Croatia Adopts New Minorities Law
10 May 2003
On December 13, 2002, the Croatian Parliament approved the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities. Since Croatia joined the Council of Europe in 1996, it has had a pending obligation to introduce a law protecting its national minorities; the introduction of this law is also a condition related to the country's joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a partner organisation in NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EACP).
Unlike the now-repealed Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities from 1991, the new law does not name specific groups protected by the law. Pursuant to Article 5, a national minority is a "group of Croatian citizens whose members traditionally live in the territory of the Republic of Croatia, and whose members have ethnic, linguistic, cultural and/or religious features different from other citizens."
Article 4(4) bans all discriminatory actions based on belonging to a national minority, and guarantees equal rights before law and equal protection of the law. Additionally, Article 7(10) obliges the state to ensure protection from any sort of activity that endangers, or might endanger, the survival of minorities or the exercise of their rights and freedoms.
Regarding the participation of national minorities in the Croatian Parliament, Article 19 of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities states that minorities representing more than 1.5 percent of the total population shall be guaranteed at least one parliamentary seat. All minority groups with less than 1.5 percent of the population have the right to collectively choose at least four parliamentarians. According to the latest census of 2001, only the Serb minority had more than 1.5 percent of the total population, and the Romani population amounted to only 0.21 percent, or 9,463 people. However, some NGOs estimate this number to be much higher due to the reluctance among Roma to declare their Romani ethnicity.
The participation of minorities in local politics is also regulated under the new law. According to Article 24, minorities can elect their own national minority councils, if they meet the following criteria: The councils can be formed (i) in any self-government unit where the national minority has at least 1.5 percent of the population; (ii) in local self-government units where the national minority has more than two hundred members, (iii) in regional self-government units where the national minority has more than five hundred members. The law also envisages the formation of the Council for National Minorities at state level, to consist of twelve minority members.
In a December 12, 2002 press statement, Mr Rolf Ekeus, the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), welcomed the introduction of the new law and called on the Croatian government to "ensure full implementation of the law in order to guarantee protection of the rights that are enshrined in it". The law came into force on December 23, 2002.