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Complaint: Housing rights abuses of Ethnic Serbs in Croatia

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Complaint: Housing rights abuses of Ethnic Serbs in Croatia

Postby TenantNet » Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:57 am

Geneva, Strasbourg, Zagreb; 26 August 2008:

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international non-governmental housing rights organisation, today filed a collective complaint under the European Social Charter mechanism, alleging systemic failure to remedy housing rights abuses of ethnic Serbs displaced in Croatia.

The COHRE Collective Complaint focuses in particular on the inadequacy of restitution arrangements in Croatia for ethnic Serbs in socially-owned housing at the time of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, persons who, at the time, enjoyed the status of “occupancy rights-holder”. During and after the 1991-1995 civil war in Croatia, Croatian authorities engaged in massive, discriminatory cancellations of occupancy rights, mainly of ethnic Serbs, often in absentia. Programs to house such persons entirely lack a human rights basis, and thus contravene Croatia’s international and regional law obligations. At issue is the systemic denial of the fundamental housing rights of tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs with legitimate ties to Croatia.


ANNOUNCEMENT

COHRE LAUNCHES COLLECTIVE COMPLAINT CONCERNING HOUSING RIGHTS VIOLATIONS OF ETHNIC SERBS IN CROATIA

Geneva, Strasbourg, Zagreb; 26 August 2008: The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international non-governmental housing rights organisation, today filed a collective complaint under the European Social Charter mechanism, alleging systemic failure to remedy housing rights abuses of ethnic Serbs displaced in Croatia.

The COHRE Collective Complaint focuses in particular on the inadequacy of restitution arrangements in Croatia for ethnic Serbs in socially-owned housing at the time of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, persons who, at the time, enjoyed the status of “occupancy rights-holder”. During and after the 1991-1995 civil war in Croatia, Croatian authorities engaged in massive, discriminatory cancellations of occupancy rights, mainly of ethnic Serbs, often in absentia. Programs to house such persons entirely lack a human rights basis, and thus contravene Croatia’s international and regional law obligations. At issue is the systemic denial of the fundamental housing rights of tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs with legitimate ties to Croatia.

COHRE has turned to the European Committee of Social Rights – the body charged with interpreting the rights in the European Social Charter – because all efforts by the persons concerned and their representatives to receive justice in these matters has failed. COHRE thus today engages the Charter’s collective complaint mechanism, an instrument available under the Charter for addressing systemic violations of the Charter’s provisions. It falls to the Committee to clarify the legal issues at issue in Croatia’s treatment of these Serb expellees, particularly now, in the context of Croatia’s candidacy for membership of the European Union.

The complaint seeks a finding of infringement of the relevant provisions of the European Social Charter, in particular the Charter’s Article 16 guarantee of economic, legal, and social protection of family life, including its equality aspects. Such a finding would trigger systematic monitoring by the relevant organs of the Council of Europe.

For more information, please contact Claude Cahn, Head of Advocacy Unit: claudecahn@cohre.org, (41 76) 203 46 88

Background:

During the 1991-1995 war in Croatia, Croatian courts engaged in massive, discriminatory cancellations of occupancy rights, often in absentia, mainly of ethnic Serbs. Shortly thereafter, Croatian parliament nullified the status of “occupancy rights” entirely, during circumstances in which several hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs had been hounded from their housing, and frequently from the country as a whole. These confiscated flats were then preferentially allocated to members of the ethnic Croatian majority or appropriated by the public authority on a permanent basis. After the war, Croatia refused to consider restitution or compensation for former holders of occupancy rights. Today, these persons live in highly tenuous situations, either inside or outside of Croatia, in states of legal uncertainty and social exclusion.

The COHRE Collective Complaint holds that these matters give rise to violations by the Croatian state of the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection as stipulated by Article 16 of the Charter and related international standards. In order to ensure the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, Croatia has undertaken, through ratifying Article 16 of the European Social Charter on 26 February 2003, “to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by means such as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangements, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married, and by other appropriate means.”

The COHRE Collective Complaint notes extensively the Committee’s case law, according to which, inter alia, “implementation of the Charter requires the State Parties to take not merely legal action but also practical action to give full effect to the rights recognised in the Charter. … States Parties must be particularly mindful of the impact that their choices will have for groups with heightened vulnerabilities as well as for other persons affected including, especially, their families on whom falls the heaviest burden in the event of institutional shortcomings.” The COHRE Collective Complaint further notes that the Committee has emphasized that “…ultimate responsibility for implementation of official policy lies with the … state.” The COHRE Collective Complaint also elaborates on Croatia’s international law obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the international law right to adequate housing for all persons under the jurisdiction of the State Party.

The Croatian government has recently begun implementing programs to make housing available to some of the persons excluded from their housing during the conflict, via programs known by the shorthand “housing care”. These programs, however, lack a human rights basis and do not constitute adequate remedy for violations of Charter rights and/or of related international human rights law. Among other deficiencies, (i) the applicant must evince a desire to return to Croatia; (ii) the housing provided in the housing care framework is not necessarily in the place of origin of the person concerned, or indeed in any place in the social or economic mainstream of life in Croatia; (iii) persons may not choose the place of housing allocation; (iv) the housing allocated is not assured to include adequate security of tenure in conformity with international law, or even comparable to that assured persons similarly situated; (v) the statute of “protected lessee” granted under the housing programme is much less favourable as the one given to former occupancy rights holders who were not displaced; (vi) the conditions under which the given flat can be purchased are not as favourable as the ones existing at the time of privatisation of socially owned properties.

The purpose and effect of these measures has been to deny justice to tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs – persons with genuine and effective links to Croatia -- displaced in Croatia or outside its borders. The COHRE Collective Complaint alleges that, in particular where the ethnic Serbs are concerned, the Charter’s Article 16 requirements – read together with and/or independently of the Charter’s Article E pre-ambulatory non-discrimination guarantees -- are not upheld at present in Croatia. Croatia’s Charter Article 16 and related commitments are not respected as a result of the Croatian government’s continuing violation of former occupancy rights holder’s housing rights through the adoption and/or toleration of a number of policies and practices that strike at the fundamental basis of family existence. At the core of this complaint is the disproportionate discriminatory impact that continuing housing rights violations have on the ethnic Serb population, in particular, persons who previously resided in socially-owned flats.
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