Violence Against Women in Croatia
Croatia
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Population of women: 2,284,600/4,409,700
Life expectancy of women (at birth):
 80
School life expectancy for women: 14
Women's Adult Literacy: 98%
Unemployment of women: 10%
Women engaged in economic activity: 46%


Source
: U.N. Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated June 2011

 

last updated 30 June 2010

 

Croatia declared independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991 and gained full independence after the four-year Serbo-Croatian War. Croatian women were drastically affected by the war, which ended in 1995. Poverty, rape, displacement and murder were realities that confronted many Croatian women throughout the 1990s. After the end of the war, women's lives were affected by a faltering economy. The post-war economy was unstable, and growth was hampered by coalition politics. Nonetheless, the economy began to stabilize by 2000. For 2008, various sources offer estimates indicating that the unemployment rate was between 8% and 13.7%, which was an average decrease in estimated unemployment by five to six percent since 2004. From:  “Background Note:  Croatia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 22 September 2009; “Social Indicators,” United Nations Statistics Division, December 2009; “The World Factbook – Croatia,” United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Publications, 26 April 2010. While women’s literacy and school life expectancy has increased over the past five years, gender disparities remain in the social, political and economic sphere.

As was the case with most former-communist governments, there was a sharp drop in the number of women elected to Parliament immediately following the elimination of the communist quota system, from 22% before independence to 5.7% in 1995. Women gradually increased their presence in the parliament throughout the following decade, from holding 6% of seats in 1995 to holding 21% in 2000. However, since 2000 the percentage of seats in parliament held by women has remained below 25%. From:  “Statistics and indicators on women and men,” United Nations Statistics Division, December 2009. In the judiciary system, women have had a strong presence in county and municipal courts, at times holding over fifty percent of the seats. In addition, four of the thirteen seats on the more prestigious Constitutional Court and half of the forty seats on the Supreme Court are occupied by women. Jadranka Kosor, Croatia’s first female prime minister took the position in 2009, and two of Croatia’s eighteen Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers are women. From:  “Nations in Transit – Croatia,” Freedom House, 2003; and Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, 54th Session, Helena Stimac Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, Government of the Republic of Croatia, United Nations, New York, 3 March 2010.

Although Croatian Labor Law prohibits gender discrimination, women experience a higher level of unemployment than men, and on average women’s wages account for only 76% of men’s average wages. From: “Statistics and indicators on women and men,” United Nations Statistics Division, December 2009. Also, as of 2004, half of all Croatian companies had no women in senior managerial positions, and only 3% of companies had four or more women in such positions. From: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Croatia.” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005.

Croatia formally applied for EU membership in 2003, reflecting a growing commitment to human rights initiatives and economic stability. In addition, Croatia was a member of the UN Commission for Human Rights from 2000 to 2004 and the UN Commission for the Status of Women from 2000 to 2009 (for which it served as presiding nation from 2000-2003). The nation signed on to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1991 and submitted reports in 1995, and 2003.  For more information on Croatia’s growing commitment to human rights, see the website of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Article 14 of the 1990 Croatian Constitution guarantees equality for all citizens: "Everyone in the Republic of Croatia shall enjoy rights and freedoms, regardless of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other belief. All shall be equal before the law." Article 174(1) of the Criminal Code punishes the violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms on the basis of differences in race, sex, color, national or ethnic origin. Perpetrators may be sentenced to imprisonment for six months to five years.

In 1996 the government created the Commission for Issues of Equality. The Commission served as the national body for improving the status of women in society and operated in an advisory capacity within the government to establish a national policy for gender equality. It drafted and adopted Croatia’s first National Policy for the Promotion of Equality in 1997, based on the Beijing platform for Action. In 2001, a Parliamentary Committee for Gender Equality replaced the Commission for Issues of Equality with the mandate to promote women's issues in domestic legislation and promote international treaties of the same subject. The government passed a second National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality in 2001 (2001-2005). In 2003 Croatia established a Governmental Office for Gender Equality, intended to coordinate and track all government efforts in women’s rights and gender equality. That same year, the government established a Gender Equality Ombudsperson, nominated by the Government and appointed by the Parliament, who acts as an independent judicial authority to review charges of discrimination. From:  Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, 54th Session, Helena Stimac Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, Government of the Republic of Croatia, United Nations, New York, 3 March 2010. In 2006, the Office of Gender Equality drafted a third National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality for the period of 2006 to 2010, which Parliament passed. For a more in-depth summary of Croatia’s current National Policy, see the National Plan section of this Country Page.

The first Croatian Gender Equality Act was passed on July 18, 2003, and the new Croatian Gender Equality Act (2008) on July 15, 2008. The 2008 Act, which built upon the first, protects citizens against discrimination on the basis of sex, martial status, familial status, and sexual orientation.  It specifically recognizes and denounces discrimination in employment, education and political leadership. Political parties are required to propose a balanced list of political candidates (where neither gender accounts for less than 40 percent of candidates), and the media is required to refrain from representing men or women in an offensive or degrading manner with regards to sex or sexuality. It also defines sexual harassment and makes any act of sexual harassment illegal.  Violations may be brought before the Ombudsperson for Gender Equality and to the traditional courts. Acts of discrimination call for a fine of HRK 5,000 to HRK 350,000 depending on the act and the person or entity in violation. The Act also establishes fines for government bodies who fail to submit Gender Equity reports within the required timeframe (HRK 3,000 – HRK 10,000), for political parties not proposing a balanced list of candidates (HRK 50,000 for parliamentary elections), and for media companies that publish offensive or degrading programming or advertisements (HRK 1,000,000). The Act also establishes County Commissions on Gender Equality. From:  Act on Gender Equality, Croatian Parliament, 15 July 2008.

Even though fifteen years have passed since the end of the Yugoslav War, Croatia still faces great challenges in managing ethnic tensions between the majority Croats and the nearly thirty ethnic minorities residing in the country. Issues of concern for ethnic minorities include the right of return for wartime refugees (including repossession of land and homes), citizenship for minorities, societal violence and discrimination, poverty and unemployment, and lack of political representation.  Despite the passage of the Constitutional Law on National Minorities in 2002 which offers widespread protection from discrimination, the 2009 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report listed many incidents of discrimination and harassment, including violent acts, aimed against Croatian Serbs and Roma in particular.  The European Roma Rights Centre claim that “the Roma remain to date the most deprived ethnic group of Europe” and the situation of Roma women in particular has been an issue of concern for the Croatian Government.  In its Concluding Comments on Croatia’s Second and Third Combined Periodic Report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women stated that “The Committee is concerned that Roma women remain in a vulnerable and marginalized situation, especially in regard to education, employment, health, and participation in public life and decision-making.” From: “Minorities in Croatia,” Minorities Rights Group International, 2003; ”2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Croatia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 11 March 2010; “Roma Rights – Quarterly Journal of the European Roma Rights Center,” Number 1, 2002, European Roma Rights Center, 2002; ”Concluding Comment: Croatia by the Committee to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women," (CEDAW/C/CRO/CC/2-3), Netherlands Institute of Human Rights. 28 January 2005.

In response to CEDAW recommendations, and as part of incorporating the UN political framework for the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015), Croatia has adopted an Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015), and has also included measures to address the situation of Roma women in particular in the National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality.  The National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality lists measures that aim to “Eliminate discrimination of Roma women, both in society in general and within their communities, and undertake activities and programmes aimed at raising awareness of respect of their human rights and monitor/analyse the position of Roma women to assess the impact of policy and programme measures.” These measures include gathering higher quality statistical data on the social and political situation of Roma women, as well as affirmative action efforts in employment and higher education.  However, much needs to be done for Croatia’s estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Roma – according to the United Nations Development Program Report, only 6% of Roma adults have permanent employment and only 10% of Roma children finish primary school. From: Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015)”, Office for National Minorities, Republic of Croatia;  The National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2006-2010, Croatian Parliament, 13 October 2006; “Monitoring Framework for the Decade of Roma Inclusion - Croatia,” Nikolic, Sara and Skegro, Matija, United Nations Development Program, 2010.

Domestic Violence

Violence against women is a serious problem in Croatia. After the war, domestic violence was exacerbated by the rise in alcoholism, unemployment and drug abuse among men. A study conducted by the Autonomous Women’s House, Zagreb in 2003 suggests that 41 percent of Croatian women have experienced some form of physical abuse by their marital or extra-martial partners.  From: The National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2006-2010, Croatian Parliament, 13 October 2006. The Croatian Ministry of the Interior, which collects data on reported cases of family violence, recorded an increase in reported incidents from 7,200 in 2002 to just over 19,000 incidents in 2007.  There was a slight drop in 2008 to around 17,800 reported incidents of family violence. The total number of victims in reported incidents was 22,200, the vast majority of which were women and children.From: Legislation in the Member States of the Council of Europe in the Field of Violence Against Women, Volume I: Armenia to Lithuania, Council of Europe, Gender Equality Division, Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs, Strasbourg, December 2009. In 2005 the Croatian Ombudsman for Gender Equality found that in the case of family violence against women, 43.27% of cases were husband against wife, 14.27% of cases were father against daughter, and 14.07% of cases were son against mother. From: Gender Equality Ombudsperson Annual Report 2005, Republic of Croatia, Zagreb, March 2006.

 

Domestic violence is generally prohibited by Article 23 of the Constitution: "No person is to be subjected to any type of maltreatment." On December 30, 2000, Croatia adopted a new Criminal Code which criminalizes violent behavior in the family. Article 215(a) punishes "[a]ny family member, who by violence, abuse or insolent behavior forces another family member into humiliating position..." by a prison sentence ranging from three months to three years. In May of 2002 the Criminal Procedures Act was amended to enhance protective measures for victims of domestic violence. This Law on Amendments of the Criminal Procedures Act allowed courts to issue a “prohibition to approach a certain person or establish and maintain contact with a certain person.” On October 1, 2002, Croatia adopted a new Law on Misdemeanors (Narodne novine No. 88/02), under which the Misdemeanor Court may order, with or without an applicant's request, the detention of a person who violates "public order and peace or in misdemeanor concerning domestic violence...if there is a substantial danger that the misdemeanor will continue" (Article 146(1)). The perpetrator may be held in detention until the cause for detention has ended or up to fifteen days has passed (Article 146(3)). From: “Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties: Croatia to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations (CEDAW/C/CRO/2-3) 27 October 2003.

 

In 2003 the Croatian Parliament passed the Law for Protection against Violence in the Family (otherwise translated as the Act on Protection against Domestic Violence), in which family violence is defined as “any use of physical force or psychological pressure against the integrity of a person; any other behavior of a family member which can cause or potentially cause physical or psychological pain; causing feelings of fear or being personally endangered or feeling of offended dignity; physical attack regardless of whether or not it results in physical injury, verbal assaults, insults, cursing, name-calling and other forms of severe disturbance; sexual harassment; stalking and all other forms of disturbance; illegal isolation or restriction of the freedom of movement or communication with third persons; damage or destruction of property or attempts to do so.” This 2003 Law not only defines the concept of family violence, it also stipulates protection measures, including restraining orders comparable to those applied in a criminal case. Under this act, domestic violence is considered a misdemeanor and results in a fine of HRK 1,000 to HRK 2,000 (US$200 to US$2,000) and up to 60 days in prison.  From: Gender Equality Ombudsperson Annual Report 2005, Republic of Croatia, Zagreb, March 2006; and ”2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Croatia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 11 March 2010. Again, if the case is tried as a violation of the Criminal Code, perpetrators can be sentenced up to three years in prison, but at this time the vast majority of cases are filed by police as a misdemeanor and many are not brought before a judge at all. In 2008, there were 1,634 person reported for family violence under the Criminal Code, and 16,169 persons reported under the misdemeanor offence of violent conduct in the family. Of these 16,169 reported persons only 6,610 were brought before a misdemeanor judge for sentencing. From: Legislation in the Member States of the Council of Europe in the Field of Violence Against Women, Volume I: Armenia to Lithuania, Council of Europe, Gender Equality Division, Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs, Strasbourg, December 2009.  The 2003 Law for Protection against Violence in the Family allows the court office to order psychosocial treatment for the perpetrator; however, requests for protection orders and removal of the offender from the residence can only be filed by the victim, who is often too frightened to make such a request. From:  Report on Women’s Human Rights in 2005, 51% - Zenska mreza Hrvatske, Zagreb, January 2006.

Since the 2003 Law, there have been many efforts to address domestic violence within the Croatian legal framework. In 2005, the National Strategy for Protection Against Domestic Violence of 2005-2007 was written, which stressed that all bodies responsible for the prevention and processing of domestic violence cases must engage in research on the issue, and that it was important for NGOs who provide services to victims of domestic violence to communicate and cooperate with one another. From: The National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2006-2010, Croatian Parliament, 13 October 2006. In 2005, the Protocol for Action in Cases of Domestic Violence was adopted, which outlines precise procedures for police, courts and judiciary bodies, social welfare centers, hospitals, and schools in addressing cases of domestic violence. This Protocol also requires the use of a standardized police reporting form which should support the successful execution of all cases. From: “Croatia – Rules of Procedure in Cases of Family Violence,” United Nations Secretary General’s database on violence against women, accessed 5/24/10.

The newest national plan on domestic violence, The National Strategy for Protection Against Domestic Violence for 2008-2010, calls for 49 measures within six activity categories: education of legal and victim support professionals, psycho-social treatment for perpetrators, analysis and implementation of protection measures, shelters and support services, supporting victims in court proceedings, and public awareness of the issue of domestic and family violence. Specific measures within the area of implementation of legislation include: amending the Penal Code and Misdemeanor Act to increase protection of victims, proposing a Free Legal Assistance Act and a Act on Compensation to Victims of Violent Crime to help offset the financial burdens for victims, and drafting a new Act on the Protection against Family Violence. With regards to shelters and services, the new National Strategy calls for an analysis of current available services, for increased funding for public and private shelters, and for increased victim services in the areas of health care, education, employment, schooling for children, and counseling. The Ministry of Family, Veteran Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity is the primary body in charge of the implementation of this National Strategy. The work of this Ministry includes: publishing an annual address book of institutions and organizations providing support and services to victims of family violence, counseling centers for victims, administering an SOS phone line for women, and providing funding for shelters for victims of family violence. From: The National Strategy for Protection against Family Violence for the Period 2008-2010, Ministry of Family, Veteran’s Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity, Zagreb, 2008; and  “Croatia – The National Strategy for Protection Against Domestic Violence for 2008-2010,” United Nations Secretary General's database on violence against women, accessed 5/24/10.

Also in 2008, the Croatian Government passed a new Rules of Procedure in Cases of Family Violence. The Rules of Procedure require police, social services, health professionals and educational institutions to report any suspected incident of family violence.  These Rules outline the requirements of all involved parties for the investigation of an incident including the care of children involved, the detention of perpetrators, protection of victims including protection from secondary victimization through the interviewing process, the confiscation of weapons, the use of standard forms, and the cooperation and coordination of reporting and providing victim services. While these are great improvements, there is still much that can be done in the area of victim services. Currently there are 17 women’s shelters run by NGO’s and local governments, but only five of these are permanent. From: Rules of Procedure in Cases of Family Violence, Ministry of Family, Veteran’s Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity, Zagreb, 2008; and ”2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Croatia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 11 March 2010.

In a March 2010 Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, Helena Stimac Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, announced that a new Act on the Protection Against Domestic Violence was adopted in 2009, as called for in the National Strategy for 2008-2010. This new Act has increased the maximum punishment for committing family violence from 60 to 90 days, shortened the period in which the court can make a decision on a protective measure from 48 to 24 hours, and has increased the maximum length for a restraining order from one year to two years and the maximum length of an eviction order from three months to two years.  However, the new Act does not protect intimate partners, leaving those women who have not lived with or had children with the perpetrators without protection. From: Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, Helena Stimac Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, Government of the Republic of Croatia, United Nations, New York, 3 March 2010.

Despite many efforts for stronger legislation against domestic violence, much more can be done in the implementation of new legislation. A women’s activist organization in Croatia, B.a.B.e., sent a murder case to the European Court for Human Rights in 2008. In this case, Mignon Tomasic and her daughter Vanessa were murdered by Tomasic’s unwed husband who later killed himself. Complaints had been brought to the courts prior to the murder after the perpetrator, Mladen Mesaric, had first made serious threats against the victim, but no significant action had been taken. After the murders, there was no thorough investigation by police and there was insufficient action taken by the courts and administrators. This was the first case of this nature sent for international review, and the European Court for Human Rights required the Government of Croatia to pay the victim’s family 40,000 Euros, as well as pay for the cost of hearing. The court made the ruling based on several findings, including that “The state of Croatia did not take adequate measures to stop the murder, and did not conduct thorough investigation in order to determine possible responsibility of persons and institutions.” From: “First case on domestic violence solved positively,” B.a.B.e., Human Rights House Sarajevo, 30 January 2009.

The Advocates for Human Rights, with its partners, the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and Autonomous Women's House Zagreb sent delegations to Croatia in October 2010 February 2011 to investigate the implementation of Croatia’s domestic violence legislation. The delegations conducted interviews with NGOs, shelter workers, police, judges, Centers for Social Welfare personnel, Ministry officials, health care workers, victims, prison personnel, and other government representatives. Released in September 2012, the report, Implementation of Croatia's Domestic Violence Legislation presents the delegations’ findings and makes recommendations to strengthen the government’s implementation of domestic violence laws to better protect victims and hold offenders accountable.

Sexual Assault

One of the most tragic results of the Balkan armed conflict were the thousands of genocidal or ethnic rapes committed during the war - a tragedy so powerful that in 1993, the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia identified systematic rape as a crime against humanity for the first time. Today in Croatia, sexual assault is an underreported, endemic problem. On average, 100 to 140 cases of rape are reported annually in Croatia, however NGOs estimate that only one in three rapes are reported. Women often do not report rape because of a lack of knowledge of the law and the protections provided, because of feelings of shame or fear of reprisal, or because of fear of economic consequences in cases of spousal rape. From: “2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Croatia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 11 March 2010.