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Committee against Torture considers report of Croatia

14 November 2014

The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Croatia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Nebojsa Kirigin, Assistant Minister of Interior of Croatia, said that in 2013, Croatia had adopted a new Penal Code and harmonized its Criminal Procedure Act with European Union legislation on trafficking in human beings and the fight against sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. It had also adopted the act on compensation of victims of crime, the law on free legal aid and the act on police affairs to regulate the conduct of police officers. The national plan for the fight against human trafficking 2012-2015 improved the methods of identification of victims of human trafficking and protected their best interests, while a package of measures had been adopted in 2010 to fight domestic violence and violence against women. The 2013 Criminal Law regulated the crime of domestic violence and qualified forms of criminal acts with elements of violence committed against close persons.

Committee Experts welcomed the adoption of the new Criminal Code in 2013 whose definition of torture included mental and physical suffering, the establishment of a national preventive mechanism, and the concrete actions to deal with domestic violence and violence against women. Experts asked about the system of medical care for detainees, and the number of cases of internal and external trafficking, as well as convictions and initiatives to deal with the ethnic bias in law enforcement, including in convictions of war crimes. Unequal treatment of Serbs, Roma and foreigners in interrogation and police custody was a persisting issue of concern, together with the lack of proper follow up on complaints of ill-treatment and the conduct of the police toward persons deprived of liberty.

Experts noted the lack of systematic regular training of law enforcement officers in human rights issues and stressed the urgent need to reform the judiciary to efficiently deal with all offences on equal footing. Other concerns raised during the discussion included the significant number of people held in psychiatric care against their will and without a possibility of appeal, and the reports of intimidation and harassment of media workers and human rights defenders investigating and working on war crimes and organized crime.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Kirigin expressed hope that the answers provided demonstrated that Croatia was improving and moving in the right direction.

Claudio Grossman, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their contribution to the Committee’s understanding of the issues and expressed appreciation for the information provided.

The delegation of Croatia included representatives of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and members of the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Monday, 17 November, at 10 a.m. to start its consideration of the third periodic report of Kazakhstan (CAT/C/KAZ/3).


Report

The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Croatia can be read via the following link: CAT/C/HRV/4-5.

Presentation of the Report

NEBOJSA KIRIGIN, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Interior of Croatia, introducing the report of Croatia, said that Croatia continuously amended its criminal legislation to conform with European Union and international standards on the rule of law and the protection of human rights, and in 2013 it had adopted a new Penal Code and harmonized the Criminal Procedure Act with European Union legislation on the fight against trafficking in human beings, and the fight against sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography. Croatia had also adopted the act on compensation of victims of crime and the law on free legal aid, and had amended the law on juvenile courts to enhance process standards in criminal proceedings against minors, the act on police affairs to regulate the conduct of police officers, and the aliens act to regulate the treatment of aliens and provision of free legal aid in the procedure of expulsion and to regulate the special protection of unaccompanied minors in the return procedure. In the area of the protection of children, progress had been made in the treatment of children separated from their parents, and in the protection of abandoned children or children victims of organized crime. The national plan for the fight against human trafficking 2012-2015 improved the methods of identification of victims of human trafficking and protected their best interests.

The “I’m living a life without violence” project was focused on the prevention of violence against women in the family and among youth, promoted a culture of non-violence and tolerance, and invited citizens to report all forms of violence. The package of measures adopted in 2010 contained concrete actions in the fight against domestic violence and violence against women and had established the national team and county interdepartmental teams for the prevention and suppression of domestic violence and violence against women. The police received continuous training on sex and gender equality and domestic violence, while the 2013 Criminal Law regulated the crime of domestic violence and qualified forms of criminal acts with elements of violence committed against close persons. In 2013, a new priority list of war crimes had been agreed with 70 cases at the regional level and one case at the national level, while the search for 1,538 persons missing during the Homeland War continued. The new Criminal Law modified the definition of hate crime and expanded the list of protected persons to include persons with disabilities. Croatia was also improving the protection of the rights of foreigners and irregular migrants, including the provision of free legal aid to foreigners in expulsion and return procedures. The capacity of penal institutions was increasing and the number of prisoners was decreasing: in October 2014 there were 3,883 prisoners and prisons were at 99.56 per cent capacity. Imprisonment of juveniles was used as a last resort in sentencing; in October 2014 there were 58 minors in the correctional institution Turopolje which had a capacity of 110.

Questions by the Country Rapporteurs

SAPANA PRADHAN-MALLA, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, commended Croatia for the adoption of the new Criminal Code in 2013 whose definition of torture included mental and physical suffering and wondered about provisions to repair the damage and measures to ensure the effective implementation of the new law. The Country Rapporteur also welcomed the establishment of the national preventive mechanism and asked about the concrete plans to make this mechanism effective, including the allocation of resources and the mechanism in place to ensure the implementation of the recommendations by the Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson had the power to visit detention centres without prior notification, but reports indicated that no such visits took place unless a complaint was received. What was the budget allocated for the free aid and was the access to legal aid guaranteed also to perpetrators of crimes?

The Country Rapporteur commended the success in reducing pre-trial detention and asked the delegation to explain the system of medical care for detainees, including mental health care, and the services guaranteed to foreigners and migrant workers, and about prolonged transfer of detainees from pre-detention facilities to the prison hospital. How many cases of internal and external trafficking were there, including the statistics on the prosecution of perpetrators? Was Croatia party to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; if not, were there any initiatives for ratification?

What measures were in place to enhance the competency of officials and courts to respect the principle of non-refoulement as an obligation under the Convention? The Country Rapporteur asked about the expulsion and removal of foreigners and the removal of children and noted that the foreigners national reception centre was a kind of detention and a place of isolation. What initiatives were there to deal with the ethnic bias in law enforcement, including in the convictions of war crimes? What procedure was applied in trials for war crimes in absentia?

ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, raised the issue of the lack of a system of regular training on human rights issues, including on the identification of victims of torture, and the lack of an evaluation mechanism. Unequal treatment of Serbs, Roma and foreigners in interrogation and police custody was a persisting issue of concern, together with lack of the proper follow up on complaints of ill-treatment. Proper investigations of each of those complaints must be undertaken. In general, conduct toward persons deprived of liberty, be they Croat nationals or foreigners, continued to be problematic; there must be a change in conduct of those enforcing the law, including through training. Many people were held in psychiatric care against their will and they did not have a possibility of appeal against the decisions putting them there.

Croatia focused on capacity building in the immigration sector, but the focus should be on the whole area of law enforcement and the judiciary. Follow up to the visits of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture was important, noted the Country Rapporteur, and asked who was involved in this matter. Efforts to address domestic violence, including developments in the legal arsenal, were commendable. What was the relationship with the International Criminal Court; how were the prosecutions for crimes committed during the war ongoing on the domestic and European levels? A huge number of recommendations had been made by the treaty bodies concerning the judicial sector in Croatia which must be reformed to efficiently deal with war crimes and other offences on an equal footing. How were allegations against torture dealt with, both civil ones and those committed in the context of war or hate crimes? What was the situation with claims for compensation for war crimes?

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked about the duration of pre-trial detention, the number of persons held in pre-trial detention and the separation between remand and convicted prisoners. During the period 2007 to 2012, the prison population had been increased by 25 per cent, while a significant reduction had occurred since 2012; could the delegation comment on that? What was being done to implement the recommendations on alternative measures to detention and what were the conditions of solitary confinement?

The delegation was asked to explain whether the problems identified in the medical screening of persons of liberty had been remedied, including the lack of access to health care at the beginning of detention, the presence of police officers during examinations which violated confidentiality, and delayed medical screening upon arrival to prison facilities. Another Expert asked the delegation about court decisions on application of Article 15 concerning admissibility of evidence obtained under torture. It seemed that there was no specific legal regime on domestic violence and the Expert asked about the guarantees of no loopholes in the implementation of the laws. Reports indicated that the refugee determination system lacked dignity, respect and a humane approach.

Could the delegation explain how the capacity of prisons was increased and also explain the reduction in the number of the prison population; could it also explain the system of the identification of persons in need of international protection and the training provided to the law and immigration officials in this regard? How many police officers had been prosecuted or criminally sanctioned because of ill-treatment of persons deprived of liberty over the past two years?

The report of Croatia stated that no case of torture or ill-treatment was subject to statute of limitation and that amnesty or pardon had been granted to 22,000 persons; were any of them convicted of acts of torture or ill-treatment, asked the Expert, and requested the delegation to comment on the reports that police officers were not properly trained in handling cases of domestic violence as priority in the proceedings was given to dealing with perpetrators rather than protecting the victims, and there were loopholes in the law.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, took up the situation with the national preventive mechanism and asked the delegation about its resources and staffing, the system of free legal aid, and the number of prisoners in remand and number of prisoners awaiting sentencing. What were the statistics on the requests for compensation for damages sustained during the Homeland War? There were reports of intimidation and harassment of media workers and human rights defenders working on the issues of war crimes and organized crime; what measures were in place to ensure their protection? The Chairperson also asked about the equal treatment of Roma, the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and the measures to ensure that past experiences of human rights violations in the context of anti-terrorism were not repeated.

ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, asked about the conviction of two Croatian generals by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in the context of the operation Storm, about the juvenile justice system and its compatibility with international standards, and whether discrimination in dealing with cases of trafficking continued.

Replies by the Delegation

Answering questions concerning the legal description of torture, the delegation said that the Criminal Code of Croatia contained a definition that included mental torture, adding that the minimum sentence was one to ten years in prison. The law on international assistance on criminal issues defined the procedure of extradition, which happened on the grounds of reciprocity and also on the basis of international treaties. Courts established whether the procedural grounds for extradition were met by establishing the identity of the person subject to extradition, the nature of the act in question and whether the act had already been criminally sanctioned in any country. The final decision to extradite was made by the Ministry of Justice.

Croatia had allocated 23 million Kunas (Kn) for the improvement of psychiatric hospitals and training on procedures concerning processing a person with mental disability was delivered to all those involved. Pre-trial detention was prescribed by the Criminal Code to ensure the presence of the person in criminal proceedings; pre-trial detention was only one measure which was applied for inter alia worst criminal offences, flight risk and the risk of destruction of evidence. Investigative judges defined the period of pre-trial detention for a maximum of 30 days, renewable twice; in the absence of an indictment, the suspect must be released after six months. The number of persons in pre-trial detention was on the decrease.

The national preventive mechanism, the Office of the Ombudswomen, had been established in 2011 and a proposal was being prepared to amend the law to ensure greater efficiency of the mechanism, including its independence, particularly during visits to places of detention. The draft amendment would also ensure greater contribution of the civil society organizations to the mechanism.

Mental health patients or psychiatric patients had the same rights as any other patient in Croatia, including a free choice of a doctor in primary care and the right to second opinion. The new law on persons with mental disability, scheduled to enter into force soon, had been harmonized with international standards and the recommendations made by the European Court of Human Rights. The new law defined that psychiatric diagnosis must be made on the basis of symptoms and not previous treatments, reduced the duration of mandatory psychiatric detention from 72 to 48 hours, and authorised the courts to conduct their procedures in the psychiatric institution to ensure the presence of the person. The records on domestic violence were harmonized with international standards and included photos and the filling of the so-called “red form” as recommended by the Istanbul Protocol.

Croatia had undertaken a number of measures to improve the standards in prisons: individual programmes for each inmate to assist them to deal with dependencies and violent behaviour and so accelerate their release; physical rehabilitation of prison facilities; and an increase in the number of semi-open facilities. Initial medical examination was conducted within 24 hours upon the arrival, or earlier at the request of the inmate; during the serving of the sentence, adequate medical care was provided as per standards laid down in the public health law. Police officers were not present during the medical check-ups, unless requested by the medical doctor.

The new Family Law which had entered in force in July 2014 recognized same-sex unions; there were special measures in prisons to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons serving a sentence.

With regard to human trafficking, the delegation said that a normative framework for the protection of victims was in place, the detection of trafficking offences had been simplified, and coordination was ongoing with regional and international bodies. In 2013, there were seven verdicts and in 2014 five. The Act on Foreign Citizens allowed victims of trafficking to use measures from humanitarian procedures for temporary stay, which entitled them to health care, primary education and the right to work.

The Act also defined the expulsion procedure which allowed the return of minors under certain conditions. From 2011 to 2014, a total 3,407 requests for asylum had been made; Croatia was still largely a transit country and most of the requests had been abandoned because many had left the territory of Croatia to go to the country of destination. The National Strategy for the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism aimed to use national resources to protect Croatia from potential terrorist attacks and to achieve those conditions and preconditions as drafted by the international anti-terrorist coalition.

Further Questions by the Committee Experts

SAPANA PRADHAN-MALLA, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, asked the delegation to provide additional information on the treatment of war crime cases and the possibility of persons in pre-trial detention to file complaints of ill-treatment.

ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, raised the important issue of training of judges which Croatia must focus on and ensure it was regular, structured and covered all areas pertaining to the Convention against Torture, the Istanbul Convention and other tools to identify traces of torture and ill-treatment. The Country Rapporteur asked the delegation to comment on isolation in rehabilitation centres, the issue of police abuse, including police oversight and prosecution, and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Initial medical examination must happen immediately upon arrival to detention facility and not within 24 hours upon arrival, and must be conducted by a medical doctor independent of the criminal justice procedure, Experts said, stressing that there must be no amnesty for torture.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, took note of the range of sanctions for the offence of torture, asked the delegation about the application of norms in practice, and expressed concern about discrimination of Roma and in particular the segregation of Roma children.

Further Responses by the Delegation

In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the head of the delegation said that the immigration and asylum seeking issues would be examined in the process of Croatia’s entrance to the Schengen, and stressed that significant training activities were ongoing. Unfortunately, lack of financial resources hampered those efforts. Croatia was making progress in addressing discrimination against Roma, but there were still some issues to address.

Concerning war crimes, the delegation said that war crimes had been committed during the Homeland War. The Amnesty Law of 1996 had been a step of good will for the establishment of good relationship between Croatia and the then Former Republic of Yugoslavia. More than 9,000 individuals had been processed for suspicion of war crimes; a strategy for the investigation of war crimes aimed at establishing crimes, and identifying and sanctioning perpetrators. The main obstacle in the prosecution of war crimes was inaccessibility of subjects; to counter this problem, Croatia played a leading role in regional cooperation and collaboration with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ministry of Justice had played a key role in collaborating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and met all its requests in a timely fashion.

As defined by the Criminal Code, the offence of torture carried the sentence of one to ten years imprisonment; a ten years sentence was reserved for the most serious crimes in Croatia. Croatia intended to increase the capacity of its prisons, 200 in Zagreb and 20 in Bjelovar, and hoped that it would have sufficient financial resources to build modern facilities.

The Judicial Academy was in charge of training of judges and judicial officials and offered continuing professional education activities, including on the protection of human rights and the principles of the Convention against Torture.

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their contribution in the Committee’s understanding of the issues and expressed appreciation for the information provided.

NEBOJSA KIRIGIN, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Croatia, thanked members of the Committee and expressed hope that the answers provided demonstrated that Croatia was improving and moving in the right direction.

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