Council of Europe on Croatia’s pushbacks: An explosive notebook


Status: 03.12.2021 10:30 a.m.

The Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee criticizes the violent pushbacks by asylum seekers at the EU’s external border. It also refers to accidentally found records in a Croatian border station.

By Srdjan Govedarica, ARD-Studio Wien

August 2020: When the inspectors of the Anti-Torture Committee (CPT) visit a police station in the Croatian border town of Korenica, they come across explosive notes in a notebook. In the period between July 25 and August 12, 2020 alone, police officers from the police station “intercepted” or “diverted” asylum seekers, according to the notebook.

Srdjan Govedarica
ARD studio Vienna

This does not coincide with official information from the guard – accordingly, only ten foreign nationals were arrested during the same period. The asylum seekers had apparently been brought out of the EU unofficially across the “green border”.

When the police noticed what the CPT delegation had discovered, they tried to “forcibly remove” the inspectors’ notebooks, the inspectors wrote.

“Credible Reports”

The incident is part of a report that the Anti-Torture Committee has now published. For five days in the summer of 2020, experts from the committee examined, unannounced, directly at the EU border, how Croatian authorities deal with refugees, who mostly come from Bosnia and Herzegovina without valid papers. The report is clear. The delegation had found numerous “credible” and “convincing” reports of serious ill-treatment by Croatian police officers.

They would have hit people with batons and other objects, or forced them into a border river with their hands tied. The officials intercepted the people in Croatia, sometimes drove them back to the Bosnian border for hours and deported them from the EU. People could not apply for asylum.

They report that police fired their guns right next to them and sent them naked across the border into Bosnia. Forensic medics from the delegation examined the people interviewed and found that their injuries matched reports of ill-treatment by police officers.

“Operation Corridor”

The report of the Anti-Torture Committee fits in with research by the ARD studios Vienna and other research partners. These show how masked Croatian intervention police beat asylum seekers from the EU on the border with Bosnia. The Croatian authorities call this operation “Koridor”. Both the intervention police and “Operation Koridor” are expressly mentioned in the report that is now before us.

In response to the ARD research Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic suspended three of the police officers from duty. He never responded to statements from insiders that the pushbacks had been ordered from his ministry.

The CPT report now puts Bozinovic in additional distress. Because he makes it clear again that the pushbacks happen systematically – and that it is by no means individual misconduct. Apparently there is a “well-established illegal modus operandi for dealing with migrants”. According to the CPT report, the Plenkovic government was unable to explain the many injuries suffered by the refugees. The results of the investigation were even “dismissed”.

The report also notes that Croatia does not have a system to control and combat police violence against refugees. Even more: If grievances were discovered, no or insufficient investigations would be initiated.

Official reports undesirable

The government’s attitude is also causing unrest within its own ranks. A Croatian police insider reported that ARD studio Vienna and his research partners Lighthouse Reports, Novosti, SRF and Spiegel that he had been banned from preparing official reports on the detention of migrants. “My boss always got very angry,” says the man who, out of fear, wants to remain anonymous. However, there are unofficial notebooks with details about the operations in several police stations.

Another official confirms that the Ministry of the Interior is informally informed of the pushbacks on a daily basis.

Schengen accession at risk?

The fact that not only the media and NGOs denounce the violent pushbacks, but also the Council of Europe is a problem for the government in Zagreb. Croatia has been a member of the EU since 2013 and absolutely wants to join the Schengen area. So far, no Schengen country has had major objections.

The new German federal government could see it differently. In the coalition agreement, she warns Croatia indirectly: When expanding the Schengen area, they want to “pay special attention to compliance with the rule of law and humanitarian standards”.

Random publication

This is probably one of the reasons why Croatia tried for months to prevent the report of the Anti-Torture Committee from being published. According to the rules of the Council of Europe, the country should have agreed to the publication. In the EU actually a matter of course. In the past few years, only autocratic states like Turkey and Russia prevented critical reports.

The fact that the Anti-Torture Committee now publishes the report is only due to a carelessness. The State Secretary of the Croatian Ministry of Interior commented in a letter about the investigation, which was subsequently quoted in the Croatian media. In doing so, it violates the regulations of the Council of Europe – and enabled the committee to publish it.

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