EU Attempted To Downplay Report On The Torture Of 16 Refugees By Croatian Officials

The Croatian-Bosnian border has long been subject to criticism surrounding the often-chilling stories of severe human rights infringements inflicted upon refugees who have attempted the crossing. Recent findings from The Danish Refugee Council and The Guardian allude not only to a truly horrific infringement of human rights but also to an attempt by the European Union to prevent the information from coming to light.

On the 26th of May, the Danish Refugee Council documented the torture of 16 refugees by Croatian officials. Following this, the Guardian gained access to leaked e-mails that suggested EU officials attempted to ‘cover-up’ the actions of the Croatian officials due to fears of a ‘backlash’.

Velika Kladusa, a physician who treats refugees in Bosnia, said that around 60% of the refugees he has treated have claimed that their injuries were a direct result of abuse by Croatian officials. Claire Daly, Irish MEP, described the situation as ”outrageous” claiming that there appears to be a collusion between the European Commission and the Croatian authorities. This specific instance of abuse cannot be put down to a few bad apples this is an institutional issue that requires a serious response. As Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International Europe Office stated ”The European Union can no longer remain silent and wilfully ignore the violence and abuses by Croatian police on its External Borders”.

The refugee movements across the Eastern Borders of the European Union are well documented. It grew primarily as a result of two events: the Syrian civil war and the collapse of Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. The Croatian-Bosnian border has become notorious for the abuses suffered by refugees attempting to cross it. As a result, the European Union set up a supervisory mechanism in 2018 costing €6.8m aiming to strengthen the Croatian border and to ensure the humane treatment of refugees and migrants at the border. However, this project has failed.

Europe is facing an economic challenge of an unprecedented scale due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this is not the time for the EU to forget about its core principles as an upholder of basic Human Rights. If anything, in a world where the United States has seemingly given up on protecting the liberal rules-based system, the role of the EU is more significant than ever.

Instead of covering up these horrific abuses of power by member states, the EU must apply heavy pressure to the Croatian leadership – and any other country infringing human rights – to force adherence to the rights that the Union promises to safeguard.

The EU’s ability to force states to comply with rules regarding refugees and their rights has been somewhat questionable. None the less, there have been several successful cases. A recent example involved the illegal transit zones on the Hungarian-Serbian border, which were used to hold refugees illegally. Prime Minister Orbán reacted predictably to calls for their closure – by outright refusing – but after extended pressure, he begrudgingly admitted that he had no choice but to abide by the EC J’s ruling to close the transit zones for good. The Croatian administration must be put under similar pressure – its bid to be admitted into the Schengen zone only further strengthens the EU’s hand.

The situation is clear: If the European Union refuses to ramp up pressure on human rights abuses, they will continue to go unchecked – there is no real interest in self-censorship – and people will continue to suffer at the hands of those that are expected to protect them. As the dust from the COVID-9 crisis settles, Europe will have to rebuild itself economically which will draw on enormous resources. However, its core principles must not be allowed to fall by the wayside and those most vulnerable must continue to be protected.

Peter Zoltan Barker
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