SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS CROATIA ENSURE FULL RIGHTS OF LOCAL SERB POPULATION

23 February 1996
SC/6179

SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS CROATIA ENSURE FULL RIGHTS OF LOCAL SERB POPULATION

23 February 1996

Press ReleaseSC/6179

SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS CROATIA ENSURE FULL RIGHTS OF LOCAL SERB POPULATION

19960223 Presidential Statement Calls for Expeditious Processing of Returning Refugees

The Security Council this afternoon demanded that the Croatian Government take measures to ensure that the local Serb population may fully exercise their rights, including their right to remain, leave or return to their homes, and reclaim possession of their property.

In a statement read out on behalf of the Council by its President, Madeleine K. Albright, Croatia was also called upon to consider granting amnesty to local Serbs remaining in detention on charges arising from their alleged participation in the conflict there. Condemning the fact that effective measures have not so far been taken to enable Croatian refugees to return, the Council called on that country's Government to ensure the expeditious processing of all requests from refugees.

The Croatian Government was also called upon to rescind its earlier suspension of articles of constitutional law affecting the rights of national minorities, and to proceed with the establishment of a human rights court. The Council reminded Croatia that the promotion of strict respect for the rights of persons belonging to the Serb minority was relevant to the successful implementation of the Basic Agreement on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, of 12 November 1995.

The statement adopted today acknowledged that the incidence of human rights violations has been greatly reduced, but expressed concern that isolated incidents of killings and other violations had been reported. Also acknowledged was the significant progress achieved by the Government in alleviating the humanitarian plight of the mostly elderly Serb population remaining in Croatia.

The Council looked to the Croatian Government to vigorously pursue prosecutions against those suspected of past violations of humanitarian law and human rights against the local Serb minority. It urged Croatia to uphold its obligations with respect to the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia unreservedly and without delay.

The full text of the statement, which will be issued as document S/PRST/1996/8, reads as follows:

"The Security Council has considered the further report of the Secretary-General of 14 February 1996 (S/1996/109) submitted pursuant to its resolution 1019 (1995) on Croatia.

"The Security Council recalls the statement of its President of 8 January 1996 (S/PRST/1996/2). The Council acknowledges that the incidence of human rights violations has been greatly reduced. However, it expresses concern that isolated incidents of killings and other violations of human rights have been reported. The Council also acknowledges the significant progress made by the Croatian Government in alleviating the humanitarian plight of the mostly elderly Serb population who remain in the former sectors in the Republic of Croatia. The Council looks to the Croatian Government to ensure the security and well-being of that population and to ensure the provision of basic humanitarian assistance, including access to medical facilities, pension allowances and property. The Council also looks to the Croatian Government to pursue vigorously prosecutions against those suspected of past violations of international humanitarian law and human rights against the local Serb minority.

"The Security Council calls upon the Croatian Government to give due consideration to granting amnesty to local Serbs remaining in detention on charges arising from their alleged participation in the conflict.

"The Security Council reiterates that all States must cooperate fully with the International Tribunal and its organs established pursuant to its resolution 827 (1993). It notes that Croatian legislation providing for full cooperation with the International Tribunal is reported to be imminent. The Council urges the Government of the Republic of Croatia to uphold its obligations with respect to the International Tribunal unreservedly and without delay.

"The Security Council remains deeply concerned at the situation of those refugees from the Republic of Croatia who wish to return. It condemns the fact that effective measures have not so far been taken in that respect. It calls upon the Croatian Government to ensure the expeditious processing of all requests from refugees. It underlines that the exercise by members of the local Serb population of their rights, including their right to remain, leave or return to their homes in safety and dignity, and reclaim possession of their property, cannot be made conditional upon an agreement on the normalization of relations between the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Council demands that the Croatian Government take measures forthwith to ensure that those concerned may fully exercise these rights. The Council also calls upon the Croatian Government to rescind its earlier decision to suspend articles of the constitutional law affecting the

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rights of national minorities, and to proceed with the establishment of a provisional human rights court. It reminds the Croatian Government once again that the promotion of strict respect for the rights of persons belonging to the Serb minority is relevant to the successful implementation of the Basic Agreement of 12 November 1995 on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (S/1995/951, Annex).

"The Security Council welcomes and supports the Croatian Government's agreement to the establishment by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe of a long-term mission with a view to monitoring respect for human rights throughout the Republic of Croatia. The Council pays tribute to the valuable work carried out by UNCRO and the European Community Monitoring Mission in this field over the past year.

"The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to keep the Council regularly informed and to report in any case no later than 20 June 1996, drawing inter alia on information available from other relevant United Nations bodies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the European Community Monitoring Mission, on the progress of measures undertaken by the Government of the Republic of Croatia in the light of this statement.

"The Security Council will remain seized of the matter."

The meeting was called to order at 4:19 p.m. and adjourned at 4:26 p.m.

Report of Secretary-General

The Secretary-General's further report on the situation of human rights in Croatia (document S/1996/109) covers events from the end of November 1995 through the end of January 1996. That period was marked by a substantial change in the structure of United Nations operations in Croatia, with the termination of the mandate of the United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia (UNCRO) on 15 January, and the withdrawal of all United Nations military units, and their accompanying civilian components, from the former Sectors West, North and South. (The report does not deal with events in the former Sector East, where the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) is mandated to, among other tasks, monitor human rights.)

The Secretary-General reports that since the end of November 1995, the incidence of human rights violations committed in the former Sectors West, North and South has continued to decline. While welcoming this development, he cautions that "the potential for recurrence, however, remains substantial".

There has been a sharp decrease in wanton killing and destruction of property, according to the report. Following the Council's condemnation of the Government's failure to adequately protect the local Serb population last

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summer, Croatia implemented a series of measures intended to redress that situation which are beginning to have a positive effect. Since the end of last year, there have been only isolated incidents of killings, and ethnic motivation has been impossible to confirm in these cases. No reports of arson and only sporadic reports of looting and harassment have been received.

Despite the reduced levels of apparent human rights violations, there is still clear evidence of deficiencies in measures taken by the Government, the report continues. According to the Government, 3,500 policemen deployed in the areas following the military's "Operation Storm" in August 1995 were still there. "However, reports received from United Nations and non-governmental sources indicate that Croatia's civilian police presence in the three former Sectors continues to be disturbingly thin." The Secretary-General expresses concern about the continuing absence of a strong and responsible local police presence in the former Sectors and calls on Croatia to ensure the security of the Serb population there.

The Government of Croatia indicated that a large number of judicial proceedings have been instituted with respect to crimes and human rights violations that were allegedly committed, mostly against Croatian Serbs, in the aftermath of the military operations. However, according to the report, many cases of alleged killings are unresolved, and there is scant evidence that trials for arson or looting will be concluded. The judicial process must be monitored to ensure that the widespread criminality documented by international observers last year does not go unredressed.

The discrepancy between the number of apparent violations of the right to life recorded by United Nations investigators in the former Sectors -- at least 150 -- and the number of cases acknowledged by the Croatian authorities continues to be unaccountably large, the Secretary-General states. While the Government has pursued prosecutions in the most dramatic cases, such as the massacre of nine Serbs at Varivode, there is little evidence of progress in resolving the many other reported cases of individual killings. "The passage of time and difficulties in preserving evidence are likely to make many of the remaining cases virtually unresolvable."

With respect to the destruction of property, the report notes that the Government, which estimates that 786 homes were destroyed by deliberate acts of arson, has provided no new information on whether charges had been brought against any but the 11 persons mentioned in its earlier statistics.

The Secretary-General calls for continued vigilance in respect of the humanitarian needs of the elderly Croatian Serbs who remain in the former Sectors. While commending the steps taken to meet their needs by the Government, the Secretary-General expresses concern that the resources available for that purpose are insufficient. There continue to be sporadic reports of problems faced by Croatian Serbs in gaining access to basic

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humanitarian assistance. Issuance of identity documents in some municipalities continues to be slow and inefficient, and in the Daruvar area, some elderly Croatian Serb residents have reported being turned away from medical facilities for lack of proper documents.

There has been little progress in the return of Croatian Serb refugees to Croatia, the report continues. The return of persons who satisfy the necessary legal conditions should not be delayed by the process of normalizing relations between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). "Disturbing reports continue to be received that Government offices responsible for expediting this procedure are conducting their work in an uncooperative and obstructive manner." Both the Croatian liaison office in Belgrade and the Croatian Embassy in Budapest reportedly continue to be uncooperative and obstructive in handling requests for return. As of 31 January, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that only some 200 refugees had managed to return to Croatia through its intervention, while several hundred more were believed to have succeeded in returning on their own.

The Government's decision to grant amnesty to 451 Serbs alleged to have taken up arms in support of the "Republic of Serb Krajina" was an important step towards the creation of conditions in which former combatants will be able to live together in Croatia in peace, the Secretary-General states. He expresses the hope that Croatia will respond to international calls to ensure that the 389 persons still in prison will be granted fair judicial proceedings and that due consideration will be given to granting them amnesty in accordance with the principles of international law.

Regarding cooperation with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the report states that in recent weeks a number of discussions have taken place reaffirming the commitment of all parties towards full cooperation with the Tribunal. "As a result, the Prosecutor is optimistic that the Croatian authorities will not obstruct, and will actively assist, his efforts to ensure that persons indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law will be brought before the Tribunal for trial in the near future." Arrangements are currently being made to secure the appearance of one such person.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General cautions that in light of the drastic reduction of international personnel in Croatia (outside the former Sector East) with a mandate to monitor human rights, the ability of the United Nations to assess further developments will accordingly be very limited.

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For information media. Not an official record.