08.12.2022

Croa­tia’s Schen­gen acces­si­on is on the agen­da of today’s mee­ting of the Jus­ti­ce and Home Affairs Coun­cil. If minis­ters vote in favor, it will be des­pi­te amp­le evi­dence of sys­te­ma­tic human rights vio­la­ti­ons at Croatia’s bor­ders, as well as breaches of the Schen­gen aquis itself.

Sin­ce 2016, the under­si­gned orga­niz­a­ti­ons, inter­na­tio­nal media and inter­go­vern­men­tal orga­niz­a­ti­ons have con­sist­ent­ly docu­men­ted fla­grant human rights vio­la­ti­ons com­mit­ted by Croa­tia at the EU’s exter­nal bor­ders. The­se sys­te­ma­tic rights vio­la­ti­ons and instan­ces of bor­der vio­lence per­pe­tra­ted by the poli­ce and other sta­te actors are still not inves­ti­ga­ted effec­tively by Croa­ti­an aut­ho­ri­ties, but rather per­sist­ent­ly denied. The under­si­gned orga­niz­a­ti­ons hold stron­gly that Croa­tia’s unlaw­ful prac­ti­ces, and its fail­u­re to ful­fill even mini­mal stan­dards of human rights pro­tec­tion, should not be rewar­ded with Schen­gen accession.

The free­dom of move­ment of Croa­ti­an citi­zens wit­hin the Schen­gen area is desi­ra­ble, but the acces­si­on pro­cess has reve­a­led the true face of the Schen­gen zone: free­dom of move­ment wit­hin means sealing off bor­ders to the out­side world – if necessa­ry through a bru­tal bor­der regime.

»Push­backs are not only a direct vio­la­ti­on of the Schen­gen Bor­ders Code, but also repre­sent a vio­la­ti­on of inter­na­tio­nal law, inclu­ding the Gene­va Con­ven­ti­on on the Sta­tus of Refu­gees. Such vio­la­ti­ons need to be effec­tively stop­ped in the coun­tries that alrea­dy are part of the Schen­gen area, and also a clear mes­sa­ge needs to be sent that no coun­try that vio­la­tes human rights can beco­me a part of the zone.«, comments Anto­nia Pin­du­lić from Cent­re for Peace Stu­dies in Zagreb.

The EU insti­tu­ti­ons limi­ted their con­di­ti­ons for Croa­tia’s acces­si­on to the estab­lish­ment of an inde­pen­dent human rights moni­to­ring mecha­nism. While a genui­nely inde­pen­dent mecha­nism would be wel­co­me, the exis­ting human rights moni­to­ring mecha­nism set up by the Croa­ti­an Inte­rior Minis­try its­elf is dys­func­tio­n­al and could only ever be a fig leaf.

Moreo­ver, human rights vio­la­ti­ons com­mit­ted by Croa­ti­an sta­te actors are well docu­men­ted, have been con­dem­ned by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights and ack­now­led­ged by several natio­nal courts in Euro­pe. What is now nee­ded is accoun­ta­bi­li­ty for thousands of cri­mes com­mit­ted by Croa­ti­an poli­ce units against peop­le on the move, sub­stan­ti­al struc­tu­ral chan­ges in the poli­ce appa­ra­tus and the crea­ti­on of effec­ti­ve, inde­pen­dent moni­to­ring of the exter­nal bor­ders, as well as poli­ti­cal con­se­quen­ces by the EU.

Croa­tia’s acces­si­on pro­cess illus­tra­tes yet ano­t­her time the lack of impor­t­ance atta­ched to human rights and the rule of law in the Euro­pean bor­der regime sin­ce 2016: simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to the esca­la­ti­on of vio­lence, EU insti­tu­ti­ons have step by step paved the way for Croa­tia to enter the Schen­gen zone.

Indi­vi­du­al mem­ber sta­tes like Ger­ma­ny also con­tri­bu­t­ed to this pro­cess and pro­vi­ded poli­ti­cal and logisti­cal sup­port towards Croa­tia’s bor­der pro­tec­tion. A year ago, the new Ger­man coali­ti­on government decla­red that they „want to end ille­gal refou­le­ment and the suf­fe­ring at the exter­nal bor­ders“. To date, this important tar­get has not been imple­men­ted. This would make Ger­many’s vote all the more unacceptable.

Push­backs and poli­ce vio­lence against peop­le see­king pro­tec­tion in Euro­pe must be met by decisi­ve legal and poli­ti­cal actions. Not under­ta­king anything under­mi­nes the rule of law and encou­ra­ges mem­ber sta­tes and their offi­cials to igno­re Euro­pean legal standards.

 

Bal­kan­brü­cke

Cent­re for Peace Studies

Dut­ch Coun­cil for Refugees

Euro­pean Cent­re for Con­sti­tu­tio­nal and Human Rights

PRO ASYL

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