2021 - Pictures, Recordings, Verdicts, Reports, Never Less Accountability Of The Political Leadership!


In the context of migration in the Republic of Croatia, 2021 can be summed up in one sentence: There has never been more evidence of systematic violent and illegal pushbacks, and never less accountability of the political leadership of the Republic of Croatia.

For five years now, the political leadership of the Republic of Croatia has been continuously denying illegal and violent pushbacks of refugees and other migrants, and publicly discrediting numerous testimonies of victims and reports from international and domestic organisations. However, the evidence collected in 2021 made it impossible for the political leadership to turn their heads away. Violent and illegal pushbacks have not only been recorded on thousands of pages of reports, hundreds of medical findings describing the severity of the injuries inflicted, they have also been recorded on video, evidence that is hard to ignore. At the end of 2021, the most significant confirmation of illegal pushbacks we keep witnessing every day in Croatia arrived – the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Croatian police officers are responsible for the death of little Madina.

2021 was marked by the tragic deaths of refugees in Croatian territory. Four people were killed when a truck overturned on one Croatian motorway. Four lives were lost, with 19 injured and transported to hospital. Unfortunately, this was not the only tragedy in 2021. Due to the lack of safe and legal pathways as well as the systematic enforcement of illegal and violent pushbacks, a small boy lost his life this summer, drowning in the Una River trying to enter the Republic of Croatia. An Afghan woman suffered the same fate while crossing the Korana River with her family, and only a few days later, another child's life was lost as one little girl drowned in the Dragonja River. The lives of women, men and children were lost because of the policies of the European Union, they were lost because of the policy of systematic pushbacks enforced by the Republic of Croatia. A policy that, instead of providing security, closes the door to those most in need, forces them to face a dangerous journey and leads to the loss of lives, those mentioned above, as well as many others that we don’t even know of, while only their families’ cries to find them remain.

The right to access the asylum system has become one of the most endangered human rights in the EU. We worked hard to enshrine and maintain this right and today it is being violated on a daily basis. Journalists played a vital role in protecting refugee and other migrants’ rights in 2021. Through their dedication and work, investigative journalists have gathered important evidence that saved human lives at the borders and made important strides towards holding accountable those ordering and carrying out these illegal practices. A team of journalists consisting of ARD Wien/Südosteuropa, Lighthouse Reports, SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, DER SPIEGEL and Novosti recorded a total of six illegal collective pushbacks involving approximately 65 people, including around 20 children. The reports also included interviews with families that were pushed back – fathers, pregnant women, children, the elderly, the disabled, who all confirm that they have been denied access to asylum as well as medical assistance. The journalists of the RTL show Potraga filmed an Iranian family requesting asylum. Their story is one of many – they tried to enter Croatia and request asylum 22 times, and they were expelled from the country each and every time. “We’ll always remember what the police did to us. Can you imagine a seven-year-old girl telling her brother and mother that they should all jump off a mountain and end their lives” 14-year-old Raybod Kathi told the journalists. Titi Kathi and her two children were finally granted international protection in the Republic of Croatia at the end of the year.

Only a few months after the first footage was published, the aforementioned investigative team of journalists (consisting of ARD, Lighthouse Report, Novosti, RTL Hrvatska, Spiegel, SRF) published another video confirming the involvement of special police units in carrying out violent and illegal pushbacks, and thus proving the credibility of the victims of these violent and illegal pushbacks, who had accused police officers wearing the uniforms of special forces of torture and inhuman treatment. After the footage was published, Minister Božinović publicly admitted that it features members of special police forces carrying out illegal and violent pushbacks. However, even though the footage presents clear evidence of illegal and violent pushbacks, only three police officers faced sanctions, in the form of a suspended sentence. Furthermore, at the time of compiling this 2021 review, the Minister, as well as the General Police Director, have yet to take responsibility.

Thanks to the publication of these important recordings showing the extent of violent and illegal pushbacks, two sessions of parliamentary committees were convened. The first joint thematic session of the Committee on Domestic Policy and National Security Committee and the Committee on Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities on migration issues was held in July, at which representatives of the Centre for Peace Studies called the political leadership to account, starting with Minister Božinović. The second session of the Committee on Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities, following the publication of a video proving the involvement of the special police units, featured a heated discussion. The representative of the Centre for Peace Studies warned about the paradoxical nature of announced visits of the independent oversight mechanism to the green boarder. Although Minister Božinović denied our allegations, a memo obtained under the Act on the Right to Access Information signed by State Secretary Terezija Gras, clearly states that field supervision includes announced visits to the green border.

Just as the political leadership was finally called to account based on the additional published evidence of violent and illegal pushbacks, the Centre for Peace Studies filed two criminal charges for police brutality against refugees, one of which included the pushback of an Afghan family. Criminal charges were filed in July for severe violence and serious misconduct of police officers upon hearing intentions to seek international protection in the case of a family of four. Brutal actions included the rape of the mother. A criminal complaint was filed in August for the illegal pushback of a family of six from Afghanistan, including a four-month pregnant woman and her four children. After receiving medical treatment at the hospital, police officers turned a deaf ear to their request for international protection, they were taken to a van, after which police officers wearing balaclavas drove them near the Bosnia and Herzegovina border and illegally expelled them, confiscating their cell phones.

2021 was an important year for the family of little Madina Hussiny. In the case of three constitutional complaints of the Hussiny family, the Constitutional Court ruled that Croatia violated the human rights of the members of the family and exposed them to the risk of torture and abuse. The Constitutional Court concluded that the request for international protection of the Hussiny family was rejected by the authorities without assessing the reasons for seeking international protection, relying entirely on the institution of a safe third country – in this case, Serbia. In the ruling, the Constitutional Court concluded that “it was not established with sufficient certainty that the Republic of Serbia is a safe European third country”. The Constitutional Court has taken the position that it is not enough to rely on the normative framework and the number of approved asylum applications when identifying a country as “safe”, but that “relevant reports from refugee rights and non-governmental organisations on the actual treatment of persons must be taken into account”.

The ruling of the Constitutional Court was followed by an even more important ruling. Four years after Madina’s death, Madina and her family finally got justice! The European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling upholding a violation of the right to life, a violation of the freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, the prohibition of collective expulsions, the right to security and liberty, and the right to individual petition. Little Madina Hussiny and her family have thus been recognized by the highest court for human rights as victims of illegal pushbacks that resulted in the loss of the life of a six-year-old girl on 21 November 2017. The Centre for Peace Studies demanded that Prime Minister Plenković urgently dismiss those responsible for the death of a child at our borders. In addition to urgently finding and sanctioning the direct perpetrators, the dismissal of the General Police Director Nikola Milina and the Director of the Border Police and Assistant General Police Director Zoran Ničeno were also requested in accordance with command responsibility. On the grounds of political responsibility, we demanded that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković dismiss the Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović, as well as State Secretary Terezija Gras, who was involved in putting pressure on civil rights defenders and blocking independent international investigations.

Novosti wrote about blocking independent international investigations for which State Secretary Terezija Gras is responsible.  After a year of preventing the publication of the report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT) on their visit in 2020, the CPT published the report because State Secretary Gras violated the Rules of Procedure, and in response to a request from the Centre for Peace Studies sent as a follow-up to a public debate, revealed the contents of the report. While State Secretary Gras's response reveals yet another attempt to influence the work of institutions that have found irregularities in the treatment of refugees and other migrants, the content of the CPT report clearly shows that the Croatian police torture and inhumanely treat thousands of refugees and other migrants.

While the CPT report highlighted a number of grave violations of the human rights of refugees and other migrants, the first semi-annual report of the independent border monitoring mechanism found no irregularities, or at least, that is what the final version of the report states. The independent border monitoring mechanism was set up at the initiative of the European Commission due to numerous allegations of human rights violations at the Croatian border. The draft version states that “the police carry out illegal deterrence (pushbacks) and do not record deterrence allowed under Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code.” However, only one week later, the final version of the report included only change – the above sentence was replaced by the following: “the police carry out permissible deterrence under Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code, although they do not record them, and in mine suspected areas, in isolated cases, they also allow illicit deterrence.” The change of only this one sentence in the entire report leads us to again question the transparency, independence and effectiveness of the border monitoring mechanism itself, elements that were questionable since the very beginning, given the fact that the Ministry of the Interior decided on the manner of its own oversight, as well as independently selected the actors to carry out the monitoring– without prior public invitation and clearly defined criteria.

Proof that the Croatian police did not suddenly stop illegal pushbacks is the new case against the Republic of Croatia at the European Court of Human Rights. Another lawsuit has been filed in the case of a Turkish Kurd, who tried to apply for international protection on several occasions, but was not allowed to do so. He was also denied access to a lawyer. He was finally given a bus ticket to Northern Macedonia and was expelled from Croatia. This case represents another case against Croatia before the European Court of Human Rights with the support of the Centre for Peace Studies. We are determined to fight for the rights of refugees and we will get justice for this victim of illegal practices as well!

2021 demonstrated the cruelty of illegal and violent pushbacks and the lengths the authorities are willing to go to cover them up, without actually preventing them. In 2021, refugees were not the only target, as activists who spoke publicly about illegal and violent pushbacks were targeted as well. Activist and human rights defender Tajana Tadić faced enormous pressures. In 2020, The Ministry of the Interior revoked her partner, Omer Essa Mahdi’s asylum, previously granted in 2018, after he refused to  become an informant for the Security and Intelligence Agency (Sigurnosno-obavještajna agencija or SOA). The revocation was based “on allegations that he represents a ‘threat to national security’” and the authorities involved in the revocation were fully aware of the nature of his relationship with the HRD. During the trial, neither Mr. Mahdi, nor his attorney, had complete access to the case files. Additionally, expert opinions substantiating his claims and witnesses called by his defence were not considered. Beforehand, Mr. Mahdi, experienced harassment by the authorities, including threats of deportation to Iraq when he refused to become an informant. The Administrative Court not only dismissed the appeal against the decision to revoke Mr. Mahdi’s protection status, he was furthermore instructed to leave the EEA within 30 days. Fearing deportation to Iraq, in early 2021, Mr. Mahdi had no choice but to leave Croatia and seek international protection in another country.

Activist and human rights defender Tajana Tadić faced enormous pressures. The Ministry of the Interior revoked her partner’s asylum previously granted in 2018 after he refused to act as an informer for the Special Intelligence Agency (SOA). In addition to Tajana, Are You Syrious? activist Dragan Umičević was fined 60,000 kuna and another 1,300 kuna in court fees according to the ruling of the High Misdemeanour Court in Zagreb for providing support to the family of little Madina, the little girl killed while being pushed back from Croatia, with their asylum application. However, the public quickly showed what they thought about such attempts to intimidate a man who acted in accordance with the law, and the amount of 63,000 kuna was collected in just 24 hours. This year, it may be more important than ever that as a society we do not allow the intimidation and criminalisation of the people who protect groups experiencing violence on a daily basis! Criminalising solidarity and punishing those who are willing to help families in need represents the twilight of humanity that we as a society must not allow.

The review of 2021 shows that the evidence of the intensity and systematic nature of violent and illegal pushbacks from the Republic of Croatia has never been more evident. Nevertheless, Croatia received a green light to join the Schengen area – proving the hypocrisy of European Union policies. Despite all the evidence indicating a violation of the Schengen Code, the EU gave its consent for the Republic of Croatia to join the Schengen area. Every vehicle, baton, thermal imaging camera, taser or dog that bites people were bought with money allocated to the Republic of Croatia by the European Union. While EU Member States refuse to take responsibility for the systemic violence to which refugees are exposed, and the EU continues to rely on the externalisation of migration, the refugee support system is left to the individuals, who are putting themselves at risk due to the criminalisation of solidarity. Such a system is not sustainable, it was built on serious violations of human rights and needs urgent and fundamental change.

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