Roma rights violations by authorities in Croatia
15 August 2001
According to the weekly magazine Medjimurske novine from Čakovecof the week beginning April 30, 2001, police officers from Mursko Središće, in northern Croatia, beat Srdjan Oršuš, a Romani boy of unspecified age from the local Romani settlement of Sitnice, on April 26, 2001. Ms Nevenka Oršuš, the boy's mother, told the magazine that on April 26 two police officers from the local police station came to their home, accused Srdjan of the theft of an undisclosed sum of money, and took him away. The officers brought Srdjan to the victim of the theft, who stated that the boy had not been involved in the crime. However, the officers nevertheless reportedly forced the boy to kneel on the ground, after which they beat him with truncheons all over his body. Mr Dušan Oršuš, Srdjan's father, is reported as saying that when he went to the police station to find his son, the police verbally abused him, and beat Srdjan in front of his eyes. After the boy was released, his parents took him to the local medical centre, where an examination revealed marks on the boy's back and knees caused by blunt objects from the two beatings. According to the magazine, the parents intended to file charges against the officers in question.
In another example of over-zealous use of force against Roma, the Croatian daily Večernji list of March 31, 2001, reported that local police officers arrived just after dawn at the Romani settlement near Studentski grad, Zagreb, on March 30, 2001, and informed the 130 Roma who have lived there for more than five years that they were to leave by 9 AM. All Romani men present lacking a residence permit for the local area were detained and brought before a misdemeanours judge. The women and children were told to wait at the side of nearby streets until 10 AM, when they were taken by municipal buses to the town of Pitomača, northeastern Croatia, from which they reportedly originally came. The newspaper quoted Ms Gordana Djanić as saying: "It was not even daylight when they chased us out of our houses half-naked and barefoot. Our children were scared and cold." The action took place after tenants from the neighbouring buildings had asked the city authorities to take urgent action against the Romani settlement on "sanitary, medical and social grounds" and threatened to block the local roads if their requests were not met. According to the non-governmental organisation Roma Association of Zagreb and Zagreb County (Udruga Roma grada Zagreba i Zagrebačke županije), the eviction was covered by Croatian Television, which reported that following the eviction the neighbourhood could "finally open their windows again."
The on-going discrimination and intimidation facing Roma in Croatia has been recognised by a new report by the Ombudsman's Office of the Republic of Croatia, and by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. According to the Ombudsman's report, discrimination against Roma exists throughout Croatia, and especially in Medjimurje County, where compact Romani communities live. Anti-Romani hate speech is sometimes used by public servants. Perpetrators of racially motivated violence against Roma remain unpunished even when their identities are known, as the State Attorney's Office and the police do not take measures within their competence in solving race crimes against Roma. The media regularly discloses the ethnicity of Romani offenders. According to the Ombudsman, police violence against Roma is common.
Furthermore, the report states that Roma have difficulty exercising their right to property and housing, and there are no registered cases of local authorities providing housing or land for construction to socially vulnerable Romani families. More often than non-Roma, Croatian Roma are forced to construct their housing without adequate permits, and they have more obstacles in legalising their settlements and secure adequate infrastructure. In the case of the Romani settlement of Strmec, in northeastern Croatia, despite being provided by the government with subsidies for infrastructure, the two municipalities on whose territory the settlement is located blocked any improvement works.
When it comes to health care, the Ombudsman notes that medical staff in Croatia often ask Romani individuals without health insurance to cover medical expenses in advance, an approach not applied to non-Roma. Roma also have difficulties obtaining adequate information about free health care. There are also very few Romani families who are recipients of regular social assistance. Unemployment in Croatia falls disproportionately on Roma, and regardless of the level of their education, Roma are in practice only illegally and occasionally employed for very demanding manual jobs, according to the Ombudsman's report. Additionally, no local or educational authorities employ any Roma.
In the field of education, the Ombudsman reported on a number of irregularities concerning Romani children. For example, the state does not enforce the regulations for obligatory attendance of primary schools when it comes to Roma. In the area of Medjimurje, school authorities segregate Romani pupils with the excuse that Romani children do not speak Croatian and are not clean. Additionally, segregated students follow a curriculum adopted for children with learning difficulties. The Ombudsman also noted that the numbers of Romani students in Croatian high schools and universities are negligible.
The Ombudsman also criticised the lack of an adequate legal status for the Romani community in Croatia. On this point, Croatia was also criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which, in its Concluding Observations concerning Croatia of March 6, 2001, stated that "The Committee is also concerned that the Roma community is not accorded recognised minority status and that members of this community are particularly disadvantaged and suffer from discrimination." Additionally, according to the Ombudsman's report, Roma face difficulties in solving their citizenship status and are thus stateless. Moreover, traditional Romani marriages are not recognised.
The Ombudsman's report has called upon the Croatian government to ensure adequate legal procedures in cases of discrimination against Roma, to include education on the history and culture of Roma in the school curriculum, to ensure a higher rate of school attendance of Romani children, to work on the eradication of poverty among Roma and to support the education of talented young Roma.
(Roma Association of Zagreb and Zagreb County, Medjimurske novine,Večernji list, Ombudsman's Office of the Republic of Croatia, United Nations Human Rights Committee)