Expressing concern at continued acts of harassment, looting and physical attacks against Croatian Serbs, and in particular the involvement in those incidents of military and police officials of the Croatian Government, the Security Council this afternoon called upon that Government to intensify its efforts to improve the security situation for its Serb population, including the urgent re-establishment of a functioning court system in the former sectors North and South.
In a statement read out by its President, Francesco Paolo Fulci (Italy), the Council expressed deep concern that there had been little progress on the issue of the return of Croatian Serb refugees and deplored the Croatian Government's failure to safeguard the property rights of those refugees, especially those unable to regain possession of their properties.
The Council expressed deep concern at reports that Croatia's new amnesty law was not being implemented in a fair and equitable manner. It also stated that it expected Croatia to fully comply with its commitments undertaken in relation to the Council of Europe, including its signature of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
Also by the statement, the Council reiterated its call upon the Government of Croatia to cooperate fully with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law, especially those committed in the course of military operations in 1995.
The Council requested that the Secretary-General continue to report to it on the situation, in any case no later than 10 March 1997.
The meeting was called to order at 12:48 p.m. and adjourned at 12:56 p.m.
The full text of the statement, to be released as document S/PRST/1996/48, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General of 5 December 1996 (S/1996/1011, Corr.1), submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1019 (1995) on Croatia.
"The Security Council acknowledges notable progress in the humanitarian situation, in particular measures taken by the Government of Croatia to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of the Croatian Serb population.
"Although the security situation has improved slightly, the Security Council, however, expresses its concern at continued acts of harassment, looting and physical attacks against Croatian Serbs and, in particular, involvement by Croatian uniformed military and police officials in a number of those incidents. It calls upon the Government of Croatia to intensify its efforts to improve the security situation and to ensure adequate security conditions for the local Serb population including the urgent re-establishment of a functioning court system in the former sectors North and South.
"The Security Council is deeply concerned that in spite of its previous requests there has been little progress on the issue of the return of the Croatian Serb refugees and urges the Government of Croatia to adopt a comprehensive approach in order to facilitate the return of refugees originating from Croatia to their homes of origin throughout Croatia. It deplores the continued failure by the Government of Croatia to safeguard effectively their property rights, especially the situation where many of those Serbs who have returned to the former sectors have been unable to regain possession of their properties. The Council calls upon the Government of Croatia to apply immediately proper procedures to the question of property rights and to stop all forms of discrimination against the Croatian Serb population in the provision of social benefits and reconstruction assistance.
"The Security Council is deeply concerned at reports that the new amnesty law is not being implemented in a fair and equitable manner. It underlines that equitable application of that law is vital for building confidence and promoting reconciliation in Croatia as well as for the peaceful reintegration of the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium.
"The Security Council stresses the importance of the commitments undertaken by the Government of Croatia in relation to the Council of Europe, including its signature of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and expects that the Government of Croatia will implement those commitments fully and without delay.
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"The Security Council reiterates its call upon the Government of Croatia to cooperate fully with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and to conduct investigations into and the prosecution of all persons accused of serious violations of international humanitarian law, especially those committed in the course of military operations in 1995.
"The Security Council will remain seized of the matter and requests that the Secretary-General continue to report on the situation, in any case no later than 10 March 1997."
Report on Human Rights in Croatia
A report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights (document S/1996/1011 and Corr.1) states that looting and harassment, especially around Knin, give continuing cause for concern. Prospects for improved confidence among the local Serb population had also been harmed by the Government's lack of progress in investigating human rights violations that occurred in 1995. The Secretary-General writes that "a legitimate question may be raised as to whether Croatian Serbs in the region will be able to re-establish the conditions of normal life in the near future".
As noted by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights and other observers, he continues, recent positive political developments in Croatia include the Agreement on Normalization of Relations between the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, signed at Belgrade on 23 August, which contains important human rights commitments; the adoption of the new Law on Amnesty on 25 September; and the admission of Croatia to the Council of Europe on 6 November, which entails important obligations in the area of human rights. Croatia's programme of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in the former sectors had been marred by reports of discrimination against Croatian Serbs.
Little progress has been made regarding the return of Croatian Serb refugees in the period under review, according to the Secretary-General. Normalization of relations between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has constructively addressed that subject, but has not yet resulted in additional returns. Many Croatian authorities and residents do not wish Croatian Serbs to return and wish those who remain to leave.
The Government of Croatia's failure to safeguard property rights do not bode well for additional returns and many Croatian Serb homes are occupied by Croat refugees, according to the report. Numerous persons released under the new amnesty law have been re-arrested, a practice which threatens to deprive the legislation of its value in building confidence. There is also strong ground for concern that the Government of Croatia is withholding full
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cooperation from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia by failing to apprehend indictees.
According to the Government of Croatia, the report goes on, the months of August and September saw only two cases of serious criminal activity, 14 cases of arson and demolition of houses and 6 cases of looting in the former sectors. International and non-governmental observers, on the other hand, report that the number was considerably higher. Many incidents in the former sectors appeared to be motivated by the Croatian Serb origin of the victims, according to the Secretary-General. One female Croatian Army soldier has reportedly directed several violent attacks by soldiers in the Knin area in recent months. Croatian police officers are also alleged to be involved in looting and other crimes.
The return of law and order in the region has been delayed by the failure to re-establish a functioning court system, according to the Secretary-General. As of early September, only one judge was in office at the municipal court in Knin.
As many as 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina following the 1995 Croatia military offensives in the former sectors, the Secretary-General recalls. As of 16 October, some 12,000 had been granted authorization to return; international observers suggest that actual returns may number only 3,000. In the past year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Belgrade has been able to facilitate the return of just under 300 refugees to Croatia. "It should be noted that while re-entry into Croatia by citizens of Croat nationality occurs routinely in most cases, the process is far more difficult for Croatian Serbs with equally defensible claims to citizenship", the report states.
Some 10,000 Croatian Serbs, mostly elderly persons, remained in the former sectors after the military operations, the report states. Over 55,000 Croat displaced persons and refugees have been resettled in the former sectors since early this year, with more arriving every day. The change in the demography of the former sectors, the Secretary-General says, may be "irreversible".
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