the car, started throwing stones at the Romani houses and shouted insults at the Roma.
Another manifestation of ethnic intolerance that we became aware of concerned the actions of the Chair of the Municipal Council in the town of Našice, who had allegedly issued an oral command forbidding Roma to go to the shop in the center of the town. A Romani family of Zoljan neighborhood in Našice asserted that the man had made racist comments about Roma in public and did not allow them in the local shop.
Interviews with Roma throughout the country rendered obvious the fact that the education of Romani children is a grave problem. Many of them do not go to school, having either dropped out at some point, often in the second or third grade, or having never been in school. According to Alija Mešić, leader of the Union of Roma in Croatia, 90% of the Roma on the territory of Croatia have not finished secondary school. We met families with four, five or more children between the ages of 7 and 18, none of whom had ever been to school. Various reasons for this were indicated by the Roma. Most often they said that they did not have enough money to support their children at school. They also claimed that Croatian children harass Romani children at school. There are schools in which Roma children are taught separately from the rest.
We inquired as to whether Roma are disproportionately represented in schools for the mentally handicapped, as they are in many other countries in the region. The Romani leaders we asked did not know whether there were Romani children in these schools at all because in general, as Dushako Delmatho of the Croatian Helsinki Committee told us, "very few Romani children attend school."
The Romani language is not taught in Croatian schools. With a special permission of the Ministry of Education, a Romani school was founded in the Kozari Put neighbourhood of Zagreb in 1997. It has a capacity to teach 60-70 children. The school is run by Mr Ragib Seferović and his son Nusret Seferović. It receives funding from the Zagreb municipality. The school is attended by Romani children from 3 to 16 years of age. They study Romani language and culture. There are also classes for Romani children who never went to regular elementary schools.
The Romani school is not a substitute for the "normal" school. The goals of this school are to provide better opportunities for Romani children of pre-school age to acquire Croatian language competence; to help Romani children become familiar with Romani culture; and to assist children of school age, who have dropped out of school or who never attended school, to learn to read and write. Children who finish the program do not receive a diploma equivalent to an elementary or secondary school one.
The benefit of such an institution is much debated among Romani leaders in Croatia. According to Mr Sead Hasanović, leader of the Association of Macedonian Roma in Croatia (MAKROM), by creating this school, the government has created an instrument for the segregation of Romani children. We had a meeting with Ms Dubravka Poljak-Makaruha, who is in charge of the Department for the Education of Minorities at the Croatian Ministry of Education and Sport. She explained the problem of high absenteeism of Romani children from school in terms of the way of life and mentality of the Roma. She said that Roma do not perceive of education as an obligation. She said the Ministry did not have the means to keep Roma in school. Sometimes Ministry officials have sought the assistance of the police in order to make Romani parents send their children to school. According to her, the major problem is how to convince parents of the benefits of schooling. She believed that the Romani school in Kozari Put has the potential to change people's mentality about education. The Ministry has started organising summer schools for minority students, including Roma, and she said that this initiative might help increase the interest of Romani children in going to school.
A significant problem affecting our research work was the reluctance of Roma to testify about official violence and discrimination. One factor which caused them to remain silent is the fear that their complaints about illegal acts by the Croatian authorities would prevent them from receiving Croatian citizenship. Most of the people with whom we spoke about police abuse gave us their names, but did not consent to having their names published. There was also fear of reprisals if they complained about specific acts by individual police officers. It is certain that Roma in Croatia do not believe the police protect them, nor do they believe that if they lodge a complaint at the police about an instance of the abuse of police power there will be any positive effect at all.
The issues that we investigated during our research in Croatia have not been addressed well by any of the human rights NGOs we met. Nobody has conducted systematic research into police violence against Roma and access of Roma to justice in cases of human rights abuse against them. We do not know of any Roma who attempted to challenge police misconduct in court. We were told by Roma of instances in which they had made oral complaints at the local police station and they stated that these are never considered by the police. We do not know of a single case in which a human rights NGO helped appeal the arbitrary denial of citizenship of Romani applicants. Our impression is that there has been no effort on part of Romani organizations or of any other NGOs to conduct human rights awareness-raising among Roma. The Croatian Helsinki Committee and the Croatian Law Center showed interest in dealing with the human rights problems of the Roma and said they were presently considering projects to address these issues.
It is an indisputable fact that Roma as an ethnic group are not equally treated members of the Croatian nation. For many Roma the beginning of their ill fate in Croatia starts with the fact that one day they discover that they are stateless in their places of birth. Others who have managed to find their way in the sophisticated system of the citizenship requirements discover they are unwanted by other Croat citizens and excluded from Croatian society. Romani children know this from a very early age, when they are put in separate classes and when they are scorned as "dirty Gypsies" by non-Romani children. The police do not effectively interfere to curb civilian violence against Roma.
Nor is there an effective brake on illegal police actions against Roma. Many such actions are not reported by the victims themselves, who have good reason to fear speaking out against police violence: their ability to remain in Croatia, whether as citizens or as foreigners, is largely dependent on those against whom they would complain.