Stopping domestic violence in Croatia: Progress and challenges


Today, I am in Croatia for the official launch of our new report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. The report is the result of extensive fact-finding in Croatia to assess how its laws are working to protect domestic violence victims and hold offenders accountable. The Advocates for Human Rights traveled to Croatia in October 2010 and February 2011 to interview NGOs, representatives of government agencies, victims, police, judges, social workers, doctors, and prosecutors. Based on these interviews and extensive research, we drew conclusions and made recommendations which we present in the report.

We’ll be releasing this report with a week-long series of events in Croatia. We’ll be presenting the report to Parliament, ombudspersons, police, judges, shelter workers, Centers for Social Welfare, and NGOs. I am excited about this release trip when all our hard work comes to fruition, and we get to use the report to help our partners make change in Croatia. But, I’m also nervous about it–we could face significant backlash from the very people to whom we’ll be presenting the report.

We are objective in our report, but not afraid to criticize the government for failing to live up to certain human rights obligations. And the report makes some very candid observations about the law, the government agencies, and the frontline responders. Our research uncovered many troubling practices that we didn’t hesitate to point out in our report. For example, judges in Croatia often use a harmful practice called “facing” to assess the credibility of the parties. When judges are unsure of who is telling the truth, they’ll force the parties to face each other, a few meters apart, look each other in the eye, and recount their version of what happened. Judges claim that they can read the parties’ facial and body expressions to decide who is lying. For a victim of domestic violence to confront her abuser in this way is traumatizing and harmful; moreover, it most likely won’t promote candid or truthful testimony.

We’re hoping our report can change practices like this. So, while we expect that some people will be upset when they read criticisms of how they implement laws on domestic violence, we hope to convince them that this report can be a tool they can use to improve their practices. Our recommendations set out clear ways that the Croatian government and systems actors can strengthen their response to domestic violence to better protect victims and promote offender accountability. The report’s release in Croatia will be our opportunity to begin convincing them to act on our recommendations; we hope our advocacy work will help launch the next phase of this project–pushing those recommendations forward so that more Croatian women can live free from the terror and torture of domestic violence.

Rosalyn Park is the Research Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.