Collective complaint No. 52/2008
by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) against Croatia
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 5 May 2011,
at the 1113th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers,1
Having regard to Article 9 of the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints;
Taking into consideration the complaint lodged on 26 August 2008 by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) against Croatia;
Having regard to the report transmitted by the European Committee of Social Rights, in which it concluded:
Although certain of the factual issues at stake, occurred in the mid-1990s, i.e. before the Charter entered into force in respect of Croatia, the situation of alleged breach continues and it may even be progressively compounded if sufficient measures are not taken to put an end to it (Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) against Greece, Collective Complaint No. 30/2005, decision on the merits of 6 December 2006, §193). Consequently, the Committee is competent ratione temporis to consider all the facts raised in this complaint.
Applicability and scope of Article 16 (9 votes to 5)
Article 16 of the Charter imposes obligations upon the Government of Croatia in respect of those families who have expressed their clear wish to return to Croatia, or those for whom the lack of an effective and meaningful offer of housing and other forms of economic, legal or social protection has constituted an obstacle to return. In contrast, families who chose not to return to Croatia fall outside the material scope of application of Article 16.
Violation of Article 16 in the light of the non-discrimination clause of the Preamble
on the ground of a failure to implement the housing programme within a reasonable timeframe (unanimously)
In respect of the housing programme: an extensive period of time has elapsed since the housing aid programme was launched in 2003; in addition, displaced families who expressed their wish to return to Croatia and applied for the housing aid in the programme have been obliged to remain without security of tenure for an unreasonably long period of time due to the slow processing of applications. These factors taken together have ensured that, for many displaced families who wish to return to Croatia, the absence of an effective and timely offer of housing has for a long period of time constituted a serious obstacle to return. The housing programme has therefore not been implemented within a reasonable timeframe.
on the ground of a failure to take into account the heightened vulnerabilities of many displaced families, and of ethnic Serb families in particular (unanimously)
The delays and uncertainty associated with implementation of the housing programme since 2003 have failed to accommodate the heightened vulnerability of displaced families, who constitute a distinctive group who suffer particular disadvantage. This has also constituted a failure to accommodate the situation of ethnic Serb families in particular, who comprise the bulk of the families affected by non-satisfaction of their housing needs and who constitute a particularly vulnerable group on account of their ethnicity.
The failure to take into account the heightened vulnerabilities of many displaced families, and of ethnic Serb families in particular, constitutes a violation of Article 16 read in the light of the non-discrimination clause of the Preamble.
Having regard to the information communicated by the Croatian delegation during the 1103rd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies,
1. Takes note of the statement made by the respondent government and the information it has communicated on the follow-up to the decision of the European Committee of Social Rights and welcomes the measures already taken by the Croatian authorities and the authorities’ commitment to bring the situation into conformity with the Charter (cf. appendix to the present resolution);
2. Looks forward to Croatia reporting, at the time of the submission of the next report concerning the relevant provisions of the European Social Charter, that the situation has been brought into full conformity.
Appendix to Resolution CM/ResChS(2011)6
Croatian reply to the conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR)
provided by the Representative of Croatia during the 1103rd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
(19 January 2011)
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) againts Croatia
Croatia fully recognises the importance of the European Social Charter and is among only 14 Council of Europe member states that ratified the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints.
Consequently, Croatian authorities received with due respect the report addressed to the Committee of Ministers by the European Committee of Social Rights in connection with Collective Complaint No. 52/2008 presented by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) against Croatia.
The Croatian authorities welcome the Committee’s conclusion that persons not wishing to return to Croatia, as well as the question of restitution or compensation for the loss of dwellings or occupancy rights, do not fall within the Croatian responsibility under the scope of Article 16.
We are pleased that the Committee has recognised the government’s housing aid programme for former occupancy rights holders as an adequate, feasible and measurable legal and practical framework providing lasting solutions to displacement situations for those returnees who wish to come back to Croatia.
On the other hand, Croatian authorities took very seriously the Committee’s conclusion on violations of Article 16 on the grounds of failure to implement the programme within a reasonable timeframe, and of failure to take into account the vulnerabilities of displaced Serb families.
In this context, I would like to acquaint the Committee of Ministers with the measures that the Croatian Government has taken and which, we believe, fully meet the expectations expressed by the European Committee of Social Rights.
The housing aid programme for former holders of occupancy rights, alongside other programmes of reconstruction of houses, should be seen as part of the complex process of return of refugees and internally displaced persons in Croatia. That process is closely linked to the reconstruction of destroyed buildings, the restoration of economic activity in the areas affected by the war, and care for refugees who wish to remain in the Republic of Croatia.
Throughout the entire process of return, the Republic of Croatia worked in close co-operation with the international community and followed the recommendations of the relevant international organisations (Council of Europe, OSCE, UNHCR).
Croatia has introduced a concrete mechanism for housing aid for the former holders of tenancy rights. This mechanism provided an opportunity to every holder of the previous tenancy rights (which do not exist anymore) who have not yet found a durable solution, to have a home again in Croatia. Guided by humanitarian goals, Croatia has efficiently created conditions for replacing the former system of housing accommodation in the new social and economic realities. The mechanism is available to all former holders of tenancy rights under only one condition which lies at the heart of international refugee law – the wish to return.
Regarding the Committee’s objection on slow pace of implementation, the objective difficulties have resulted, indeed, in some delays in the first years of the implementation of the housing aid programme, mainly connected with the financial burden related to reconstruction efforts. Let me remind you in this context that Croatia remains the only country in the region to have a State reconstruction programme for war-damaged residential properties. Of 195,000 destroyed housing units, 148,163 have been reconstructed since 1996, of these some 95% with state funds.
However, since 2007, the implementation of the housing aid programme for former occupancy and tenancy rights holders (OTRHs) has been significantly accelerated. The system of self-imposed benchmarks has been introduced aiming for concrete and measurable targets. The UNHCR and the OSCE closely observe this process. The question of fulfilling these quantifiable targets remains at the top of the government’s priorities. The targets for 2007 and 2008 have been fully met, allocating more than 1,400 housing units per year for families of ex-OTRHs, both within and outside of Areas of Special State Concern (ASSC).
Due to the pronounced effects of economic recession, in 2009 there was a certain slowdown in reaching the benchmark in the Action Plan for housing of former tenancy right holders from 2008. Some problems also persist in the implementation of housing aid programmes due to the difficulties relating to the location of applicants and the communication with them. In this connection, the Croatian authorities encountered another unexpected problem – a number of housing units, although allocated, have not been occupied and effectively used by the applicants.
However, the Croatian authorities reacted resolutely and, in 2010, all housing-related activities were intensified. The funds in the State Budget for 2010 have been increased (by 64%) for these purposes. In June last year, the programme has also been supplemented with a Revised Action Plan (benchmark for 2009 which targets 2,070 former OTRHs), providing for clearly set measurable targets and increased implementation transparency. The first part of the revised Action Plan was accomplished by the end of 2010 and the housing care was provided for a total of 1,275 families of former OTR holders. The Action Plan targets will be fully met by the end of June 2011, by when appropriate housing will be allocated to the remaining 795 applicants.
After the fulfillment of the 2007-2009 Action Plan, the Croatian Government will continue to implement the housing aid programme for applications received afterwards and the funds in the State Budget for this purpose will be secured.
Regarding the Committee’s objection that Croatian authorities didn’t take into account the vulnerabilities of many displaced families, and of ethnic Serb families in particular, we believe that various measures undertaken under the housing aid schemas fully reflect the needs of displaced families who wish to return to Croatia.
In order to enable further returns, the government adopted in September 2010 a decision providing for the option to buy the apartments under privileged conditions that also covers property of important value in the capital and other major cities. Although the price is determined by several factors, the government offers special personal discount for refugees: every year spent in refuge is multiplied by a coefficient of 1.5. Since many returnees will not be able to purchase apartments in a single payment, they will be offered a possibility to buy off the flats paying in installments for the next 20 years. All recipients of housing aid outside the ASSC have been informed by letter that they now have the option available to purchase their allocated housing units.
The Croatian Government will also re-open the deadline for applying for housing care outside the ASSC (in ASSC there is no deadline for applying). In a six month period, all those former OTRHs who failed to apply for housing aid will be able to do so soon. In a final effort to attract more returns, an information campaign will also be conducted in Serbia.
Furthermore, in the case of delayed allocation of concrete housing unit caused by unexpected problems, the government offers to each and every person who applied and got a positive decision an interim solution: payment of a certain amount per diem for sub-letting.
In addition, following the Belgrade Conference on ‘Durable Solutions for Refugees – which confirmed that the needs of people in the most vulnerable situation should be prioritised – it was agreed that a project aimed at the closure of collective centres will be elaborated as a matter of priority. The preparations of this regional project are in the final stage, and special attention will be given to satisfying the housing needs of OTRHs still living in these collective centres.
We are of the view that all these measures constitute a direct response to the Committee’s concerns regarding the delays and uncertainty in the implementation of the housing aid programme for the former OTRHs who wish to return to Croatia. The Croatian authorities have particularly taken into consideration the vulnerability of displaced Serb families who wish to return. The decision on purchasing the apartments clearly links privileged discount with the former or current refugee status, and the interim payment for sub-letting assists the recipients of housing aid to bridge the gap until a definitive solution. In addition, the project on collective centres that is about to be finished is focused exclusively on the most vulnerable, including those who were former tenancy rights holders.
At last but not at least, it should be also mentioned that the housing aid programme and its implementation has received positive assessments by the relevant international organisations and political representatives of the Serb community in Croatia.
Thus, the OSCE Office in Zagreb, mandated to monitor and verify the allocation of housing units to the former OTRHs, concluded in its latest status report (18 November 2010) that the “housing aid programme is even more than ever irreversible and self-sustainable and may no longer require OSCE monitoring”.
Having in mind everything mentioned above, we believe it is justified to ask the Committee of Ministers to instruct the Secretariat to prepare a resolution that takes into account the commitment of the Croatian authorities and the measures already taken to bring the situation into conformity with relevant provisions of the European Social Charter.
1 In accordance with Article 9 of the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints, the following Contracting Parties to the European Social Charter or the revised European Social Charter have participated in the vote: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom.