President of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 21 June 2010

Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, distinguished Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, distinguished Secretary General of the Council of Europe, distinguished members of the Assembly, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is my immense privilege and pleasure to address today the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The reasons for that are manifold.

I assumed the office of President of the Republic of Croatia less than four months ago with a clear message from the Croatian people about their commitment to the completion of the process of transformation of the Croatian state, particularly its public administration, so that they can fully meet the needs of the new age. Croatia wants to be a consolidated democracy in which values such as democracy, human rights, freedom and justice are promoted and fully respected. These were at the same time the fundamental parts of my election programme, and today they are my main goals during my term of office.

As you are aware, my life and professional career are based on the firm human conviction that democracy is the only way for the creation of the conditions necessary for the full respect of human rights and freedoms of each and every citizen, and that the rule of law is the way to ensure such rights. I believe that such values cannot be measured or have a price. This is why I opted professionally – along with my artistic career – for a legal career as well, with an emphasis on international law and practice. In social terms, I have been active throughout civil society to support my convictions in practical implementation. This is why my visit to the Council of Europe and my address before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council were my priorities, which I am now fulfilling with a feeling of particular pleasure and privilege.

Distinguished members of the Assembly, Croatia has drafted its transition into a modern European state through two strategic objectives – membership of the EU and of NATO, the latter having been achieved – and a number of multi-level objectives which are complementary and instrumental in the fulfilment of the first two objectives.

The first complementary objective is to promote and ensure the fundamental values, such as democracy, human rights and the rule law, on which modern western civilisation is based and which are built into the foundations of the European Union to which we aspire. At the same time, we are intensively promoting co-operation with our neighbours in order to close a painful chapter in recent history and ensure lasting peace and security in the region. This is a condition of our progress, but also of the progress of our neighbours with whom we share an increasing number of interests and with whom we are gradually closing open issues. The ultimate objective of all states in the region is membership of the European Union. The prospect is open to all of them, and the way to achievement is taking its course depending on the context in which reforms and the process of enlargement are under way.

An equally important and consistent objective is the completion of the international transformation of the state and society in line with European standards and with the model of countries with democratic traditions, and that may be the greatest challenge facing us. Transition of a society based on planned economy into a democratic and free society distinguished by the rule of law and the free market is a project of major scale and distant horizons. It calls for the effort of all social structures, all citizens and of every individual regardless of his position on the social ladder.

The realisation of all these objectives will fulfil the promises that we gave ourselves 18 years ago, when our sovereign and independent state was created, and fulfil the hopes of all the citizens who invested everything they had into the process of creation of our state, from their ideals, strength and physical strength to their most valuable resource – their own lives.

Distinguished members of the Assembly, allow me to give greater detail on the position of Croatia in the process of integration, because that is inseparable from themes within the domain of action of the Council of Europe which engage your attention on a daily basis.

Let me express with pleasure the conviction that the Republic of Croatia is in the final stage of negotiations for accession to the European Union, as well as the hope that we shall very soon become its 28th member. There is a lot of effort behind us, but we are likewise still faced with quite a few challenges, which we are resolving in order to complete the process. Three chapters still have to opened in the negotiations, the major one being No. 23, on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, the substance of which you are also following closely.

First let me say a few words about the context: that is, about our point of departure. Croatia inherited a very imperfect and inappropriate legal system reflecting the accepted values of the time and of the regime. Transformation started as the state was founded, but it gained the essential momentum with the start of negotiations with the EU and the process of adjustment of Croatia’s legal system to the European system. The judiciary was not free and it was influenced by politics, it was not adequately organised, and corruption was firmly ingrained in society as a modus operandi. The concept of freedom and human rights in terms of access to justice for everyone did not exist.

In the meantime, we had experienced the tribulations of war and were faced with war crimes committed by individuals in the name of the people. We are still faced with clearing up the consequences. The horrors of war upset relations in the region and led to a large-scale refugee crisis. Some of Croatia’s citizens are still exiles in other countries, but there are also persons who left such countries and have not yet returned. War created an atmosphere of instability and insecurity in the region, providing fertile ground for the spread of corruption and organised crime.

In the first post-war period, all that made the transformation processes to which I referred at the beginning of my address rather difficult. In certain moments, unfortunately, it even almost completely blocked them. Along with the usual difficulties of transition, which some of you have also directly experienced, we suffered from additional difficulties caused by tragic conflicts in the first half of the 1990s. I am not stressing this in order to seek justification for what has not been done or has been done more slowly or less thoroughly. We could have achieved more and in a better way. However, when one speaks about Croatian transition and the consolidation of democracy, we must nevertheless bear in mind these additional difficulties because only then shall we be able to grasp the magnitude of the challenge which faced us, and still faces us in a certain sense.

And now, distinguished members of the Assembly, allow me to say also a few words about our success on that way. Today, I can confidently claim that a great part of the tasks we needed to achieve for our own benefit but also in order to complete negotiations has been dealt with completely or is nearing completion. Since we are also dealing with identical questions within the context of our co-operation with the Council of Europe, I shall devote more attention to certain specific questions of your particular interest.

First, I should say a few words about the judiciary and the rule of law. We have started a major reform of the judiciary, which is still under way. We have reorganised the court system through improved efficiency and computerisation, professionalised the dispensing of justice through permanent judge training, reorganised the procedure for judge appointment, improved the independent character of the judicature, qualified our courts and our state attorneys for the successful prosecution of war crimes and, through the already relatively long practice of co-operation with the ICTY in The Hague, demonstrated that we are completely ready and willing to co-operate with that institution of international justice. We have overcome the political and legal obstacles that stood in the way of such co-operation for a time.

However, in evaluating reform of the judiciary, it should always be borne in mind that this is a long process which is not yet completed and which will continue to require Croatia’s efforts for some time to come. What is important is the fact that we are demonstrating that changes do occur, that we are not losing momentum in this effort, and that we are demonstrating the will and the strength to carry on in the same manner.

In the field of judicature, Croatia has accomplished major progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime. In the fight against organised crime, we have achieved strong co-operation with the respective institutions of states in our region. Organised crime has gathered momentum in south-eastern Europe, and Croatia is sparing no effort in trying to eradicate that evil in close co-operation with other countries. We are aware that one of the reasons underlying the evil lies in the insufficient force and qualification of the state apparatus as well as in the earlier hesitation of states affected by organised crime to co-operate more firmly and efficiently in the fight against it. We are trying to change this. We have streamlined our laws and signed a number of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries in order to facilitate the exchange of data and evidence in the fight against organised crime. The Croatian and Serbian police have established a joint office for the fight against organised crime, the structuring of which is in its final stage. A newly enacted penal law envisages the seizure of property in cases of demonstrable criminal offences. It is also applied to corruption cases. By co-operating with its neighbours and reinforcing its administrative capacity, Croatia contributes not only to the security of its own citizens and of citizens of other countries in the region, but to European and global security. You may be sure that we shall continue to persevere in the future.

Due mention should be made of the fact that the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, adopted last week, included the incorporation of the article on the European arrest warrant, which will contribute even more to the fight against corruption and organised crime.

The Croatian Government has proclaimed a policy of zero tolerance to corruption, which at one time had seriously penetrated even the state structures and business practices. This political decision was supported by all political opinions on Croatia’s current political scene, and a very significant contribution was also provided by civil society organisations. We have established USKOK – the Bureau for combating corruption and organised crime – a body comprising specialised police units, the state attorney’s office and special court departments for the fight against corruption and organised crime. We have thereby set up an efficient, flexible and motivated structure focused on the detection, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of these criminal offences. I have in mind particularly the sphere of public procurement and budget expenditure. The attention of anti-corruption actions is focused especially on public companies controlling the greater part of resources as major state investors.

The results have been significant, and several large-scale corruption scandals have been detected, along with a large number of suspects, some of them even in high political positions. We are now entering the trial stage and awaiting the results. However, even now we can say that the Croatian public have an increasing awareness of the importance of the comprehensive struggle against corruption. I am convinced that we are on a good track in this field as well, and I shall continue to support the selected road with my own authority.

The reform of the judiciary has entered its decisive and final phase. The main challenges concern the continued strengthening of the independence and efficiency of the judicature. Newly adopted amendments to the constitution are an important step in the continued consolidation of the independent judiciary and, hence, enhanced responsibility of the judicial authorities for conditions in the administration of justice. Croatian citizens must have equal rights, be equal before the law and enjoy access to justice.

As President of the Republic, I shall closely monitor the continuity of the reform and take proper action in order to ensure appropriate progress.

In the context of the judiciary, law and justice, Croatia was faced, as I have already noted, with the serious consequences of the war and war damage in its territory. Along with the noble motive, defence from aggression and the legitimate defence of territory in order to realise the right to life in one’s own state and within its borders, with the respect of all rules of warfare laid down in various conventions, individual crimes were committed against persons belonging to other ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Serbs in Croatia, or people upholding different world views and opinions. We are implementing a policy of zero tolerance towards all persons who have committed crimes, and we believe that the punishment of crime is an integral part of the transformation of Croatia to which I referred earlier. Croatian citizens suspected of war crimes are tried in our own state, and quite successfully, in the judgment of relevant international bodies and particularly of the ICTY.

However, the process is not over yet because, as we know, crime is not subject to the statute of limitations. Many proceedings, especially against Serbs during the first years after independence – for example in absentia or in an atmosphere which did not guarantee full court independence – are being reopened. In all cases involving dilemmas about the correctness of the proceedings, we believe that it would be just to have them repeated. Some of these trials, and those concerning ethnic Croats suspected of having committed crimes during the war as members of paramilitary units, are of a sensitive nature. Such proceedings, and this is of particular importance, must be pursued on the basis of universal legal principles and in the spirit of human rights standards prescribed by conventions. The Croatian judicial system is investing enhanced effort in the improvement of its trial capability in this area as well.

A major theme in Croatian accession negotiations in the field of the judiciary and fundamental rights is Croatia’s co-operation with the tribunal in The Hague, where a number of Croatian citizens are being tried. Within the scope of accession negotiations, co-operation with the tribunal, and issues such as human rights, freedom and justice, are political criteria which are being followed very closely.

Before I turn to explaining in concrete terms how and where Croatia co-operates with the ICTY, let me inform you that I was personally, before I entered politics, an ardent human rights advocate and activist, and, in that context, one of the earliest persons to argue for the establishment of the tribunal in The Hague. I took part in the process of legal formulation of the tribunal and, after its establishment, I was one of the most persistent advocates of Croatia’s co-operation with the ICTY. In circumstances which did not always favour such co-operation, I was the author of the constitutional law on co-operation with the ICTY. It was precisely the adoption of that law in the Croatian Parliament that created the conditions for the full co-operation that I am advocating and wholeheartedly supporting.

The co-operation of the Republic of Croatia with the ICTY has its history and its course. Support of such co-operation has not always been present in Croatian society. There were several stages of co-operation and non-co-operation, but they are now behind us. Today I can claim, with full responsibility, that Croatian citizens have accepted the fact that co-operation with the ICTY is a necessity which contributes to clarifying crimes committed in the war and bringing them back to where they belong – to the sphere of individual perpetrators of offences and outside of the impermissible sphere of collective guilt.

No people in conflict during the early 1990s is guilty: it is the individuals, the demonstrable perpetrators of the crimes, who are guilty, and they must be punished for it.

In this context, the Croatian authorities, the administration and political factors place such trials in the judicial sphere and expect that all the cases will be dealt with in that sphere. As a great advocate of human rights, freedom and justice for all the citizens of Croatia, because of the international legal order we are all creating, I also expect that.

As I have already emphasised, co-operation with the ICTY will continue to be an essential element for the evaluation of the success of our accession negotiations, and I hope that the member countries will recognise both the efforts and the objective results of such co-operation, soon to result in the opening and, within a foreseeable and reasonable time, in the closing of negotiations on this chapter.

The war had many traumatic consequences for the citizens of the Republic of Croatia. Those consequences indirectly or directly affected human rights and freedoms. Refugees and displaced persons are among the most jeopardised categories of Croatian citizens. As I have already noted, their problems are of ethnic and regional character, but we must never lose sight of the personal traumas that many of them experienced. During the war, many citizens, ethnic Serbs, particularly those in the areas bordering on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, which they had traditionally inhabited, left the Republic of Croatia. Many citizens, Croats by nationality, were forced to leave their homes and settle throughout Croatia. Owing to the war in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croatian population in areas which are now part of Republika Srpska fled to Croatia. The problem of refugees and displaced persons who have not yet returned to their homes after 18 years is a humanitarian issue of the highest significance, and the Croatian state has invested major organisational and material efforts in resolving the problem and ensuring a voluntary and dignified return, and a life, to these people. However, we are still faced with many challenges in this regard.

Let me note that, half a year ago, a new initiative was launched attempting, at the regional level and in bilateral contacts, to deal with the remaining open issues and thus completing the process of return with the help of the international community and pursuant to international law and the provisions of relevant conventions. The regional conference held in Belgrade set the principles for completing the process. Serbia and Croatia have intensified their co-operation in order to find an adequate solution for the voluntary return of the remaining Serbian refugees to Croatia, but also of other refugees in the region.

The work of bilateral groups has continued in line with the established regional framework. The Croatian and Serbian working groups are co-operating in a spirit of flexibility and seeking pragmatic solutions for actual problems of people still experiencing the tragic refugee distress. The Republic of Croatia believes that such questions have to be resolved step by step by proceeding from the most pressing cases, those related to the people in refugee centres in Serbia, which must be closed as soon as possible.

The next problem to be dealt with relates to statistics. We seek to identify the actual number of people wishing to return and to establish their actual status and needs. Discussions are under way about modalities which would provide a final solution for the problems of all the remaining refugees. This implies a range of solutions, from the realisation of the right to the restitution of property to refugees who have opted for integration in their new homeland to the question of refugees who still want to return. Croatia welcomes the good offices of the UNHCR in the process and is grateful to all the member countries of the Council of Europe which have shown interest in providing financial support.

Let me use this occasion in order to point out my wholehearted support of the renewed process of regional and bilateral agreement which is under way in good faith. I expect that it will identify satisfactory solutions, allowing the remaining refugees to organise their lives in their old or new homes, and that we shall thereby close this painful chapter in our common past.

Along with the question of return of refugees and displaced persons, the Republic of Croatia is also seriously committed to the discussion and resolution of all other open issues in the relations with its neighbours. In assuming the office of President of the Republic, I undertook to fulfil the pledges in my election programme, in which visible focus was given to promoting relations with our neighbours and enhancing regional co-operation in south-eastern Europe.

With my past activities and together with the government, I have launched quite a few initiatives regarding co-operation. I have visited Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I am planning to visit Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. In this way, I am realising my deep conviction that, without good neighbourly relations, there will be no lasting peace and stability in the region and, consequently, no promotion of development cycles setting off economic recovery and growth.

With its intensive regional co-operation, the Republic of Croatia fulfils an important condition on its way to the EU. It is known that a bilateral problem, the border with Slovenia, slowed down the process for a while. However, after the citizens and politicians on both sides demonstrated their maturity, the problem was successfully resolved by an agreement between the two governments and the subsequent ratification of the border arbitration agreement by both parliaments. By our negotiating spirit and openness to consensus we have demonstrated our conviction that talks are the only way to a solution. Good neighbourly relations with Slovenia are on the upswing, and several intergovernmental commissions are busy dealing with remaining questions regarding other fields of co-operation.

I am convinced that this example will be exceptionally beneficial in talks on open issues with other neighbours.

Croatia is deeply interested in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which the Croatian people is one of the three constituent peoples, finding the best way for overcoming difficulties and accelerating the process of further consolidation. The modality of co-existence of the three peoples needs to be improved, and I have personally taken a step which, I believe, ought to encourage anew the process.

During my recent visits, I paid homage to all who have suffered, and all the innocent people who have been killed in all the three ethnic communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, people who became the victims of war crimes just because they belonged to another ethnic group. The insane war waged in this region should slowly become a historical happening, and forgiveness and reconciliation are the first steps on that track. This needs to be followed up by a long process focused on building confidence and talks on identifying adequate and better solutions for co-existence, but as regards solutions, the basic human and existential needs of all citizens the Republic of Croatia will sustain its constructive actions and it will participate, duly observing the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the realisation of the ideals of an integrated and functional state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, attaining the highest standards of democracy, freedoms and rights on behalf of and on account of its citizens.

Relations between Croatia and Serbia are a specific mainstay of co-operation, lasting peace and stability in the region. The advancement of our relations is of vital importance for the prosperity of our citizens. Over the past 18 years, the process of rapprochement has seen its ups and downs. Bearing in mind primarily the interest of our citizens, the promotion of our relations and confidence-building measures as a condition governing this process are today one of my priorities.

In this respect, I have already met several times with the Serbian President Mr Tadic and thereby opened the way for the concrete activities that are under way. Today, Croatia and Serbia are co-operating constructively, flexibly and pragmatically in eliminating obstacles. Through a structured dialogue at government level, the two states are discussing questions such as borders, refuges, displaced persons, missing persons, minorities, property, and elimination of obstacles in the way of mutual investments and a host of other items. I am convinced that we have chosen the right track, and I shall personally work hard to support the continuation of the process.

The Republic of Croatia also co-operates intensively with other countries regardless of possible remaining open issues. Our relations with Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania are exemplary, and our co-operation is continuous and fruitful. Finally, talking about the region, I would like to highlight a fact which, in my belief, is of the highest importance for its prosperity. Ten years ago, the European Union offered the region European prospects. At that time, this implied an offer to help the states in the region to pull away from the past with the assistance of the European Union, resolving their relations and creating conditions for turning to the future by boarding the train for Europe.

I believe that the offer in question was the most signification demonstration of EU policy with respect to the then still unsettled and incomplete region of the western Balkans. All the states have designated accession to the EU as their most important strategic goal, and embarked on reforms meaning the consolidation of the state and society, each at its own pace and depending on its own capacity. All the current positive developments in the region are indivisible from its road towards the EU, and their effects are visible in gradual consolidation, the promotion of dialogue and the resolution of open issues. I find the recognition and verification of these actions by our European partners and the international community at large to be essential.

I shall now dwell on other areas of the accomplishment of the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights in the Republic of Croatia.

I truly believe that man as an individual and as a citizen can fully find fulfilment only in an environment permitting the realisation of all, repeat all, human rights. It was precisely because I recognise the role of the Council of Europe that I have actively participated in this process. Since its foundation, the Republic of Croatia has accomplished significant progress on that track, to a large extent because of the institutional and substantial role of the Council of Europe in that process. All the high standards permitting the integral respect of human rights and freedoms have predominantly been built into the Croatian legislative and legal system, thereby creating the framework for their effective implementation. I dare say that the process of legislative adjustment, based among other things on positive EU practice, and international conventions and associated documents, is almost completed. What still remains to be done is the final implementation of this legislative framework in practice. The Republic of Croatia is intensively engaged in this process, and will sustain its engagement, so that every citizen of Croatia can use all the rights available to him and live in democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. In this field, I shall also personally use both my knowledge and my political role to support the still-incomplete implementation.

In spite of the war, Croatia began to adopt and implement the most important documents for the protection of human rights immediately after attaining independence. Through notification of succession, the Republic of Croatia became a party to all the seven major UN treaties concerning the protection of human rights.

In order to reinforce and promote democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, the Republic of Croatia became a party to a number of conventions of the Council of Europe concerning the protection of human rights, and has signed and ratified them. Among them, particular mention needs to be made of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Social Charter, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

In every modern democratic society, state authorities are particularly important for creating and implementing in practice the legal principles concerning human beings. This is why it would be important for state administration bodies to have sufficient administrative and professional resources for the efficient implementation of standards for the protection of human rights. I could not say that we have attained this objective, but we are also progressing in that area. Basic offices such as the Office for Human Rights, the Office for National Minorities, the Office for Gender Equality and the Office for Associations have been founded, and the Government of the Republic of Croatia has also set up an interdepartmental body – the Commission for Human Rights – charged with analysis of the efficiency of the system for the protection and promotion of human rights.

The government has also adopted another significant document, the national programme for the protection and promotion of human rights from 2008 to 2011, which is being intensively implemented.

In addition to state administration bodies dealing with the protection and promotion of human rights, in the Republic of Croatia there are also independent national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights such as the ombudsman, the ombudsman for children and the ombudsman for gender equality, and the newly established ombudsman for persons with disabilities. They all protect and advocate the respect of human rights in line with their competencies.

Civil society plays a compelling role in the promotion of human rights in the Republic of Croatia. The numerous civil society organisations registered in the Republic of Croatia see their role in promoting the rule of law, involving citizens in the public sphere and enhancing public awareness. In this way, the actions of these associations favour the promotion of tolerance and positive action with respect to particularly vulnerable and minority groups.

It can be said with good reason that the realisation of human rights principles in the Republic of Croatia is not possible without the active role of civil society organisations. Civil society organisations operate free from hindrance. They are partly co-financed from public funds and their influence is reflected in the increasing mobilisation of citizens in the realisation of their rights. Civil protests against phenomenums and decisions which are not transparent and contrary to the citizens’ interest are becoming increasingly common, and are beginning to operate as a relevant and serious form of corrective action with respect to the state and its administration.

The rule of law and the degree of tolerance of a specific state are also measured in terms of the attitude of the majority towards members of minorities. Therefore, for Croatian society it is extremely important to provide to national minorities the conditions for the successful realisation of all their rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia and international documents. Croatia has 22 national minorities, the Serbian one being the largest. The very recently adopted amendments to the constitution mention all the minorities in the preamble. Today, Croatia is the state of Croats and of the members of all minorities, and they are all citizens of the Republic of Croatia.

Minority rights in the Republic of Croatia are guaranteed by the constitutional law on the rights of national minorities. The provisions of the law guarantee to all members of national minorities a number of rights ensuring their cultural autonomy. Moreover, the law also regulates the rights of members of national minorities with respect to their participation in public life and representation of their interests in local and regional self-government bodies, and proportional representation in judicial and state administration bodies. The progress achieved in the realisation of these rights is also shown by the fact that eight seats in the Croatian Parliament are guaranteed for members of national minorities. However, full implementation of the rights under the constitutional law still requires additional effort. The representatives of minorities in the parliament, but also in the government because the Serbian party is its coalition partner, and the entire administration are doing their best to realise some rights which still await implementation such as the participation of minority members in judicial authorities and administrative bodies, and due attention needs to be given to sustaining such efforts.

In speaking about minorities I would particularly like to mention the Roma, a minority in Croatia about which there are special sensitivities. In order to achieve the equality of Roma as a particularly vulnerable minority group, not only in the Republic of Croatia but also at the global level, the Croatian Government has adopted the national programme for the Roma. Its goal is to help the Roma, in a systematic and comprehensive way, to improve the quality of their living, and to become integrated in social life and decision-making processes while preserving their identity, culture and tradition. The programme also envisions more active involvement of local and regional self-government bodies in actions focused on improving the life of the Roma minority. The Roma are encouraged to participate in public and political life, and it gives me particular pleasure to note that a Roma representative is also a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia.

In order to provide for the full integration of the Roma minority, the Croatian Government has also adopted the decade action plan for Roma integration 2005-15, which is focused, through the achievement of a number of goals in education, health care, employment and housing, on Roma integration in political, economic, social and cultural life in the Republic of Croatia. Mr Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, recently visited Croatia and became acquainted with all activities intended to improve Roma status in Croatia. We shall consider his recommendations with particular care and recognise them as relevant for the improvement of the Roma status.

Let me add a few words about the rights of a particularly vulnerable group, persons with disabilities. Croatia has already achieved considerable progress in realising their rights and creating an environment for their active participation, on an equal footing, in society. However, additional efforts are required in order to provide the highest level of protection and the realisation of all their rights without any discrimination. In 2005, the Croatian Parliament adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, confirming the rights of all citizens to equal participation in all sections of society and unhindered use of all their legal and constitutional rights.

The Republic of Croatia has also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

In order to attain further progress and reinforce the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and of children with developmental disabilities, and provide for the implementation of fundamental human rights principles such as the principle of non-discrimination and the principle of interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights, Croatia has adopted the national strategy of equal opportunities for persons with disabilities from 2007 to 2015. The latest step towards the better protection of the rights of persons with disabilities is the recent foundation of an independent institution, the office of the ombudsman for persons with disabilities, and the appointment of the ombudswoman whose activity will additionally improve the position of persons with disabilities in the Republic of Croatia. Let me note with pride that Croatia is one of the few countries with such an institution.

In providing for the implementation of human rights, the Republic of Croatia devotes particular attention to another under-represented group – women. It is my personal conviction that the full implementation of standards for the protection of human rights is attained only after a society realises full gender equality. The Republic of Croatia has reinforced its legislative framework in promoting gender equality through special national policies focused on implementing gender equality and reinforcing women’s rights. The umbrella document in this regard is the national policy for the promotion of gender equality in 2006-2010, which makes quite a few bodies of state administration responsible for implementing objectives in the promotion of gender equality in the Republic of Croatia. In considering gender equality, it should be remembered that the realisation of equality is also considerably influenced by the family situation. In this context, due attention needs to be focused on the fact that any form of violence against women makes the realisation of equality impossible, and such behaviour should not be tolerated or excused.

Violence as a behavioural phenomenon is on the increase in the world but also in Croatia. We need preventive action in terms of influencing all social strata and groups, and improved awareness of the problem by the public, groups and individuals. Vulnerable groups are particularly exposed to violence; in most cases this means women and children, but also people upholding different attitudes and views or of different appearance.

Major changes in the Croatian legislation have also been introduced in providing its conformity to international regulations guaranteeing third generation human rights – the right to healthy life and a healthy environment, the right to be informed, freedom of speech and expressing one’s view.

The information presented thus far on the many laws, policies, strategies and measures adopted in the Republic of Croatia over the past 18 years in order to create an integral system of human rights protection visibly show that Croatia has been very successful, comprehensive and efficient in adopting international standards in the protection of human rights.

Of course, that does not mean that the Republic of Croatia faces no new challenges in protecting human rights and adopting relevant standards. We are aware that the full implementation of an integral system of human rights protection is a long and continuous process requiring the joint efforts of representatives of all institutions and sectors, starting from state authorities through local and regional self-government to civil society organisations and, in particular, the media. I shall endeavour to contribute as much as possible to the process in order to avoid any delays.

On this occasion, I would like to refer to two additional segments in the co-operation between the Republic of Croatia and the Council of Europe – Croatian co-operation in the multilateral environment of the Council and co-operation with the European Court for Human Rights.

Ever since it became a member of this Organisation, Croatia has been actively involved in its work. Initially, we were engrossed in improving our conditions and transforming our state, which was built, with your help, from the very foundations. Gradually, we became involved in the work of all Council bodies dealing with the universal and individual issues of democracy, human rights, justice and freedoms.

Today, I can confirm with pleasure that co-operation with the Council of Europe is one of the top priorities of Croatia’s foreign policy. The role of the Council of Europe in promoting human rights is indispensable, and Croatia endeavours to contribute to its reinforcement. Therefore, we support the efforts of Mr Jagland, the Council Secretary General, and of his reform team, focused on implementing the reform package intended to enhance the identifiability and political relevance of the Council of Europe in the European architecture.

We also support all the political priorities that will result from the reform. Within the scope of reform, we also support the stronger capacity of the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, as well as the re-consideration of the existing control mechanisms, the improved efficiency of all Council offices in member countries, and the review of the Convention on the Council of Europe.

In this context, the Republic of Croatia highly appreciates the work of the European Court for Human Rights, indispensable for the implementation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Since the start of its regular work in 1998, enough time has passed for full consideration of its function and operation. We expect the reforms of the European Court, started with the Interlaken conference, to produce significant improvements of its efficiency and the dispensing of justice for 800 million people.

Today, with Protocol No. 14 and the Lisbon Treaty in force, the door has opened for the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, which will round off the system of human rights protection in the European legal space.

Distinguished members of the Assembly, with this address I have tried to present a comprehensive cross-section of the condition of democracy, human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Croatia. Since I am addressing this distinguished body for the first time in my new capacity, I have tried to cover the majority of questions of importance for the Council of Europe, but also those which are important from the standpoint of the national interests of the Republic of Croatia and all its citizens.

Let me assure you that I shall do my best, in accordance with my commitment and dedication to human rights, to ensure the progress of the Republic of Croatia towards the acceptance of full European values to the benefit of all my fellow countrymen.

Thank you for your attention. I am ready to take your questions.


Thank you very much, Mr Josipovic, for your comprehensive address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Members should be asking questions and not making speeches.

The first question is by Mrs Quintanilla Barba on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mrs QUINTANILLA BARBA (Spain) (interpretation)

welcomed Mr Josipovic and praised the steps that Croatia had taken to promote women’s rights and equality. She asked what programme was in place for the equality of women employed in rural areas.

As I have already said, Croatia has a comprehensive programme to achieve equality between women and men. We have a special governmental office to promote equality and there are many promotional and educational programmes in all areas, including agriculture. I must stress that Croatia is trying to involve our ladies in political life, too, and they make up 25% of the representatives in the Croatian Parliament. Unfortunately, especially in rural areas, we do not have the appropriate representation of women in our local parliaments. They make up about 7% of the representatives, which is unsatisfactory. I have to admit that our efforts have not reached the final goal of equality, but comprehensive activity is oriented towards increasing awareness about the female population, especially in rural areas. We still have to do quite a lot in this area.

Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom)

Most impressive. Your country has already helped your neighbours by providing a translation of the acqui. What more, in your opinion, can you do to help the countries of the western Balkans to move more speedily into the European Union and, in particular, what can you say about how you can help Serbia? Without the full participation of Serbia, there will not be stability in your region.

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

Thank you for your question. At the very beginning of my mandate, I stressed that stability in the region and the European future of all the countries is a precondition for Croatian security and stability. So we are trying to develop the best possible relations with all our neighbours, including Serbia; in just four months, I met President Tadic four times and I am going to continue to have regular meetings with my colleague from Serbia. Both of us are supporting our governments, as they are doing a good job in promoting the European future of both countries. Although every country has its own way to the European Union and despite the fact that, naturally, some countries will become members sooner and some will do so later, we are trying our best to persuade all countries in the region, including Serbia, to be interested in membership, because it is very useful, for not only the region, but for the European Union itself.

You mentioned translation, and I can tell you that we are also promoting common programmes to fight organised crime, that we have a special agreement between prosecutors in order to combat war crimes and that significant co-operation is taking place in the field of the judiciary. We are also promoting human rights and trying to resolve all the problems connected to the war. This is just the beginning of our co-operation, but I am sure that future co-operation between all countries in the region – especially that between Croatia and Serbia – will be very fruitful and motivating for both countries.

Mr BADRÉ (France) (interpretation)

was concerned about Croatia’s co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and asked what was envisaged to convince European public opinion.

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

I am very aware that the history of co-operation between the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Croatia has not always been the best. Up to 2000, Croatia had a significant problem with co-operation with the ICTY, but the later governments of Prime Ministers Racan and Sanader, and of current Prime Minister Kosor, have done everything to increase co-operation. It is also important to stress that public opinion completely changed the attitude towards international justice, and now it is normal to co-operate. Ten or 15 years ago we had significant problems with co-operation because it was considered to be “against Croatia”, but now it is widely accepted by a great majority that being part of the international justice system helps Croatia. It is easy to recognise that the good practice of the ICTY influenced our judiciary in a positive way, and that is seen by most of Croatian citizens.

Prosecutors Arbour and Carla Del Ponte have made statements about that increasing co-operation, with Carla del Ponte saying that co-operation is full and complete. Unfortunately, we later had problems with the artillery files, but those problems do not date from this period; those files disappeared many years ago when co-operation was not as intensive as it is today. I am completely sure that our government is doing everything to fulfil all the requirements of the ICTY and its prosecutor. I am also now included in these investigations, and I am aware that our police special task force, which has been organised by the government, is doing everything possible to fulfil all requirements.

Mr GREENWAY (United Kingdom)

Throughout your speech and your answers you have implied that EU accession is a very positive move towards improving human rights in your country and in the rest of the western Balkans. However, we in this Assembly are very concerned that progress on displaced persons, the restoration of property rights and the prosecution of people for war crimes remain painfully slow. Is EU accession a sufficient engine to get the changes that we need?

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

Obviously, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina needed some time after the war to establish fruitful and efficient co-operation in this matter. It is also obvious that a significant number of citizens from all three countries returned to their homes and to their countries. However, we still have problems.

Now, unlike in the other period, the problem is not the physical security of those people or the unwillingness of local society to accept them – the problem is economic. People have to work somewhere and they have to earn money, and, unfortunately, that is not possible without economic development. So the sustainable return of people is very much influenced by the economic possibilities of all the countries in the region. I guess that Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will find the way to increase this sustainable possibility and so allow all people to come back to their homes.

Mr HARANGOZÓ (Hungary)

We Hungarian socialists are happy to see the progress of the Croatian accession to the EU, not only because of the economic factors, but because we believe that in a future EU with no borders most of the ethnic and nationality problems that come from the last century can be solved in the best way. My question is: does the dual citizenship of members belonging to some national minorities, in particular the Serbs, who are strong in number, create problems for Croatia?

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

On dual citizenship, we have some problems and we are trying to resolve them during the elections, because some appropriate scenarios – double voting or something like that – may allow this. I think that we are now going to resolve this problem, especially with Bosnia and Herzegovina, but with Serbia, too. We understand this feeling of people belonging to one country but also being affiliated to the other – having a family background and so on. Up to now, we have not had significant programmes, but we are going to support co-operation in the region, including regulated – that is very important – dual citizenship.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

It is a great honour to take part in this work of the Council of Europe as a human rights lawyer and to greet the Croatian President and his delegation. Ensuring the right to self-determination is a very important issue for Hungarians. We actively supported Croatia’s self-determination. Do you think that the right to self-determination stabilises or destabilises this region?

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

Self-determination caused great changes in political life, and the creation of policies in the region. Of course, all these things are dependent on the historical and political background of any region, so it is not easy to set a universal formula that can be applied in any country or region of the world. We need realistically to consider what is going on in any region. In south-east Europe, there was obviously a question of human rights. It is easy to recognise now that that applies to new-born countries. Human rights are considered at a much higher level than before.

Mrs KIURU (Finland)

During the past decade, regional co-operation has emerged as an issue of special importance for the Balkan countries. In your speech, you described the efforts being taken by Croatia to improve co-operation in the region. How would you describe the significance of regional co-operation in improving and maintaining the stability of the region as a whole, and what kind of political support will you need from abroad?

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

I would like to stress two points. For me, an important rule is that there can be no peace without justice. In order to resolve all the historical problems, we first need to establish a justice system that is capable of punishing all war criminals. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has, or had, limited scope. It represented a successful effort by the international community to punish the most significant war criminals, but many more war crimes in the region were not considered by the ICTY. All countries have a moral, legal and political duty to prosecute all war crimes, and that is impossible without co-operation in the region. I would like to stress that the public prosecutors of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have reached an important agreement on co-operation, which has enabled a significant number of cases to be resolved before the courts. It has enabled the exchange of information, statements and witnesses. It is now clear that the special courts in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are performing very well, and we need to recognise that all the important international standards relating to the rule of law and fair trials are being applied in those courts. This is a significant move because, not so many years ago, we had real problems with prosecuting war crimes.

My second point relates to organised crime. Unfortunately, in the past, the criminals co-operated much more effectively than states, which gave the criminals a big advantage. Now, however, I am convinced that that will stop. There are ongoing agreements and, after the change in the Croatian Constitution, we are going to reach a special agreement on extradition between all our neighbouring countries. It is important to fight organised crime.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

By the way, criminals always co-operate more closely than states. The compromise that was reached on the border around Pirin Bay was very important, given that the referendum in Slovenia was very close. It removed important obstacles on your way to accession to the European Union. What are the other obstacles standing in your way? Your progress towards the European Union has been delayed. Is it realistic to suggest that your negotiations will finish under the Polish Presidency in the second part of 2011 and that Croatia will enter the EU at that time?

Mr Josipović, President of Croatia

I have to stress that I no longer consider the border dispute with Slovenia to be an obstacle. We have reached an agreement that the matter will be solved through arbitration, and there is no reason to consider it as an obstacle to our progress towards the EU. The biggest obstacle is to be found in our internal affairs. We are very aware of the fact that we have to carry out reforms. We are doing our best, but we are also aware that Croatia has to fulfil much higher criteria than some other countries have had to do. However, that is the policy of the EU and we have to accept and appreciate it. We are going to fulfil all the requirements as soon as possible. We are trying to finish our negotiations this year and we plan to be a full member in 2012. We are fighting for that and we are going to do our best. We shall see what the results will be.


Thank you, Mr Josipovic. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Josipovic. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the answers he has given to questions.