Council of Europe accuses Croatia of severe ill-treatment of migrants

NEWS 03.12.2021 13:31
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Source: Lighthouse Reports

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a report on Friday accusing Croatia of the severe ill-treatment of migrants by the police and the obstruction of cooperation with the inter-governmental group.

The Committee  published a report on its ad hoc visit to Croatia from 10 to 14 August 2020, in particular to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), “to examine treatment and safeguards afforded to migrants deprived of their liberty by the Croatian police.”

The Ministry of the Interior said on Friday that the Committee report was published without its consent and that it was based on unverifiable information from Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding that the Committee had clearly “overstepped its authority.”

The Committee said that its delegation also “looked into procedures applied to migrants in the context of their removal from Croatia as well as the effectiveness of oversight and accountability mechanisms in cases of alleged police misconduct during such operations. A visit to the Jezevo Reception Centre for Foreigners was carried out as well.”

The Committee interviewed migrants and “received numerous credible and concordant allegations of physical ill-treatment of migrants by Croatian police officers (notably members of the intervention police).”

“The alleged ill-treatment consisted of slaps, kicks, blows with truncheons and other hard objects (for example, butts/barrels of firearms, wooden sticks or tree branches) to various parts of the body. The alleged ill-treatment had been purportedly inflicted either at the time of the migrants’ ‘interception’ and de facto deprivation of liberty inside Croatian territory (ranging from several to fifty kilometers or more from the border), and/or at the moment of their push-back across the border with BiH,” the report said.

The persons interviewed “displayed recent injuries on their bodies, which were assessed by the delegation’s forensic medical doctors as being compatible with their allegations of having been ill-treated by Croatian police officers (by way of example, reference is made to the characteristic “tram-line” haematomas to the back of the body, highly consistent with infliction of blows from a truncheon or stick).”

The report also documents several accounts of migrants being subjected to other forms of severe ill-treatment by Croatian police officers, such as “migrants being forced to march through the forest to the border barefoot and being thrown with their hands still zip-locked into the Korana river, which separates Croatia from BiH.”

“Some migrants alleged being pushed back into BiH wearing only their underwear and, in some cases, naked. A number of persons stated that when they had been apprehended and were lying face down on the ground, certain Croatian police officers had discharged their weapons into the ground close to them.”

The Committee urged the Croatian authorities “to take determined action to stop migrants from being ill-treated by police officers and to ensure that cases of alleged ill-treatment are investigated effectively.”

The report noted that for the first time since the Committee started visiting Croatia in 1998, “there were manifest difficulties of cooperation.”

“The Committee’s delegation was provided with incomplete information about places where migrants may be deprived of their liberty, and it was obstructed by police officers in accessing documentation necessary for the delegation to carry out the Committee’s mandate,” the report said.

“In acknowledging the significant challenges faced by the Croatian authorities to deal with large numbers of migrants entering the country, the Committee stresses the need for a concerted European approach. Nevertheless, despite these challenges, Croatia must meet its human rights obligations and treat migrants who enter the country through the border in a humane and dignified manner,” it added.

The Committee claims that there are no effective accountability mechanisms in place to identify the perpetrators of alleged acts of ill-treatment.

As regards the establishment of an “independent border monitoring mechanism” by the Croatian authorities, the Committee sets out its minimum criteria for such a mechanism to be effective and independent.

In conclusion, the Committee said that it “wishes to pursue a constructive dialogue and meaningful cooperation with the Croatian authorities, grounded on a mature acknowledgment, including at the highest political levels, of the gravity of the practice of ill-treatment of migrants by Croatian police officers and a commitment for such ill-treatment to cease.”

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