Human Rights House Zagreb is a human rights organisation established in 2008 as a network of civil society organisations with the goal of protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. The HRH’s (Human Rights House Zagreb) vision is to build a democratic, pluralist and inclusive society founded upon the values of human rights, the rule of law, social justice and solidarity. The HRH contributes to the protection, promotion, developing and advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms through research, monitoring, public advocacy and education. By publishing annual human rights overviews, thematic reports and petitions, they help to create better laws and public policies.
What is the connection between the HRH and the European Union?
We carry out a number of projects alongside with other civil-society organisations from Croatia, Europe and some of them may be funded or cofounded by the EU, that’s why we promote the EU values and affairs in some of our projects.
The Human Rights House is part of the Human Rights House Network, an international web of houses in other countries, whose main office is based in Oslo, Norway.
What are the main goals and expectations of the HRH?
The main idea of the HRH is to reach a more free, open and democratic society as well as promote equity, inclusiveness and respect, monitoring the respect of international standards of human rights in a national context.
We have four main strands of activities: Research, carrying out diverse investigations on human rights aspects of various topics of our interest. Monitoring, advocacy and education.
All these activities are performed in 3 main thematic programmes: Human rights and democracy, human rights and judiciary, and Social-economic rights. In the frame of all these topics, we organise a number of activities related to protection and promotion of human rights such as research of socio-economic issues, as well as of other fields like freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
Members of Human Rights House Zagreb are separate organisations which undertake their own work within a specific field of human rights protection, such as protection of rights of women, protection of people with disabilities, dealing with the past and transitional justice (historical issues like wars or crisis which are still present in the society, such as the war in the 90s Croatia) etc. They also jointly react and support each other when adopting some policy or advocating with decision makers.
One of our most important projects is the publication of the “Annual Human Rights Overview in Croatia”, a report by the civil-society organisations in Croatia. We cooperate with more than 40 other organisations, and we cover about 20 fields, gathering an input and experience, so that, based on what organisations state, we provide a brief with all the main issues, concerns and problems regarding human rights in Croatia.
The topics of the Overview include areas like Human Rights and Justice, Human Rights and Environment, Women Rights, People with disabilities, National Minorities, Homeless People… However, it doesn’t cover all the existing problems, but the ones that were brought to our attention as the most relevant ones for the respective year. In this process we are collaborating with many organisations, not only from Zagreb but the entire Croatia, in order to gather their input on as wide a scope of issues as possible, so that everyone can use the overview to get more informed and make use of it as an advocacy for their own interests.
During the pandemic, have you noticed an increase of lack of certain human rights ?
The pandemic has clearly impacted the society and human rights have been more threatened than before. Also, all the restrictions implemented during this year have underplayed a cohesive role within society, especially among elderly and youngsters, although, they were necessary under a social public health frame.
Elder people faced a new situation whereby they were supposed to adapt to a new digital environment, reduce the people they were in contact with and self-isolate from their loved ones.
Citizens also suffered from health system delays since some regular health services they were not considered as a priority. The functioning of the health care system was slowed due to the reduction of the number of patients’ appointments in order to limit the number of persons in waiting rooms and the amount of time spent in health facilities.
In Croatia, the restrictions often precluded people to go or receive visits in the hospital. For health reasons, in some hospitals children who were hospitalized, were not allowed to receive visits even from their parents during their stay at the hospital.
People with lower income or socio-economic status have been generally severely affected from this situation. For people at risk of homelessness this situation has aggravated their situation, by either losing their jobs, or because of the consequences of earthquakes (that leads to the next topic).
How have the earthquakes impacted the society and human rights?
The pandemic has been visible in every single part of the world with no exceptions, leading the countries to crisis death and fear about the future.
In Croatia, not only the pandemic had a massive impact but also, there were three important earthquakes that devastated the country as much as the pandemic or even more.
As I mentioned before, people with any kind of financial problem were more likely to suffer from the Earthquakes, which was seen as a double problem coupled with the pandemic.
In Petrinja, the epicentre of the earthquake in December, the reconstruction of the houses and public spaces are going at a really slow rhythm. There are hundreds of people still striving from hunger there, and the funding from the government seem insufficient.
The implementation of the new law in order to get financial help after the earthquake started after 5 months of the date of the incident, and the process to apply for the grants or funds seems to be highly bureaucratic and complicated, and thus, it might take ages.
After these years, including the pandemic and the earthquakes, both the society and the government are more aware of Human Rights and their important in a democratic society. Now, they are part of the political and social debate.
What are the main conclusions of the Human Rights report?
During the Human Rights Conference held in April, we presented the report with an overview of how human rights have been respected during the year.
Discussion panels covered topics such as overall assessment of the situation of human rights in Croatia, difficulties that citizens encountered in earthquake affected areas and, the great amount of citizen solidarity shown through donations and volunteering.
One of the main concerns raised were the slow response by the public bodies in handling the critical situations and emergencies.
Furthermore, the restrictions of media freedom in Croatia, have been an issue during the past couple years, since there were reported some attacks, threats and intimidation against journalists, especially those who investigate controversial topics, like corruption cases or war crimes. To add up to that, there have been warnings of interference of the authorities in public broadcasting.
Other topics covered by the report such as right of women, LGBTIQ+ community, migrants´ rights and the rights of people are obviously as important as any of the ones previously mentioned, and if interested do not hesitate to have a look at these sources.