(New York, 21 December 1999) -- In the run-up to important parliamentary elections, civil and political rights are seriously restricted in Croatia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report describes this political repression as the "human rights legacy" of the late President Franjo Tudjman, who died earlier this month. Parliamentary elections in Croatia are scheduled for 3 January 2000.
The Croatian government limits freedom of the press, especially in the case of television, which gives a disproportionate amount of airtime to the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), both on the main evening news and across all programming. The Human Rights Watch report charges that the HDZ frequently proves stronger than state institutions.
A new law on freedom of assembly allows local authorities to prohibit demonstrations in city centers, despite a ruling from Croatia's highest court that such prohibitions are unconstitutional. Most disturbing is the government's decision to appoint new members to the Constitutional Court on the basis of political affiliation rather than merit, a move which would further compromise judicial independence.
"Croatia gained independence under Tudjman, but its people still lack many fundamental freedoms," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "Whoever wins the elections will inherit a country with enormous potential, but faces an urgent challenge to bring Croatian law and practice up to international human rights standards."
The new election law reduces the number of parliamentary seats allocated to representatives of the country's Serb minority from three to one, even as it increases the overall number of seats by more than twenty. Thousands of Croatian Serb refugees in Bosnia and Yugoslavia are disenfranchised, lacking the citizenship documents to prove that they have a right to participate in the elections.
Human Rights Watch is an international monitoring organization based in New York. It is entirely privately funded, and accepts no financial support from any government.
The full text of the report is available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/croatia2/