The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of parliament. The latest presidential election was held in December 2019 with a second round for the top two candidates held on January 5. President Zoran Milanovic was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that the presidential election and parliamentary elections held on July 5 were free and fair.
The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were allegations that some members of the border police committed abuses of irregular migrants.
Significant human rights issues included: instances of violence against, and intimidation and censorship of, journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; reported acts of unjustified police violence against irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; corruption; and discrimination and violence against members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Serbs and Roma.
The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases enforced. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, introduced stricter penalties for violence among closely related family members and violence against women. In the amendments, sexual intercourse without consent is classified as rape, punishable with three to 10 years’ imprisonment. A separate law (Law on Protection from Domestic Violence), last amended in January, provides sanctions (fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment) for misdemeanor domestic violence. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, despite recent legislative changes, violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem largely due to limited education on gender-based violence laws for investigators, prosecutors, and judges that often led to cases being decided in favor of alleged perpetrators.
On January 22, the municipal court in Slavonski Brod convicted Pozesko-Slavonska County Prefect Alojz Tomasevic to a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years, for domestic violence. State prosecutors reportedly did not request a prison sentence in the case, and Tomasevic remained in his position. Civil society organizations and the ombudsperson for gender equality criticized the verdict as too lenient and asserted that victims of domestic violence could have “no trust” in the country’s judiciary with such a punishment.
On April 19, Interior Minister Bozinovic publicly acknowledged increased public reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2019 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the latest available, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 6.3 percent compared with 2018, while the number of criminal acts committed against “closely related people” (i.e., domestic violence cases) increased by 28 percent. The report stated that 78 percent of the victims of domestic violence were women (29 percent more than in 2018).
On March 12, the Croatian Association of Employers (HUP) signed a consensual termination agreement with former deputy director Bernard Jakelic after more than 10 female employees presented sexual harassment claims over the course of his 24-year career. Upon his dismissal, Jakelic received a significant severance pay package. The ombudsperson for gender equality filed a criminal complaint against Jakelic with the state prosecutor and warned HUP against revictimizing victims with its decision to sign a consensual termination employment agreement with the perpetrator instead of firing him.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affect access to contraception. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, labor, religion, inheritance, personal status and nationality laws, property, access to credit, owning or managing businesses or property, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation.
Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.
Child Abuse: Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for grave criminal acts of sexual abuse and abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the child dies as a consequence of the abuse. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The ombudsperson for children reported in 2019 her office received almost 10 percent more overall complaints regarding children than in 2018. The office received 97 complaints of domestic violence against children, 35 more than in 2018 (a 56 percent increase). Violence was most frequently reported by parents, followed by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.
On March 18, media widely reported an incident from February 2019 in which a 54-year-old man allegedly threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home on the island of Pag, significantly injuring one. On March 18, the Zadar County Court convicted the perpetrator to 30-years’ imprisonment and mandatory psychiatric treatment for attempted murder.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish population at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism. Historian Ivo Goldstein and Director of the U.S. Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff criticized the government for tolerating the rise of pro-Ustasha sentiment in the country.
During the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the Office of the Prime Minister characterized the Jasenovac concentration camp as a “painful and tragic part of the Croatian history” and stated that “remembering victims and strongly condemning atrocities are a pledge for Croatia’s European future.” On February 5, Prime Minister Plenkovic opened a Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb entitled If I forget you…The Holocaust in Croatia 1941-1945—Final destination Auschwitz. The exhibition was open until mid-April and was located near the site where Jews were transported to Croatian and other European concentration camps.
On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac, which was also attended by President Zoran Milanovic. For the first time since 2016, after having boycotted previous government commemorations, representatives from the Jewish community, Serb National Council (SNV), Romani community, and Alliance of Antifascist Fighters joined the official commemoration. Head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus was quoted by the media saying he attended to “extend the hand of friendship and goodwill” but still sought tangible results from the government in the fight against historical revisionism. Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SDSS) president and member of parliament Milorad Pupovac stated the participation represented a show of solidarity in light of the March 22 earthquake in Zagreb and COVID-19 crisis.
On June 3, the Zagreb High Misdemeanor Court ruled that the use of salute Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready) when used by singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic in his song did not violate the law. The Zagreb-based chapter of NGO Human Rights House claimed the constitution prohibits incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system and other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.
The 2019 report of the ombudsperson for persons with disabilities stated there were insignificant advances in policies aimed at persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson further stated that systemic solutions were lacking for special categories of persons with disabilities and children with early on-set developmental challenges. The ombudsperson also noted the law still lacks provisions to provide for the basic rights for persons with disabilities.
Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.
According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced increased hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to physical assaults especially in Vukovar, where Serb youths reportedly were attacked several times by Croatian youths. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.
On June 13, police arrested six Zagreb Dinamo soccer club fans after a photograph was circulated online of them posing with a banner depicting a vulgar and hateful anti-Serb message. Charges against the suspects were pending at year’s end. Separately, on June 14, Zagreb police reported they were investigating anti-Serb graffiti near a children’s park that depicted a “Serbian Family Tree,” with several individuals hanging from its branches, accompanied by a Nazi SS logo.
The eight parliamentary seats held by representatives of the national minorities became the main partner to the ruling HDZ’s coalition government following the July 5 parliamentary elections. Boris Milosevic, a member of parliament from the Serb national minority was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs issues and human rights.
On August 12, police confirmed they questioned a man from Perusic, later identified as the mayor of Perusic, Ivan Turic, on suspicion that he threatened a Romani woman with a handgun and shot at her children, allegedly because the woman’s goats entered the man’s field. Turic denied the accusations but confirmed police questioned him and told him to stay a minimum 328 feet away from the family who accused him.
The government and representatives of the Serb national minority publicly delivered positive messages of reconciliation on the 25th anniversary commemoration of Operation Storm in the town of Knin on August 5. In a speech at the event, Prime Minister Plenkovic acknowledged all victims, including Serbs, and expressed regret for war crimes committed by Croats. President Milanovic highlighted the victory, giving credit to the role of those who fought, but stated that unity required “different perspectives.” He acknowledged that crimes had been committed during the war and emphasized the need for better relations with Serbia, pledging to do everything he could do to accomplish that goal and calling on the Serbian leadership to do the same. Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic from the SDSS considered his participation at the commemoration to be a pledge for the future and the first step to reconciliation. Milanovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Medved, and Milosevic attended a commemoration for Serb civilian war victims in the village of Grubori on August 25. At the event Milanovic stated the commemoration was a “debt of honor,” adding that the “murder in Grubori was a moral disaster which harmed Croatia.” Medved declared establishing trust between the majority Croatian people and ethnic minorities was a prerequisite for development and a safe future together, while Milosevic stated the acknowledgement of all civilian victims was a prerequisite for reconciliation [between Serbs and Croats] in the country. On September 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic headlined a commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of Operation Storm in 1995, the first time a prime minister attended the event.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. A June report published by NGO Zagreb Pride stated that 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons experienced some form of discrimination, either at school, at work, or through contact with institutions such as the police, judiciary, and health systems. In June an NGO reported that two LGBTI persons experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, one of whom claimed being verbally insulted and humiliated on a bus commuting from Rijeka to Zagreb. In the other, during the police questioning of the perpetrator, a witness was verbally attacked and spat upon because of her sexual orientation. The perpetrator was sentenced to a misdemeanor fine of 5,000 kuna ($770).
LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. According to Zagreb Pride’s report, since 2013 fewer than 10 percent of LGBTI persons had been subjected to physical or verbal violence at least once, of which 64 percent involved verbal abuse.
Anti-LGBTI organizations continued to promote anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In February during the traditional Mardi Gras festivities in the southern town of Imotski, three dolls depicting a same-sex couple and their child were publicly burned. Following the event, LGBTI organizations reported the organizers to police for public incitement of violence and hatred, while in Split the municipal state prosecutor pressed charges against them in June.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, causing some to face discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.
HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.