Internally Displaced Persons: Erdut Agreement
ERDUT AGREEMENT, ARTICLE 4:
The Transitional Administration shall ensure the possibility for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin. All persons who have left the Region or who have come to the Region with previous permanent residence in Croatia shall enjoy the same rights as all other residents of the Region. The Transitional Administration shall also take the steps necessary to reestablish the normal functioning of all public services in the Region without delay.
Erdut Agreement, Article 7:
All persons have the right to return freely to their place of residence in the Region and to live there in conditions of security. All persons who have let the Region or who have come to the Region with previous permanent residence in Croatia have the right to live in the Region.
Erdut Agreement, Article 8:
All persons shall have the right to have restored to them any property that was taken from them by unlawful acts or that they were forced to abandon and to just compensation for property that cannot be restored to them.
Erdut Agreement Article 9:
The right to recover property, to receive compensation for property that cannot be returned, and to receive assistance in reconstruction of damaged property shall be equally available to all persons without regard to ethnicity.
There are no reports of return of internally displaced persons in 1995.
UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali reported that the return of Serbs to their homes was being obstructed: "Disturbing reports continue to be received that (Croatian) government offices responsible for expediting this procedure are conducting their work in an uncooperative and obstructive manner." The report speaks of widespread abuses against the minority Serb population by the Croatian government that must stop.1
In February 1996, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Croatia issued a “Report by the Government of Croatia on the Implementation of Security Council resolution 1019” regarding issues such as refugee rights. The report by the GoC indicates that 5,000 people have filed requests to return to Croatia and 1,841 have been processed.2
Before the Basic Agreement (in August 1995), the Croatian Parliament adopted a bill requiring refugees to reclaim their property within three months or have their belongings—both real and moveable property including furniture—expropriated. The UN special rapporteur for human rights fiercely criticized the bill. While the GoC later suspended the time limit, such a posture combined with cumbersome regulation undoubtedly signaled a weak commitment to the property rights of displaced Serbs.3
The Secretary General’s report from June 1996 highlights that large numbers of Croats who were displaced from Eastern Slavonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Yugoslav Federation have returned and/or migrated to Eastern Slavonia and have occupied the property of displaced Serbs, who have not yet returned. This population transfer is attributed in large part to the GoC’s issuance of the Decree on the Rights of Returnees, which terminated displaced status on 30 June 1996. The GoC also passed a law on 17 May 1996 that provides benefits and the possibility of gaining ownership of empty property to persons who move to the region; this caused a large migration of people, mostly Croats, to Easter Slavonia.4
International observers noted that the Croatian authorities governing the rehabilitation programs are favoring Croat beneficiaries. Government funding for home reconstruction, for example, has gone mostly to Croat recipients. International observers also report that Serbs are being denied identify documents that are required by the GoC to receive rehabilitation assistance and other benefits made available by donors.5
Calls for Croatia to increase the level of protection being offered to ethnic Serbs continued throughout 1996 in an effort to repatriate remaining refugees.6 Under pressure from the international community, the GoC offers amnesty to Serbs to facilitate their return.7
- 1. "UN complains about slow repatriation of Serbs to Croatia," International News, February 16, 1996.
- 2. "Further Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Croatia Pursuant To Security Council Resolution 1019," United Nations (S/1996/109), February 14, 1996.
- 3. "UN rapporteur calls on Croatia to respect human rights," Agence France Presse, December 4, 1995.
- 4. "Further Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Croatia Pursuant To Security Council Resolution 1019," United Nations (S/1996/456), June 21, 1996.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. "Croatia under fire over treatment of Serb refugees," Agence France Presse, July 4, 1996.
- 7. "Croatia, Under Pressure, Extends Amnesty to all Serbs," Associate Press Worldstream, September 20, 1996.
UNTAES reports in the early part of 1997 that “little progress has been made as regards the return of refugees and displaced persons.”8
UNTAES reports that senior officials in the Croatian Office for Displaced Persons and Refugees (ODPR) have made public discriminatory remarks about displaced Serbs being denied ODPR refugee benefits if they choose to vote in the upcoming elections.9
UNTAES reports that 1,836 Serb families (7,303 persons) crossed the border into Yugoslavia from Croatia. Most reported security concerns in Croatia as their reason for leaving.10
In March, the UN Security Council called upon Croatia to improve conditions of personal and economic security for Serbs wishing to return, to resolve the return-of-property issue, and remove uncertainty about the implementation of the amnesty law for Serbs.11
US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright talks with Croatian leaders about ethnic Serbs being attacked and beaten by Croatian mobs.12
Many Serbs who have a valid citizenship certificate, called the domovnica, now cannot use it to return to their homes in Croatia. The GoC has disclosed no alternative or procedure, other than the fact that the domovnica will not be honored as an official Croatian document.13
The current legal framework makes Croat occupation of Serb houses essentially indefinite. The GoC passed the Law on the Lease of Flats in the Liberated Territory and the Law of Temporary Takeover which gave Serbs a matter of 2-3 months to legally reclaim their property or someone could legally occupy it. The second law states that no one can be evicted from a temporary takeover without having alternative housing provided for them. Due to the shortage of housing, this makes all occupations essentially permanent. Getting legal help is difficult for Serbs because the GoC stated that Serbian lawyers cannot practice law in Croatia until they pay for a new Croatian law license. According to UNTAES, most of those who are forcefully evicted from houses are the rightful Serb owners of the home.14 In December of 1997, around 6,000 Croats and 9,000 Serbs returned to their homes in Croatia (UNTAES: Recent Development, December 22, 1997).
- 8. "Report of the Secretary-General on UNTAES," United Nations (S/1997/148), February 24, 1997.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. "UN Security Council calls upon Croatia to facilitate return of Croatian Serbs to Western Slavonia and Krajina," M2 Presswire, March 20, 1997.
- 12. "In Balkans, Albright Sharply Criticizes Leaders of Croatia, Serbia; U.S. Turns Up Heat on Peace Plan Promises," The Washington Post, June 1, 1997.
- 13. "Report of the Secretary-General on UNTAES," United Nations (S/1997/487), June 23, 1997.
- 14. Ibid.
The UN Security Council laments continued “harassment and intimidation” of ethnic Serb returnees.15 In December, the EU informs the GoC that future aid will depend upon the return of Serb refugees and nondiscriminatory polies.16
In February, an UN envoy observed that the laws and programs adopted by the government and parliament for refugees were not implemented at the local level.17 The OSCE (the main international observer in Croatia) reported that Croatia was “stagnating” on its promises to refugees, such as allowing refugees to return to their homes and property.18 Croatia’s President Tudjman, largely regarded by Western observers as an obstacle to the return of Serb refugees died in office in late 1999.19
In January, a pro-European reformist government came to power in Croatia and enacted new laws to address the problems of refugees.20 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in the year 2000 around 18,000 Croatian Serbs returned.
- 20. "Europeans tell Croatia to facilitate return of Serb refugees," Agence France Presse, March 14, 2001.
The head of the OSCE mission to Croatia, Bernard Poncet, said one of Croatia's main failures in meeting its international obligations was a "lack of progress ... in the areas of refugee return, repossession of property and reconstruction."21 A few months later, the OSCE argued that "Without question the most pressing issue to be addressed and resolved is the sustainable return to Croatia of its refugee Serb population." The OSCE called for the adoption of a legal framework for expeditious repossession of occupied property by their legitimate owners.22 Later that year, the head of the Helsinki Human Rights Watch in the Bosnian Serb Republic estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 Serbs had been denied their right to ownership of their property in Croatia.23
- 21. "Europeans tell Croatia to facilitate return of Serb refugees," Agence France Presse, March 14, 2001.
- 22. "Return of ethnic Serb refugees Croatia’s most pressing commitment: OSCE," Agence France Presse, June 5, 2001.
- 23. "Head of Bosnian Serb Human Rights Watch says Croatia’s human rights record poor," BBC Monitoring Europe, October 31, 2001.
The UNHCR stated that the GoC needed to work on issues of citizenship and tenancy rights.24
- 24. "UNHCR official urges Croatia to do more to encourage refugees to return," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, September 2, 2002.
The Croatian government pledged to rebuild 8,000 homes in order to facilitate the return of refugees.25 President Mesic and Prime Minister Racan issue a call in 2003 for all refugees to return: "I call on all the refugees, citizens of Croatia, to return to their homeland and use the opportunity that is being given.”26 UNHCR begins to close their offices in Croatia. Their final estimate was that "by the end of 2003, over 100,000 Croatian Serbs had returned to their homes, while an estimated 230,00 internally displaced persons had also gone back.”27
- 25. "Croatia to rebuild 8,000 homes in war-hit areas this year," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, February 21, 2003.
- 26. "Croatia renews calls for Serb refugees to return," Agence France Presse, June 16, 2003.
- 27. "UNHCR closes last three field offices in Croatia," BBC Sumary of World Broadcasts, January 3, 2004.
The OSCE reports that the number of illegally occupied property cases was reduced from 3,500 in January to 2,300 in July. The OSCE pointed to judicial reform as the biggest obstacle to providing refugees a safe environment and the return of their property. The report states that the Croatian courts have a backlog of 1.5 million legal cases.28
- 28. "OSCE identifies judicial reform as Croatia’s main problem," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, July 6, 2004.
A senior Croatian diplomat tells the newspaper, The Independent, that “there are reasonable grounds for believing” that the swindle of Serbian homes in Croatia was deliberate and part of a “refined method of ethnic cleansing." Out of the 600,000 Serbs that lived in Croatia before the war, in 2005 only 200,000 remained.29 The same new story reveals that 186 Serb villages still lack electricity in 2004.30 A decade after the accord, the GoC continued to face criticism by the OSCE over judicial bias against Serbs preventing them from returning to their occupied homes.31 The US State Department reported in 2005 that they saw major problems with the process of property restitution for Serb refugees.32 A European Commission report in 2005 echoes the claim that Serbs cannot return to their homes if they do not have the legal means to reclaim their houses and property.33
- 29. "Balkan Home Truths: How Croatia swindled its exiled Serbs," The Independent, February 4, 2005.
- 30. Ibid.
- 31. "OSCE criticizes Croatia over judicial bias against Serbs," Agence France Presse, April 26, 2005.
- 32. "US Department notes problems with Serbs, Roma rights in Croatia," BBC Monitoring Europe, March 1, 2005.
- 33. "European Commission issues report on Croatia," BBC Monitoring Europe, November 9, 2005.