As one of the six constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia, Helsinki Commission focus on Croatia began with the early signs of that country’s break-up in 1990. Commission staff observed Croatia’s first multiparty elections in April of that year, and observed subsequent elections in 1992, 1995, 1997 and 2000. In addition, a Commission-organized congressional delegation visited Croatia in March 1991, just as tensions within the former Yugoslavia were rising. Commissioners visited Croatia later that year, after the republic declared its independence and conflict erupted as local Serb forces with Yugoslav military support occupied significant portions of the country. Commission-organized congressional delegations also visited Croatia during the course of the Bosnian conflict from 1992-1995.
It was also during the 1990s that the Helsinki Commission held numerous briefings and hearings that focused on developments in Croatia. While supportive of Croatia’s assertion of statehood and opposed to the violent aggression which led to its partial occupation and a severe humanitarian crisis in 1991, Commissioners generally also expressed concern about the domestic situation in the new country, in particular shortcomings in democratic development and violations of individual human rights, including those of persons belonging to the Serb and other minority communities. Several leading Commissioners were also critical of Croatia’s role in the Bosnian conflict, particularly in 1993, and the Commission subsequently supported efforts both to encourage the return of Serbs displaced by Croatia’s re-taking of occupied territories in 1995 and to ensure official cooperation in seeking individual accountability for war crimes committed in Croatia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Fortunately, Croatia began to achieve increasing progress beginning in 2000, and Commission efforts turned increasingly toward the country’s aspirations for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, leading to Croatia’s membership in the NATO Alliance since 2009 and in the European Union since 2013. Ongoing Commission concerns have related to issues like trafficking in persons, the recent refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, and Croatia’s role in fostering regional cooperation and progress toward EU and NATO integration. The most recent Commission visit to Croatia was in 2011, during the course of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Autumn Meeting in Dubrovnik.
Staff Contact: Michael Cecire, senior policy advisor