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Croatia: Women’s rights under threat

[Split/Zagreb, 31 December 2015, news from EWL’ Croatian members UPDATE below!] Croatia held its Parliamentary elections on 8 November 2015. The result of the elections for the National Parliament was almost equal for Social Democrats Coalition and the so called Patriotic Coalition lead by conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The country’s election was inconclusive, with the opposition right-wing and the ruling left-wing coalition winning 59-56 seats respectively. The newly formed ’list’ MOST (Bridge), the third political option, as they called themselves, became kingmaker after winning 19 seats and had decisive power, after weeks of ’negotiations’, with both blocs to form, with their 15 seats, the new government with the conservatives.

The new right-wing Parliament ended a four-year rule of the centre-left coalition. Croatian’s parliament chose the President of Parliament last Monday, ending weeks of political deadlock, with 88 votes in favour, one against and 62 abstentions which paves the way for a new ’non-political’ prime minister proposed by the conservatives, a little-known Croatian-Canadian entrepreneur who served as a Chief Financial Officer for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries global generics business, Tihomir Oreskovic to form a new government.

In the elections the political quota of 40 % women or men on the lists was obliged for the first time, according to the Gender Equality Act and Electoral Act. For the first time on the national elections Croatia had preferential voting as well. Shortly before the Election Day Constitutional Court annulled the article of the Electoral Act by which the lists without quota of 40% of ’under-represented sex’ should be returned but kept the obligation under the Gender Equality Act for those lists of candidates without 40% quota to pay penalty. Since there is no clear procedure this legal possibility was not implemented after the elections. The result is that we have the lowest number of women (15% of women) in the Croatian Parliament since 2000 when the representative system was introduced.

At the beginning of the year 2015 Croatia elected a conservative President of the Republic, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and after November’s election the conservative right–wing is not only strengthening but is openly demanding the reduction of women’s rights. The coalition between MOST and the Croatian Democratic Union Coalition is under the strong political influence of the Catholic Church. After only a few days of government negotiations it was clear that we were facing the same scenario as Hungary – aggressive right–wing government against civil society, women’s rights and minority rights.

Women in Croatia face the reduction and abolition of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The prohibition of right to safe abortion is openly announced. The new potential candidate for the Minister of Health started advocating the Polish model for regulation of the rights on abortion. He has also announced abolition of the Medical Assisted Fertilization Act and prohibition on using frozen embryos in the process. The same candidate is strongly against “gender” as a part of so called “gender ideology”. For that reason, regarding the fact that the potential Government (which will be formed in the next 30 days) already announced that the Governmental Office for Gender Equality would be part of the Ministry for Social Policy and we fear that the Office for Ombudsperson for Gender Equality could be closed, which would mean additional reduction of the institutional mechanisms for gender equality.

In the same time right–wing politicians call for the reduction or abolition of the financial support from the state budget to the non–governmental organizations, meaning those most critical toward political conservatism and negative influence of the Church on women’s rights, especially sexual and reproductive rights. Among those NGOs are feminist organizations, the Women’s Network Croatia as one on the forefront of the struggle to protect and promote women’s rights.

Shortly after the election the public was informed by non–profit media that the Constitutional Court (for the half of the members of the Court mandate will expire in the next 6 months) would decide, after 24 years, on the request for the review of the constitutionality of the Act on Healthcare Measures in the Realization of the Freedom Right to Decide on Childbirth from 1978, addressed by Croatian Movement for Life and the Family to the Constitutional Court already in 1991. According to the legal procedures for the Court, the deadline for the decision on the matter for the Constitutional Court was 12 months or 1 year - the time which expired long time ago. This new pressure to the Court is not surprising if we know that Catholic fundamentalism and conservative right-wing political options are strengthening at all levels.

This is why the Croatian Women’s Network on 29 December 2015 held a protest action “We are not going back to the illegal abortion!” in front of the Constitutional Court and submitted a letter to the Constitutional Court in which the Network reminded the Court that the current law is in compliance with all international agreements, in particular with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the conclusions and recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee this year submitted to the Croatian Government.

The Women’s Network’action once again highlighted our concerns about the impact of religion on the secular character of the Croatian state and its laws. The Women’s Network expressed the obligation of the Constitutional Court to take into account the Council of Europe Resolution 1464 "Women and Religion in Europe" and would not submissively answer to the Catholic Church, thus affecting the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia.

We are informing human and women’s rights activists internationally about the current situation and we will continue to keep them updated on future developments. We would ask you for the support if needed to join in our feminist struggle to preserve fundamental women’s rights in the critical next months!

UPDATE 31 January
After the government was formed officially, our members co-signed a letter to the PM.

Open letter to Prime Minister

January 30th 2016

Dear Prime Minister Orešković,

We address you as an organisation for protection of human rights and one of the organisations of civil society that were named and attacked at today’s session of the Croatian Parliament.

We are worried because state of human rights of lesbians and gays, which was so far tragic, became moreover critical after Your Government came to power.

Namely, the fact that hasn’t changed for years is that vast majority of brutal hate crimes against lesbians and gay men goes without sanctions for perpetuators due to homophobia in judiciary, state attorney’s offices and the police. Lesbians and gay men in Croatia live in constant fear that their sexual orientation might be revealed and because of that they might lose their jobs, end up in the streets or be beaten up. The only person who reported discrimination at workplace in Croatia had to move to Germany to avoid future discrimination.

However, all of this is nothing compared to the fact that now in Your Government sit at least two persons that were active in advocating for referendum against human rights of lesbians and gays, one of them being Vice-president of the Government and another Minister of Culture, who already announced cancelling of funds to one queer organization and publicly takes stands, which civil society and cultural scene in Croatia undoubtely see as fascist.

Since the forming of the new Government we witness frequent attacks on human rights and organisations of civil society – from marching in the streets, and sending of threats via e-mails, to other ways of harassment of organisations of civil society and individuals that advocate human rights.

Most recent such statement that gives an impression of a witch-hunt is today’s attack on organisations of civil society by the Member of the Croatian Parliament from the leading coalition and the vice-president of the Parliamentary Committee for Family, Youth and Sport, Mr Ilčić. In his speech at the Croatian Parliament he called organisations that protect human rights of minorities sick.

We demand from You Mr Orešković, to state publicly in which way will the Government protect basic values of the Constitution: freedom, equality, equality of national minorities, equality of sexes, pacifism, social justice, respect of human rights, rule of law, and especially human rights of lesbians and gays.

We also demand that you address the undisturbed holding of the fascist gathering in Zagreb at which participated representatives of state institutions.

Finally, we demand that you react on today’s attacks on organisations of civil society from the Croatian Parliament, in order to stop the outbreak of spreading of hatred and the witch-hunt against minorities, most vulnerable parts of society and organisations that work on their protection.

Sanja Juras,
Lesbian Group Kontra

Co-signed:

Mirjana Kučer,
Nela Pamuković,
Biserka Momčinović,
Đurđica Kolarec,
Bojana Genov,
Women’s Network of Croatia

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