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Croatia: Police brutality in migrant pushback operations must be investigated and sanctioned – UN Special Rapporteurs

GENEVA (19 June 2020) – Croatia must immediately investigate reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel against migrants, including acts amounting to torture and ill-treatment, and sanction those responsible, UN human rights experts said today.

"We are deeply concerned about the repeated and ongoing disproportionate use of force by Croatian police against migrants in pushback operations. Victims, including children, suffered physical abuse and humiliation simply because of their migration status," Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in a joint statement.

They said physical violence and degrading treatment against migrants have been reported in more than 60 percent of all recorded pushback cases from Croatia between January and May 2020, and recent reports indicate the number of forced returns is rising.

Abusive treatment of migrants has included physical beatings, the use of electric shocks, forced river crossings and stripping of clothes despite adverse weather conditions, forced stress positions, gender insensitive body searches and spray-painting the heads of migrants with crosses.

"The violent pushback of migrants without going through any official procedure, individual assessment or other due process safeguards constitutes a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement," González Morales said.

"Such treatment appears specifically designed to subject migrants to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as prohibited under international law. Croatia must investigate all reported cases of violence against migrants, hold the perpetrators and their superiors accountable and provide compensation for victims," Melzer added.

The UN Special Rapporteurs are also concerned that in several cases, Croatian police officers reportedly ignored requests from migrants to seek asylum or other protection under international human rights and refugee law.

"Croatia must ensure that all border management measures, including those aimed at addressing irregular migration, are in line with international human rights law and standards, particularly, non-discrimination, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,  the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary or collective expulsions," they said.

During his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2019, González Morales received information on violent pushback of migrants by Croatian police to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has exchanged views with relevant Croatian authorities on this issue on several occasions. Already during his official visit to Serbia and Kosovo* in 2017, Melzer had received similar information from migrants reporting violent ill-treatment during pushback operations by the Croatian police. 

* All references to Kosovo should be understood to be in compliance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).

ENDS

Mr. Felipe González Morales (Chile) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2017 by the UN Human Rights Council. As a Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. He is Professor of International Law at the Diego Portales University, in Santiago, Chile, where he is also the Director of a Master's programme in International Human Rights Law.

 

Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) took up the function of Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 1 November 2016. Prof. Melzer is the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. He is also Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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