Human Rights House Zagreb (HRHZ) organized its Annual Human Rights Conference on 15 and 20 April 2021. Director of Programs Ivan Novosel opened the conference on 15 April with a presentation of HRHZ’s annual report Human Rights in Croatia: Overview of 2020 prepared in cooperation with civil society organizations dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in various aspects of social life. Summary of the report is available here.
Along with a presentation of the main findings regarding human rights issues and challenges for the previous year, the first day of the conference comprised two panel discussions. An introductory discussion on the state of human rights in Croatia was held with Boris Milošević, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Human Rights and Tena Šimonović Einwalter, newly elected Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia. They referred to the impact of the pandemic on human rights in Croatia during the previous year, main issues faced by the citizens and the effectiveness of the Government response to the crisis caused by both the pandemic and two devastating earthquakes that hit central Croatia. The panelists further discussed the low percentage of Ombudsman’s annual recommendations that is taken into account and implemented by relevant institutions and emphasized the need to intensify the dialogue between the Ombudsman and the competent institutions with that regard. The panelists referred to the process of drafting of new National Plan for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Combatting Discrimination and concluded that additional efforts are needed to improve cooperation and increase the level of participation in the decision-making processes. The Ombudswoman additionally emphasized the importance of adopting public policy for the development of civil society and support for projects and programs of civil society organizations from public sources.
The central discussion concerned the topic of human rights in earthquake-affected areas with the participation of representatives of civil society organizations and initiatives providing help and support to affected areas and citizens in need. Earthquakes that hit Zagreb and its surroundings in March and Banija in December of 2020 significantly aggravated the already difficult socio-economic situation of citizens. Panelists described the situation and their experiences of working in earthquake-affected areas and stressed the need to promptly adopt systematic and structured housing and other social measures that would enable adequate living conditions for all the citizens affected by damage. The situtation of natural disaster brought together a large number of stakeholders showing high levels of solidarity and openness to volunteer work. The panelists stressed the lack of adequate solutions for housing and reconstruction and slow institutional response to crisis As the main obstacles for the effective and timely recovery. Lengthiness of the process of adoption and implementation of reconstruction law is accompanied by difficult access to funds allocated for reconstruction as well as lack of administrative support throughout the process.
The second day of the Conference was held on April 20 and it focused on specific issues relevant to the respect of the rule of law in Croatia. The program consisted of two online panel discussions. The discussion Media freedoms in Croatia – the impact of libel and defamation lawsuits brought together media workers and experts in the field of media law. It referred to the continuation of the trend of lawsuits against journalists in Croatia and the issue of the so-called SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) on the entire EU level as well as its results in the imposition of censorship and deterrence from investigative journalism. The discussion also referred to media law and criminal proceedings, the need to educate judges, media lawyers and media workers as well as the need to strengthen the rights of local media workers.
The final discussion was held on the topic of the whistleblower protection in light of the transposition of the EU Whistleblower Directive into national legislation. The aim of the discussion was to gather observations of various stakeholders involved in the protection of whistleblowers in order to assess the current implementation of the Croatian Whistleblower Protection Act and analyze possible recommendations for its improvement in the process of transposing the EU Whistleblower Directive which is due in December 2021. The discussion referred to the elements of whistleblower protection provided for by the EU Directive and further focused on the functioning of the Croatian whistleblower protection framework so far, lessons learned and opportunities for improving the existing system in the context of transposing the EU Directive.