Human Rights House Foundation


Image: Varsavska: Citizens' arrest 

Croatian authorities continuously violate the freedom of assembly

Around 140 citizens of the city of Zagreb in the Republic of Croatia were recently arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Varsavska Street. Arrests and other police interventions have been happening continuously ever since the protests started. International and local civil society organizations have reacted to these violations of the right to freedom of assembly.

Monday, 06 September 2010

In Croatia, freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by a number of international human rights standards, including Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This right is possible to limit only by law and only if such limitation is necessary in a democratic society, for instance for the protection of national security.

However, the police measures that are being taken ever since the protests in Varsavska have started, are certainly not in concordance with the principles of permissibility of limitation of fundamental human rights proscribed by national legislation and international documents. This provoked many international and local human rights organizations in Croatia to strongly react and condemn the state authorities that prevent Croatian citizens to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms which numerous international documents signed and ratified by the Republic of Croatia guarantee to them.

 -Amnesty International reacts on recent arrests of citizens

In its recent press release from July 2010, Amnesty International pointed out that the Croatian authorities have an obligation to secure and protect peaceful assembly, and any restriction of this right must be prescribed by law, necessary and proportionate, which was not the case during the Varsavska Street protests.

“Amnesty International believes that during the last protests on Varsavska Street the authorities instead of protecting the peaceful demonstration effectively prevented citizens from enjoying their rights”, ” said Marek Marczynski, Amnesty International’s researcher on Croatia.

Freedom of peaceful assembly in the Republic of Croatia is guaranteed by a number of international human rights standards, including Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  And in several cases the European Court of Human Rights ruled that whilst a demonstration may annoy or give offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote, the participants must be able to hold the demonstration.

-Croatian NGOs: Recent events lead to democracy crisis

The Council for the Development of Civil Society in Croatia expressed their concern regarding the recent police arrests that represent true obstacle to the creation of an enabling institutional and social environment for the active participation of citizens in political processes and thus for the democratization of Croatian society. Association of Croatian Sociologists also expressed their worry that there is a democracy crisis going on in Croatia which deepens the political crisis that has been going on for some time already.

In February this year, police forces conducted violent police interventions again towards Croatian citizens who protested against the ‘’devastation of Varsavska’’.  Human Rights House of Zagreb, in their press release then, called upon responsible Croatian authorities to act in accordance to democratic principles and Croatian laws.

‘’Dialogue and not police intervention is the only possible democratic answer on non-violently expressed public discontent or opinion. Use of violence seldom or never has an excuse. And an excuse for violence that was applied as an answer to non-violence cannot be and should not be ever found.’’, stated HRH Zagreb in its February press release.

‘’All these condemnations by state authorities, police arrests etc. show us that we’re fighting for something huge here. That’s why I’m not so worried about my own security that much, but I worry because of the feeling of having the responsibility  for the security of other people, that is all those Croatian citizens who engaged themselves together with us in this struggle for Varsavska, and whose freedoms are being continuously violated’’, says the president of the association Pravo na grad, Teodor Celakoski.

-B.a.B.e. demands investigations into the police action in Benkovac

And while police and authorities were too busy violating the fundamental freedom to peaceful assembly of its citizens, two brutal murders happened nearby Zagreb.

In that regard, association B.a.B.e. recently appealed to the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, Tomislav Karamarko, to launch the investigations of police responsibilities in the case of double murder that happened in August in the city of Benkovac, Croatia.

‘’We do not think that all necessary measures were taken to protect these two young lives in Benkovac. Because if we compare the effectiveness of the police in case of the entrepreneurial project (City of Zagreb and Varsavska Street), where police forces were used upon completely non-violent citizen activists, with the police inability to protect two persons who are victims of real abuser, we must ask ourselves then, what are the priorities of the police in Croatia and for what exactly our citizens allocate their funds believing that their lives will be maximally protected’’, it is stated in B.a.B.e.’s appeal.

-Ban on public gatherings near Croatian state institutions existing as of 2005

In the summer of 2005, change in the law on public gatherings was made where any public gathering that is happening in a circle of one hundred meters from the building of the Croatian Parliament, Government, Constitutional Court and the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia, is strongly banned.

Legislator was led in this decision by the alleged security reasons - Croatian Prime Minister at that time, Ivo Sanader, claimed that the Government has decided to make such a decision after assessing the security services of the Republic of Croatia, and after identifying the need to better protect state officials and objects. 

Changing this law limited the conditions under which all individuals can freely and peacefully assemble and / or protest. Against these amendments was the entire political opposition, as well as numerous NGOs, trade unions and public figures. There was a civil initiative launched, entitled "Matija Gubec" which consisted of several smaller peaceful protests and civil disobedience actions nearby the restricted area, wishing to warn the public and authorities, that the ban on gatherings planned to take place in front of the state institutions, is pure violation of civic freedoms and human rights.
Although in recent years there were some informal and unofficial announcements that the law on public assembly could again alter and the existing ban on public gatherings could be removed, this has not happened so far.

-Background on the case of Varsavska Street

  • The protests were organized by the civil society initiative Pravo na Grad (Right to a City) in order to protect the historic part of Zagreb, Varsavska Street, from being partially destroyed during the construction of an entry-exit ramp to a shopping centre. The construction works were supposed to involve cutting down several trees and turning a public walking area into an entry to a private property. Since January 2008 Pravo na grad, together with the NGO Zelena akcija (“Green action”) organized numerous protests against using Varsavska street as an entry to a private car park in the centre of Zagreb.
  • In September 2008 they set up a crisis committee, which also involved several artists, a faculty of law professor and some other well known personalities. A petition to stop the construction was organized in Zagreb, and more than 54, 000 signatures were collected.
  • In 2009 the inhabitants of Varsavska street filed a complaint to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction, requesting that public space of the street where they lived not to be sacrificed for private interest.
  • Other complaints were addressed to the Ministry of Culture for allowing the destruction of two historical buildings on the street.
  • In 2010 Pravo na grad and Zelena akcija filed a complaint to the department for fighting corruption and organized crime of the State Attorney’s Office, against the mayor of Zagreb whom they accused of corruption.
  • Between 19 May and 20 June 2010, a non-stop 24 hours protest was taking place on Varsavska Street.
  • On 20 June 2010 the protest was terminated as the State Attorney’s Office and the Ministry of Culture acknowledged irregularities in the project for the construction. Also the City Assembly called for moratorium on the construction works until all legal disputes are resolved.
  • Despite that on 15 July 2010 construction works started on the site which prompted new protests which are still ongoing.

Press clipping (in Croatian): ; ; - Article 1; - Article 2; ;

Photos of the arrests:

Image: Arrest of citizens in Varsavska

Arrests of the Croatian citizen in Varsavska

Image: Arrest of the lawyer, Slobodan Budak

Arrest of the Croatian lawyer, Slobodan Budak in Varsavska

Image: Arrest of citizens in Varsavska

Police arrests of Croatian citizens in Varsavska Street, July 2010

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