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IRMCT Prosecutor’s Progress Report on Croatia Indicates Serious Issues

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On 11th of June, the Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), Serge Brammertz, issued a progress report outlining the work of the Mechanism’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). The report covered the developments regarding the OTP’s work and the situation on the ground (in Rwanda and Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro) between 16th of November 2023 and 15th of May 2024.


The OTP’s report, which was upon publication presented by the Prosecutor in front of the United Nations Security Council, outlined worrying issues regarding the situation in Croatia. Assessing the OTP’s report we categorized these issues into three main areas of concern:

1. lack of regional judicial cooperation and a halt in prosecution of Croatian nationals 

2. capacity issues within the Croatian State Attorney’s Office

3. denial and glorification of war crimes


Lack of Regional Judicial Cooperation and a Halt in Prosecution of Croatian Nationals

In its report, the OTP noted that, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro (with the OTP’s support) have shown notable progress in reversing the recent trend of insufficient regional judicial cooperation, this has been especially challenging in Croatia. The cooperation between Croatia and Serbia is almost completely absent while Croatia continues to decline requested assistance submitted by prosecutorial authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The OTP mentions two reasons for this - “political interference in the justice process” and a “policy to not provide cooperation to other countries in the region with respect to war crimes cases concerning suspects who are Croatian nationals”.

Given the non-existent cooperation with the Serbian judicial authorities, the Croatian judiciary focused their efforts on prosecuting ethnic Serbs in absentia. As assessed by the OTP, this prevents Croatian victims from obtaining meaningful justice and only reinforces impunity for crimes committed by Croatian perpetrators. According to the research conducted by Documenta, in 2023, there were 64 criminal proceedings in the discussion phase that are under the jurisdiction of the county courts in Zagreb, Rijeka, Osijek and Split. Out of 64, 42 criminal proceedings were carried out against inaccessible defendants who mostly reside in the territory of the Republic of Serbia and only 4 proceedings were held against members of Croatian military powers (HV and HVO).

While the cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina seemed to have improved a few years ago when the Croatian Ministry of Justice pledged to process all BiH’s requests for assistance in war crimes, BiH prosecutorial authorities on all levels reported that the number of pending requests has since only increased. The majority of the pending assistance requests concerns direct perpetrators of murder, rape, unlawful detention, and other similar crimes. The Croatian authorities acknowledged this situation but have not addressed plans to resolve it.

These issues significantly obstruct efforts to obtain justice for victims and ensure accountability for perpetrators thereby “prompting impunity for crimes committed by Croatian nationals in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. The OTP further emphasizes that “justice for victims of crimes committed by Croatian nationals residing in Croatia has largely come to a standstill” for a decade. These negative trends emerged right after Croatia’s accession to the European Union. 


Capacity Issues within the Croatian State Attorney’s Office

Due to the unwillingness to realize prior commitments to process cases and assistance requests, a significant backlog of pending cases has developed over the years. Consequently, Croatian prosecutors will have to, due to the unwillingness to extradite suspects, transfer and process around 100 cases in Croatia. The Croatian State Attorney’s Office voiced capacity issues to deal with such a large number of cases. These issues will lead to further processing delays and position victims even further from obtaining justice they deserve and should have the right to.


Denial and Glorification of War Crimes

In its report, the OTP specifically emphasized the issue of decorating suspected and convicted war criminals which is a practice that the Croatian President, Zoran Milanović, has often turned to during his presidential mandate. The OTP emphasized that such practices can further obstruct already biased and problematic justice processes. We have been reacting to such events on multiple occasions - see, for example, here (in Croatian).

Moreover, the OTP expressed its concern over the widespread denial of war crimes, glorification of war criminals, and non-acceptance of judicial facts in the entire region of former Yugoslavia - including Croatia. We have been repeatedly reporting on these recurring issues, see, for example, here and here (in Croatian). 


YIHR Croatia hereby expresses support for OTP’s calls upon the Croatian government and the Ministry of Justice outlined in the progress report. 


Given the worrying scope and seriousness of the problems outlined in the report and the summary above, YIHR Croatia urges the Croatian government and the Ministry of Justice:

  • To publicly acknowledge and address the OTP’s report and issues outlined in it.

  • To offer an explanation to why Croatia is not living up to its international obligations of, to name a few, ensuring accountability for war crimes, cooperating with other national judiciaries prosecuting war crimes in the region, ending impunity for war crimes, and securing justice for all victims of war.

  • To explain how it plans to address capacity issues confirmed by the Croatian State Attorney’s Office when it comes to a) transferring cases to Croatia, b) processing assistance requests from prosecutorial authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • To address the halt in prosecution of Croatian nationals that lasts for over a decade, ever since Croatia’s accession to the EU.

  • To explain how it plans to address widespread denial of war crimes, glorification of war criminals, and non-acceptance of judicially-established facts among members of the government, political representatives, and common citizens.

  • To develop and publicly present a strategic plan to resolve these issues in the following years.


Additionally, we urge the Croatian President Zoran Milanović to revoke decorations he and his predecessors awarded to convicted and suspected perpetrators of war crimes. We urge him to use his authority and influence to encourage accountability for war crimes and responsibility in dealing with our national past instead of obstructing justice and fueling further socio-political divisions.

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