Discrediting NGOs will not hide the evidence at the EU’s external borders

A response to the Croatian Ministry of Interior on grave rights abuses by police officers in the border area.

When it comes to human rights violations, then the authority implicated should conduct an impartial internal investigation. This has not been the response of the Croatian Ministry of Interior (MUP), who have batted off reports recently put to them by No Name Kitchen (NNK) and the organisations which form  the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) in an article by the Guardian newspaper

(Source:MUP)

As the current presiding member of the EU, Croatian authorities chose to question the legitimacy of grassroots organisations monitoring the border rather than deal with grave rights violations carried out by it’s officers. The Croatian state is a perpetrating member within the EU pushback apparatus, and this effort to discredit NGOs is an attempt to silence the voice of hundreds of people who have offered first hand testimony of violent collective expulsions from Croatia. However, these voices will not be discouraged, and the response of the MUP may be seen as a faltering admission of guilt on it’s part, being wholly unable to substantiate its adherence to the rule of law.

The recent offences carried out by Croatian police officers relate to the spraying of orange paint across the crown of people’s heads (several in a cross shape) and then collectively expelling them into an area close to Velika Kladusa (BiH). Instead of dealing with these reports the Croatian MUP has fallen back on its traditional stance of denying all existence of violent removals from its territory, and ignoring the photographic evidence and witness accounts. In it’s response, the MUP carried out further whitewashing, claiming no since incidents took place. Yet these acts are hard to hide, and the violent marks left on the bodies of people removed from Croatia remain a testament to their regular occurrence.

Notably, the Ministry expressed the same point blank denial after footage showed the pusback of a large number of people including families close to Lohovo (BiH) in late 2018. To this day, Croatia denies involvement in these acts, despite their persistence leading to a projected 25,000 people being illegally removed in 2019 alone. Whistleblower accounts from officers inside the Croatian police force have proven the daily use of unlawful removals, and cite the operations are hierarchically structured, and initiated from the heart of the MUP. The embedded nature of pushbacks has also been challenged by the Croatian ombudswoman who has been blocked successive times from investigating cases within her remit.

A wide selection of actors have called Croatia to task for both its pushback violations and its lack of proper investigation into these crimes, seen most visibly with the action of MEPs in the LIBE committee who presented evidence of torture carried out by Croatian officials. Others, including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, have all raised a substantial body of evidence but been met with the same reactionary response by the MUP.  To put this in context, even after two persons were shot last November by the Croatian police, the authorities claimed that the operations had been lawfully conducted, denying any wrongdoing on their part. To that end, the use of paint tagging presents a concerning continuity with the successive testimonies of violent and inhumane treatment, which is being carried out with impunity by Croatian police officers. On the shared database where BVMN´s members, including NNK, publish in depth reports on pushbacks, the prevalence of beatings, stripping, burning of clothes and firearms abuse within the cases recorded from Croatia are remarkably high. In a report published about pushbacks during 2019, over 80% of recorded cases constituted breaches of international law on “torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment”. The new phenomena, which developed in the COVID-19 period, shows further advancement of brutal treatment against people-on-the-move, with the branding, or marking of groups during their expulsion.

Rather than investigating these violations, the Ministry responded with slurs against the monitoring groups. The MUP used their response to accuse NNK of being “a ringleader, according to the information at our disposal, in the attempt of a violent breakthrough of hundreds of migrants into the Republic of Croatia across the border with Serbia in December of 2018”. In this regard, the suggested dates and the account provided are incorrect. There was a protest in December 2017 in Šid (Serbia) which the MUP might be alluding to. However, NNK did not lead this demonstration, nor any other such action. It was a peaceful demonstration, where mostly families with children asked for asylum in Croatia. NNK asked the Serbian police if they could bring food and blankets and the Serbian authorities accepted, and despite the publications about the incident, none of the reports point towards any wrongdoing by NNK.

This insipid smear campaign by the Croatian state speaks to it’s fragile position. With a total lack of transparency and inability to evidence its own claims, the MUP utilises slander towards independent monitors as a means of diverting attention from crimes that breach multiple domestic and international laws. It is disappointing that responsible institutions are not only perpetrating crimes, but also actively engaged in their cover up. However, such malpractice does not deter NNK or any other member of BVMN, who continue to carry out their work as independent monitors, tracking and reporting on the unfolding situation at EU external borders.

Out of respect for the victims of human rights abuse, all BVMN partners refuse to engage in the petty exchange which the MUP has sought to initiate with its latest response. Instead, we continue to present fact based evidence on pushbacks and demand accountability from the perpetrating institutions. Therefore, we call for a due and proper investigation into recent allegations of paint tagging by Croatian officials during pushbacks.

Border Violence Monitoring Network

No Name Kitchen