Croatian authorities systematically attack refugees and migrants and deny them access to asylum, thus violating international and European law, Amnesty International said in response to a stunning report released today by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT).
The Committee's report on Croatian police's treatment of migrants and asylum seekers confirms investigations by Amnesty International and other groups, which have found compatible abuses in Croatia's border areas over the past four years. After visiting Croatia in August 2020, the CPT report was formally adopted in November 2020, although its publication had been delayed because the Croatian authorities did not consent to its release.
The Committee reviewed numerous allegations of physical ill-treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers by Croatian police and found that, in a significant number of cases, injuries were consistent with those typically sustained in law enforcement operations. law.
The Committee documented cases of people being kicked, repeatedly hit with rubber batons, automatic weapons barrels, or sticks, or attacked by police dogs. In some cases, people stopped by Croatian police were stripped of their belongings, including clothes, shoes and even underwear, and forced to walk miles to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The violence and abuses documented here indicate the existence of a systematic and deliberate practice designed to punish those who attempt to cross the border that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the Croatian authorities,” Massimo continued. Moratti.
The CPT concluded that the Croatian authorities' attempts to justify the abuses documented in the report "do not constitute a credible explanation for the numerous and serious injuries consistent with police ill-treatment."
Absence of accountability
The CPT strongly criticized the Croatian authorities' inaction in conducting thorough and timely investigations into allegations of police misconduct, noting that the files of the few completed cases "do not demonstrate any investigative act of facts that deserve that name”. Furthermore, the Committee noted that these “investigations”, which should have been carried out by an independent body, were instead carried out by the police officers themselves, undermining any notion of independence or impartiality.
“The Committee's harsh comments on the Croatian authorities' failure to properly investigate the ill-treatment confirm the long-standing Croatian government tactic of vehemently denying any wrongdoing while preventing an independent examination of its abuses . This has allowed the violence to continue unchecked and with impunity,” said Massimo Moratti.
In July, the Croatian government finally established a monitoring mechanism to facilitate independent monitoring of human rights in border-related operations. The CPT noted that an effective human rights monitor must be financially and operationally independent and have unimpeded and unannounced access to border areas, relevant documentation, and victims of alleged violations. In practice, however, the authorities and the European Commission, which supported the establishment of the mechanism with funds and expertise, did not ensure compliance with these criteria.
The European Union does not hold Croatia accountable
The European Commission has not taken any decisive action against Croatia despite overwhelming and credible reports of serious human rights abuses at the country's borders, some of which may have been committed with the help of funds from the European Union. In fact, the Commission provided additional emergency funds to Croatia in July 2021 without asking the Croatian authorities for guarantees that allegations of ill-treatment would be effectively investigated and that the monitoring mechanism would meet the fundamental criteria of independence, effectiveness and accountability.
“The Commission continues to miss opportunities to hold Croatia to account for widespread violations of EU law while continuing to help the country with additional funds and resources. This raises serious questions about the possible complicity of the EU in human rights violations that are regularly documented at the Croatian borders”, concluded Massimo Moratti.
“The European Commission has long claimed that credible and consistent reports from human rights organizations and the media have not been officially confirmed. As of today, there can be no doubt that abuses are taking place."
Over the past four years, numerous reports have revealed that Croatian intervention police systematically attack men, women and adolescents trying to enter the country, destroying their belongings and often removing their clothes and shoes before forcing them to leave. walk for hours through snow and frozen rivers.
The CPT report comes less than two weeks after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Croatia had violated the rights of a six-year-old Afghan girl who died when she was hit by a train after being returned unlawfully summary to Serbia in 2017.
In November 2020, the Office of the European Ombudsman opened an investigation into possible inaction by the European Commission in ensuring that the Croatian authorities respect fundamental rights in their EU-funded border operations against refugees and migrants. The investigation began thanks to a complaint from Amnesty International.
Links to CPT press release and report: www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/council-of-europe-anti-torture-committee-publishes-report-on-its-2020-ad hoc-visit-to-croatia