Croatia: High profile court rulings to focus attention on human rights protection

Court rulings next week in two high profile complaints will focus attention of human rights protection in Croatia.

The European Court of Human Rights judgements in the cases Jelić v. Croatia (no. 57856/11) and Marić v. Croatia (no. 50132/12) are expected on Thursday 12 June.

Jelić v. Croatia (no. 57856/11)

The case concerns the allegation of targeted disappearances and killings of civilians of Serbian origin by the Croatian police and army in the Sisak area (Croatia) in 1991 and 1992 during the Homeland war in Croatia.

The applicant, Ana Jelić, is a Croatian national who was born in 1934 and lives in Sisak. She alleges that five armed men in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas came to the family home in Sisak in the evening of 15 November 1991 and took away her husband, Vaso Jelić. His body was found nearly three months later on the banks of the river Kupa in Sisak.

An autopsy showed that he had been shot dead and a criminal complaint was lodged against a person or persons unknown on murder charges.

None of the ensuing investigative measures taken produced any tangible results until September 1999 when the police interviewed a man who had collected information about the arrests and killings of 83 civilians of Serbian origin and the disappearances of a further 500 civilians of Serbian origin in the Sisak area.

Ultimately, the investigation led to the conviction by a first-instance court in December 2013 of the Deputy Head of the Sisak Police (Commander of the Police Forces in the broader area of Sisak and Banovina) for the killings and for failing to undertake adequate measures to prevent them.

In the meantime, Jelić had brought civil proceedings seeking compensation for the death of her husband – including a constitutional complaint – which were dismissed.

Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Jelić alleges that the Croatian police arrested and killed her husband and that the ensuing official investigation into his death was inadequate.

Further relying on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 2, she alleges that her husband was arrested and killed purely because of his Serbian ethnic origin, arguing that 130 civilians of Serbian origin had been killed in the Sisak area in 1991 and 1992 without a proper investigation being carried out.

Marić v. Croatia (no. 50132/12)

The case concerns a hospital’s disposal of the body of a stillborn child as clinical waste.

The applicant, Miodrag Marić, is a Croatian national who was born in 1966 and lives in Žrnovica (Croatia). On 7 August 2003 Mr Marić’s wife gave birth, in the ninth month of pregnancy, to a stillborn child at a publicly-owned hospital in Split. After the birth, Marić and his wife did not want to take their child’s remains, leaving the hospital to carry out an autopsy and burial.

An autopsy was carried out and on 13 October 2003 the hospital disposed of the child’s body together with other clinical waste. The clinical waste was then taken by the hospital’s contractor to Zagreb cemetery for cremation.

Soon afterwards, Marić and his wife tried to find out about their child’s burial, without success. As a result, they brought civil proceedings against the hospital seeking damages for the distress caused by the way in which it had disposed of their child’s body.

Split County Court subsequently found that, under the relevant domestic law, the body of their child should not have been disposed of as clinical waste but that, as no provision of the law obliged the hospital to inform parents where their stillborn child was buried, they could not claim damages.

This decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court in November 2008. The couple’s constitutional complaint was dismissed in February 2012. In parallel, Marić brought a criminal complaint against the hospital as well as the employees of the hospital and its contractor, which was rejected on the grounds that the body had been disposed of in accordance with the relevant law and procedures.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Marić complains that the body of his stillborn child had been disposed of improperly by the hospital and that, as a result, he had been prevented from obtaining information about where the child was buried.

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