Forced Out of Their Homes in Croatia
Sometimes the Croatian Helsinki Committee can stop the outrage - sometimes it can't
AS much of the world prepared for the holiday season in late 1993, stark terror entered the lives of a woman and her daughters in Split, Croatia. Bursting into their apartment, several armed and uniformed persons demanded that they relinquish their home and all possessions. Afraid, but unwilling to comply, they were locked into a room. Prisoners in their own apartment for the next three weeks, all endured repeated threats of rape or death; one daughter was beaten.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In its most recent report to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in Vienna, the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (CHC), a nongovernmental organization based in Zagreb, finds this case to be but one among many instances when force was used by Croatian authorities to evict or attempt to evict legal residents from their apartments. Between Nov. 15 and the end of 1993, CHC investigated 24 cases of such forcible evictions - 14 in Zagreb, nine in the Dalmatian city of Split, and one in the eastern Croatian city of Vinkovci.
Inhabitants of these apartments are ethnically Serb or Muslim. They are either Croatian citizens or long-time residents of Croatia. Some were former members of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) - the erstwhile federal armed forces, before the breakup of Yugoslavia. The apartments were once owned by the JNA and became property of the Croatian Defense Ministry after the demise of the Yugoslav state. Many residents had lived in their apartments for decades prior to the eviction attempt; all resided there legally, with leases in their own names or those of their parents or a deceased spouse.
These cases, along with other documented human rights violations such as forced conscription into military units, reveal a pattern of harassment, intimidation, and physical threats aimed at ethnic minorities in Croatia.
Evictions and attempted evictions are undertaken without legally executed court orders and almost always under threat of bodily harm. Croatian Army soldiers have, in some cases, broken into an apartment while the inhabitant is at work or out of town and simply moved a new tenant into the apartment - usually a soldier from the Ministry of Defense and his family. When the legal residents return, they are unable to enter because new locks have been installed.
In many instances, soldiers have forced their way into an apartment while the family is home and ordered them to evacuate immediately. These intrusions are often accompanied by physical violence; a number of residents have suffered injuries requiring treatment. Resistance has sometimes delayed eviction but has led to repeated intrusions into the apartment by Army personnel who continue to terrorize the inhabitants and threaten them with eventual eviction. When the family is evicted, its possessions have been confiscated by the new tenant, destroyed, or sold.
Little recourse exists when these flagrant human rights violations occur. Civilian and military police offer little help, and sometimes have actually provided assistance to the Army. Some evicted persons have lodged complaints through the judicial system. Others have protested to parliament or written formally to the Military Housing Committee and to the Ministry of Defense - to little avail.