Treatment of Muslims and Muslims of mixed descent by skinheads, nationalist and racist groups; availability and accessibility of state protection for Muslims (1995-2004) [HRV42584.E]

Muslims in Croatia

Results of the 2001 census of Croatia show that the total population is 4,437,460 people (Croatia 17 Sept. 2003a). Approximately one per cent of this population (56,777 people) identified themselves as practitioners of the Islamic faith (ibid. 17 Sept. 2003b; International Religious Freedom Report 2003 18 Dec.2003). However, statistics pertaining to the Muslim population in Croatia are complicated by the fact that in 2001 Muslims were more likely to register for the census as Bosniaks than as Muslims, even though Bosniak was an ethnic group category and Muslim was a religious group category (MRG Oct. 2003, 38). Indeed, religious and ethnic identities remain closely linked in Croatia (ibid., 27; International Religious Freedom Report 2002 7 Oct. 2002). Vladimir Zerjavic, a United Nations retiree, adds in his article about Bosniak Muslims in Croatia that Muslims in Croatia define themselves in terms of religion as well as ethnicity and have registered in the past as Croats, Serbs or without nationality (Zerjavic 16 Apr. 1998). Although the definition of the term Bosniak is contested (Southeast European Politics 2001, 97), it can refer to Muslims living on the territory of southeastern Europe (ibid.; Eurominority 2004). The results of the Croatian Census of 2001 also show that Bosniaks numbered 20,755 or approximately 0.5 per cent of the population of Croatia (OSCE 12 May 2003; MRG Oct. 2003, 5). The only reference to statistics of Muslims of mixed descent found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate was with regard to Bosnia, where there were 1,000 children of Arab-Bosnian ethnic descent as a result of intermarriages (UPI 25 Feb. 2002).

Despite the fact that only one per cent of the population identified Islam as their religion, Islam has the third most number of members in Croatia after Catholicism and Orthodoxy (International Religious Freedom Report 2003 18 Dec. 2003; MRG 2003, 4). Muslim communities operate freely in Croatia and with little formal influence or restrictions (Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004; Freedom House 2003). Furthermore, the Ministry of Education recognizes the diploma conferred by the Muslim community's secondary school in Zagreb (International Religious Freedom Report 2003 18 Dec. 2003) and Muslims are granted paid holidays for Ramadan Bairam and Kurban Bairam (ibid.; Croatia 2002).

Skinheads, Nationalist and Racist Groups in Croatia

According to Transitions Online, the number of skinheads in Croatia and their alleged violent activity began to intensify after the Serb-Croat conflict ended in 1995 (TOL 1998). Transitions Online states that by 1998, there were an estimated 2,000 active skinheads in Zagreb and the movement had taken root in other cities (ibid.). Skinheads in Croatia have various targets, including environmentalists, punks, communists (ibid.), gays, lesbians (ibid.; AI 2003), "coloured" people (IHF 8 May 2003, 8), Roma (ibid.; AP 7 Aug. 2003; DPA 31 Oct. 2001), foreign students (AP 7 Aug. 2003), tourists (ibid.; IHF 8 May 2003, 8), Jews, members of the Orthodox Church, Chinese and Albanians (One World n.d.). Although unclear whether he or she was referring to Muslims, a skinhead told the Rijeka daily Novi List that "if it were possible for a foreigner to adopt our culture, we would accept him. But a black man cannot adopt our culture" (TOL 1998).

In 2001, the United Nations Economic and Social Council reported an increase of nationalism and right-wing extremism in Croatia as evidenced by mass demonstrations and hate-based articles (UN 22 Mar. 2001, 6). In addition, according to a Freedom House report on Croatia, in 2003 the Roman Catholic Church's main publication in Croatia, Glas Koncila (The Voice of the Council) had racist and xenophobic content (Freedom House 2003).

Treatment of Arabs by Skinheads, Nationalist and Racist Groups

HINA News Agency reported that on 5 February 2004, two skinheads attacked a group of French citizens, the majority of whom were of Arabic origin, at the central square in Zagreb (HINA 6 Feb. 2004). The police responded quickly, but the two attackers did not make a statement to the police (ibid.). However, the attackers were reported to the judicial bodies for disturbing public law and order (ibid.) and received 28 days in jail for this attack (One World n.d.).

SRNA News Agency reported that on 7 August 2003, two men with shaved heads attacked the son of an Egyptian diplomat in Croatia, but the police could not confirm whether the attackers were indeed skinheads (SRNA 19 Jan. 2004; see also Associated Press 7 Aug. 2003). No information was found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate on the outcome of this case.

Although not specifically about the treatment of Arabs by skinheads in Croatia, skinheads in Croatia attacked a black soccer player from Honduras in 2002 (SRNA 19 Jan. 2004; IHF 8 May 2003, 8) because of his skin colour (SRNA 19 Jan. 2004).

Treatment of Muslims by Skinheads, Nationalist and Racist Groups

Muslim leaders in Croatia did not report any "serious" incidents of discrimination in 2002 (MRG Oct. 2003, 27; International Religious Freedom Report 2003 18 Dec. 2003; Country Reports 2002 31 Mar. 2003). According to International Religious Freedom Report 2002 and Country Reports 1998, the majority of incidents of discrimination in Croatia are motivated by ethnicity rather than religion or religious doctrine (7 Oct. 2002; 26 Feb. 1999). However, in its 2003 report on human rights in Croatia, International Helsinki Federation notes a "significant degree of intolerance towards ...people of other religions and racial intolerance was mainly promoted by groups of skinheads" (HINA 29 Apr. 2004). According to International Religious Freedom Report 2003 and Country Reports 2003 religious intolerance was evident in 2002, when insulting graffiti was drawn on the walls and minaret of a Zagreb mosque (International Religious Freedom Report 2003 18 Dec. 2003; Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004). Muslims in Croatia also in 2002 encountered delays to obtain a construction permit for an Islamic centre as a result of a petition opposing the construction (ibid.). In 2001, two boys knocked down tombstones in a Muslim cemetery in the eastern Croatian town of Osijek and charges were going to be pressed against them in September 2001 (HINA 6 Sept. 2001). After a fact-finding mission to Croatia conducted in 1999, the Danish Immigration Service concluded that "Croatia was an example of an intolerant culture, with the same boat as the Serbs, who [were systematically harassed]" (DIS Mar. 2000). Country Reports 1997 reported that the Muslim community in Croatia suffered from discrimination, and in 1997, Croatian Muslims and Bosnian refugees continued to report widespread discrimination in applications for citizenship (Country Reports 1997 30 Jan. 1998). While Country Reports 1998 stated that "the Government discriminates against Muslims" (26 Feb.1999), no such statement was made in Country Reports 2003 (25 Feb. 2004).

Although no further information was found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate on the treatment of Muslims or Muslims of mixed descent in Croatia by nationalist or racist groups, other attacks by skinheads did occur in Croatia during the time period 1995 to 2004 (DPA 31 Oct. 2001; TOL 1998).

State Protection

Information on state protection available for Muslims or Muslims of mixed descent attacked by skinheads, nationalists or racists was not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, the following general information on state protection in Croatia might be of interest.

A Constitutional Law on National Minorities came into force in Croatia on 23 December 2002 and guarantees representation of national minorities at all levels of elected government (OSCE 3 July 2003, 1; ibid. 12 May 2003; ibid. n.d; ERRC 18 May 2003; Croatia 23 Dec. 2002). In this law, national minorities are defined as:

a group of Croatian citizens...whose members have been traditionally settled in the territory of the Republic of Croatia, and who have ethnic, linguistic, cultural and/or religious characteristics which are different than those of other citizens...and who are guided by the wish for the preservation of those characteristics (ibid. 2002 Art. 5)

The law also ensures national minorities' "protection from any activity which endangers or may endanger their existence" (ibid., Art. 7) and states that "any discrimination based on affiliation to a national minority shall be forbidden" (ibid., Art. 4). Members of national minorities shall be guaranteed equality before the law and equal legal protection (ibid.; ERRC 18 May 2003). However, in the opinion of IHF, this law "only solved some of the problems faced by national minorities … [with] the protection of their rights [being] more theoretical and symbolic" (IHF 8 May 2003).

In 2002, there were no legislative measures in effect in Croatia prohibiting racial discrimination and violence (ibid.; UN 21 May 2002). The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commented that State efforts in 2002 to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for brewing ethnic hatred were inadequate (ibid.). The committee continues that in 2002, the courts did not make any convictions for racial discrimination and violence, despite the fact that there were a "significant number" of such allegations, and members of national minorities were not always treated equal before the law (ibid.).

The IHF in 2003 commented that the Croatian police failed to deal with attacks by skinhead groups in Croatia appropriately (IHF 8 May 2003, 8). Although not related to attacks against Muslims, Roma victims of violent skinhead attacks in 2002 filed an application against Croatia with the European Court of Human Rights since the "Croatian police...failed to take into account relevant information submitted by the victims, by their lawyer...and...failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the crimes" (ERCC 12 Nov. 2002).

In 2003, the OSCE reported that the Constitutional Court in Croatia was experiencing significant delays in issuing its own decisions and that some cases that challenge laws and decrees alleged to infringe on the human rights of minorities and refugees, remain undecided after five years (3 July 2003, 12). Other cited problems with the Croatian judiciary include a backlog of 1.4 million cases (UN 21 May 2002; HINA 29 Apr. 2004), lack of qualified staff (ibid.; OSCE 3 July 2003), low pay (UN 21 May 2002), serious organizational problems, inefficient procedures and long delays in the conclusion of cases (OSCE 3 July 2003). Freedom House states that court decisions in favour of national minorities are often not implemented (Freedom House 2003, 213; see also Country Reports 1997 30 Jan. 1998) and concludes that "ultimately the Croatian judiciary is sure to remain the country's number one problem impeding progress and change in all segments of society" (Freedom House 2003, 212).

The jurisdiction of the Ombudsman of Croatia includes civil rights violations by state authorities and other questions relating to the protection of constitutional and legal rights (Ombudsman Information Network n.d.). In 2001, the parliamentary ombudsman received complaints mostly pertaining to property and housing rights and to pension, disability and medical insurance and social welfare (OSCE 3 July 2003, 14).

Human Rights Watch reports that in 2001, human rights organizations were active in Croatia (HRW Dec. 2002), but in 2003, the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (CHC), whose mandate it is to "protect and promote human rights in Croatia," was denied registration and government officials tried to block its activities (IHF 8 May 2003, 1). The main mosque in Zagreb serves as a social aid office for the Muslim community (Country Reports 1999 25 Feb. 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2002. Amnesty International Report 2003. "Croatia." [Accessed 4 May 2004]