Refugees: 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.
Approximately 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following the offenses by the Croatian military in the summer of 1995. There are no reports of returns of refugees in 1995.
As of 31 January 1996, only 200 refugees had returned to Croatia through UN established channels. A summary statement in February declares that “[l]ittle progress has been made on the return of Croatian Serb refugees to Croatia”.1
UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali reported that the return of refugees to Croatia 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.2
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. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia announced that approximately 80 percent of the Serbian refugees will likely choose to stay in Serbia or Montenegro.3
There are several reasons for such a slow initial return rate. Foremost is the security situation; many Serbs indicated that they are fearful of returning. In addition to security, the GoC is requiring returnees to gain permission to return to their homes, which has been criticized as being cumbersome. 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 Serb refugees.4
The Secretary General’s report from June 1996 highlights the biggest problem unfolding in refugee repatriation. 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.5
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.6
Calls for Croatia to increase the level of protection being offered to ethnic Serbs continued throughout 1996 in an effort to repatriate remaining refugees.7
Under pressure from the international community, the GoC offers amnesty to Serbs to facilitate their return.8
- 1. "Further Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Croatia Pursuant To Security Council Resolution 1019," United Nations Security Council (S/1996/109), February 14, 1996.
- 2. "UN complains about slow repatriation of Serbs to Croatia," International News, February 16, 1996.
- 3. "Further Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Croatia Pursuant To Security Council Resolution 1019."
- 4. "UN rapporteur calls on Croatia to respect human rights," Agence France Presse. December 4, 1995.
- 5. "Further Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Croatia Pursuant To Security Council Resolution 1019," United Nations Security Council (S/1996/456), June 21, 1996.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. "Croatia under fire over treatment of Serb refugees," Agence France Presse, July 4, 1996.
- 8. "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.”9
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.10
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.11
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.12
Croatian President Tudjman criticized the demands made to facilitate the return of Serb refugees as unreasonable.13
International pressure regarding the return of property to ethnic Serbs gains attention throughout 1997.14
US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright talks with Croatian leaders about ethnic Serbs being attacked and beaten by Croatian mobs.15
In June it was reported that 14,952 persons (out of an estimated 200,000 who fled to Yugoslavia) had returned to Croatia.16
Many Serbs who have a valid citizenship certificate, called the domovnica, now cannot use it to return to 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.17 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.18 In December of 1997, around 6,000 Croats and 9,000 Serbs returned to their homes in Croatia.19
- 9. "Report of the Secretary-General on UNTAES, 24 February 1997," United Nations Security Council (S/1997/148).
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. "UN Security Council calls upon Croatia to facilitate return of Croatian Serbs to Western Slavonia and Krajina," M2 Presswire, March 20, 1997.
- 13. "President Tudjman says return of all Serbs to Croatia unreasonable," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, May 27, 1997.
- 14. "Croatia criticized for not protecting Serbs," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, May 22, 1997.
- 15. "In Balkans, Albright Sharply Criticizes Leaders of Croatia, Serbia; U.S. Turns Up Heat on Peace Plan Promises," The Washington Post, June 1, 1997.
- 16. "Report of the Secretary-General on UNTAES," United Nations (S/1997/487), June 23, 1997.
- 17. Ibid.
- 18. Ibid.
- 19. "UNTAES: Recent Development," United Nations, December 22, 1997.
The UN Security Council laments continued “harassment and intimidation” of ethnic Serb returnees.20 Threats of sanctions and reduced aid to Croatia compel the GoC to take steps toward the implementation of measures to facilitate the return of Serb refugees.21 The UNHCR organized an extended return program and Serbs begin to respond in small numbers.22 In December, the EU informs the GoC that future aid will depend upon the return of Serb refugees and nondiscriminatory polies.23
- 20. "Security Council calls on Croatia to reintegrate Serbs," Associated Press Worldstream, March 6, 1998.
- 21. "Croatia signals concessions on Serb refugee return," Associated Press Worldstream, May 9, 1998.
- 22. "Organized return of expelled Serbs to Croatia begins," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, August 8, 1998.
- 23. "Croatia told EU aid will depend on promoting return of Serb refugees," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, December 7, 1998.
The OSCE mission to Croatia reports that the number of refugees returning in 1999 was “disappointingly low.”24 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.25 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.26 A news story on the upcoming elections in Croatia reported that 60,000 Serbs had returned to Croatia and could vote in elections.27 Croatia’s President Tudjman, largely regarded by Western observers as an obstacle to the return of Serb refugees, died in office in late 1999.28
- 24. "Croatia’s government has made modest progress since July: OSCE," Agence France Presse, November 15, 2000.
- 25. "UN envoy says Croatia must expedite return of refugees," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, February 16, 1999.
- 26. "OSCE criticizes Croatia on rights record," Agence France Presse, May 19, 1999.
- 27. "Croatia to allow Serb refugees to vote in upcoming elections," Associated Press Worldstream, September 20, 1999.
- 28. "Without Tudjman, Croatia seeks identity," Tulsa World, December 12, 1999.
In January, a pro-European reformist government came to power in Croatia and enacted new laws to address the problems of refugees.29 Compared to 1999, there was a slight increase in the rate of refugees returning to Croatia. Of 280,000 Croatian Serbs that fled the country during 1991-1995, some 73,000 were suggested to have returned.30 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in the year 2000 around 18,000 Croatian Serbs returned.
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."31
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.32
According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, the Croatian government pledged to him to solve the refugee problem by the end of 2002. The UNHCR mission to Croatia estimated that between 100,000 and 110,000 refugees have already returned.33
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.34
According to the OSCE, 2001 brought a sharp slowdown in the return of refuges, as compared to 2000.35
- 31. "Europeans tell Croatia to facilitate return of Serb refugees," Agence France Presse, March 14, 2001.
- 32. "Return of ethnic Serb refugees Croatia’s most pressing commitment: OSCE," Agence France Presse, June 5, 2001.
- 33. "Croatia pledges to solve refugee problem by end of 2002," Agence France Presse, June 7, 2001.
- 34. "Head of Bosnian Serb Human Rights Watch says Croatia’s human rights record poor," BBC Monitoring Europe, October 31, 2001.
- 35. "Croatia’s housing policy delays return of ethnic Serbs," Agence France Presse, December 13, 2001.
The OSCE acknowledges progress and commented positively on Croatia’s level of recent cooperation, but maintained that many legal and administrative obstacles remain. The OSCE estimated that around 95,000 have returned.36 The UNHCR stated that the GoC needed to work on issues of citizenship and tenancy rights.37
The Croatian government pledged to rebuild 8,000 homes in order to facilitate the return of refugees.38 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."39 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.”40 In Croatia, a new nationalist government took office in September raising some concerns of Croatia’s future progress regarding refugees41
- 38. "Croatia to rebuild 8,000 homes in war-hit areas this year," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, February 21, 2003.
- 39. "Croatia renews calls for Serb refugees to return," Agence France Presse, June 16, 2003.
- 40. "UNHCR closes last three field offices in Croatia," BBC Sumary of World Broadcasts,January 3, 2004.
- 41. "EU presses Croatia as nationalists take power," Agence France Presse, December 9, 2003.
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.42 The OSCE conducted a survey that showed that the majority of Serbs who have not yet returned to Croatia have no plan to return to Croatia. According to official Croatian figures, about 113,000 refugees have returned.43
The newspaper, The Independent, interviewed a Serb refugee trying to return to the family home in the Knin area. Dragoslav Dupor had taken his wife, three children and grandchild and fled by car into Serbia when the government of Croatia attacked the area where he lived. Ten years later, in 2005, they had not yet been able to get their house back. The house had been sold to a Croat family by the Government of Croatia. Through the “Agency for Mediation in Real Estate” (APN) the Dupor family home had been sold using forged power of attorney paperwork years earlier.
Formed in 1997, the APN spent EUR 200m buying over 8,000 Serb homes in Krajina and Slavonia. Those in charge of APN admitted that organized crime members and corrupt government officials bought and sold homes that didn’t belong to them for an extended period. Much of the money went into private pockets, as families moved into their new homes purchased with fraudulent documents.
Goatti, the newest leader of APN, told investigators that as many as half of the 8,380 Serb homes sold to APN were fraud. Pupovac, another investigator says that the number is closer to 90 percent fraud. In all, thousands of houses of Serb refugees were bought by the Government of Croatia and sold to new Croatian families using fraudulent paperwork - only one arrest was made at the APN.44
A senior Croatian diplomat tells 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, only 200,000 remained in 2005.45
The same new story reveals that 186 Serb villages still lack electricity in 2004.46
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.47 The US State Department reported in 2005 that they saw major problems with the process of property restitution for Serb refugees.48 The UN commented in June that the return rate for refugees was slowing down in 2005.49 A European Commission report in 2005 echoes the claim that Serbs cannot return if they do not have the legal means to reclaim their houses and property.50 According to the UN, roughly 40 percent of all refugees from Croatia returned by the end of 2005.51
- 44. "Balkan Home Truths: How Croatia swindled its exiled Serbs," The Independent, February 4, 2005.
- 45. "Balkan Home Truths: How Croatia swindled its exiled Serbs," The Independent, February 4, 2005.
- 46. Ibid.
- 47. "OSCE criticizes Croatia over judicial bias against Serbs," Agence France Presse, April 26, 2005.
- 48. "US Department notes problems with Serbs, Roma rights in Croatia," BBC Monitoring Europe, March 1, 2005.
- 49. "UN chief for internally displaced persons visits Croatia," AP Worldstream, June 7, 2005.
- 50. "European Commission issues report on Croatia," BBC Monitoring Europe, November 9, 2005.
- 51. "Some 40 percent of Serb refugees return to Croatia," Agence France Presse, December 27, 2005.