The ruling and opposition parliamentary groups on Wednesday discussed the 2017 report submitted to Parliament by the Human Rights Ombudswoman, Lora Vidovic.
The comprehensive report which examined the state in various areas of human rights said that one in five Croatians are at risk of poverty, that there is widespread age discrimination in job hiring, and that discrimination on ethnic grounds mostly targeted ethnic Serb and Roma minorities, as well as asylum seekers.
MP Veljko Kajtazi, an ethnic Roma who represents 12 ethnic minorities, said that 45 percent of Roma living in Croatia cannot afford to buy food or pay for utility bills, and that they are completely left out of the regular functioning of society, which resulted in only 1.4 percent of Roma reaching the age of 65.
Speaking of returnee Serbs who had left the country in the 1990s, MP Branimir Bunjac of the opposition Zivi Zid populist party said that although they can come back to their homes, their villages often cannot get electricity. He added that no one wants to hire Roma because of prejudice such as that they "turn customers away."
MP Dragana Jeckov of the ruling coalition's Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) said that the power grid in areas populated with returnees should have been restored a long time ago, and added that those areas also lacked public transport and other essential public services. She added that another problem was that perpetrators of hate speech on ethnic grounds are rarely properly sanctioned.
Discrimination is more widespread than reported, and some surveys show that as many as one in three persons in Croatia has experienced some form of discrimination, Jeckov said, adding that under-reporting was especially a problem among minority groups.
MP Vesna Pusic of the opposition liberal Glas party said that the recent petition to call for a referendum on election law amendments which include depriving MPs representing ethnic minorities of the right to vote on government and the national budget was an attempt at manipulation by extremists. She said that these voting rights are one of the few instruments through which ethnic minority MPs can have some influence.
MP Stjepan Curaj of the ruling coalition's People' Party (HNS) said that another problem was poor availability of legal aid, and that many people do not know how to use it, adding also that the risk of poverty was especially present in rural areas. He said that a successful economic policy was the best measure to fight population drain.