Today a lawsuit was filed at Croatia’s Constitutional Court regarding an ineffective and inadequate investigation into a pushback case by a group of refugees who were victims of a particularly brutal pushback from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in October 2020 which included severe violence and sexual assault. More than two years after filing a criminal complaint, the State Attorney has so far failed to open an official investigation. The details of the pushback were reported on by the Guardian.
According to victims’ testimonies collected by the Danish Refugee Council in BiH, a group of five people entered Croatia in search of protection. The group was apprehended by the Croatian police and four were detained in the police station for approximately two days without food and limited access to the toilet. Afterwards they were taken to court to testify against the fifth group member who was charged as the smuggler, however, they denied all allegations and exonerated the accused.
Their names and the date and place of their apprehension are documented in the court decision. It also confirms that they were under the direct control of Croatian officers when on the same day they were transported to an unknown location and handed over to masked and armed men in black uniforms who tortured and sexually assaulted them. According to the testimonies, they then pushed the group back to BiH, almost completely naked. The victims still suffer from the consequences of the violence they experienced in Croatia.
After all the relevant information was collected, the Centre for Peace Studies filed a criminal complaint in December 2020 for crimes that the State Attorney should investigate ex officio, including abuse of power, criminal organization, torture and other ill-treatment, rape, unlawful deprivation of liberty, and robbery. Although the law prescribes a deadline of six months to reach a decision on the criminal complaint, the initial pre-investigation phase is still ongoing after almost 2.5 years. Not even a decision on the official opening of an investigation has yet been taken.
For this reason, the victims decided to file a complaint to the Constitutional Court which will need to examine whether such a prolongation of the pre-investigative phase is justified, and whether the prosecutor undertook adequate measures in an acceptable timeframe, i.e. whether the investigation was effective. They are represented by the lawyer, Lidija Horvat.
Meanwhile the group of refugees has reached Germany. Supported by PRO ASYL, they went through the asylum procedure and were granted protection against deportation. Besides PRO ASYL and the Centre for Peace Studies, they are further supported by the Dutch Council for Refugees, and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
Following repeated legal challenges by the Centre for Peace Studies, in collaboration with Croatian lawyers, the European Court of Human Rights recently condemned Croatia’s failure to conduct effective investigations into crimes committed against migrants and refugees in two judgments (M.H. and Others v. Croatia and Daraibou v. Croatia).