Activity Report on Conference
"Contribution of Local Non-Governmental Organisations in Croatia in Promotion and Implementation of European Human Rights Standards"
The Center for Direct Protection of Human Rights, jointly with the Council of Europe, in co-operation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia organised the Conference "Contribution of Local Non-governmental Organisations in Croatia in Promotion and Implementation of European Human Rights Standards".
The Conference was held on May 11 and 12, 1998, in European House, Zagreb. There were 74 participants, but there were also several observers and press.
Participants came from more than 40 organisations - domestic NGOs for the protection of human rights, international organisations represented in Zagreb and from abroad, Croatian officials (government, ministries, offices), embassies.
The two-day programme of the Conference was divided into five thematic units. Each one was opened by introductory speakers, and followed by a discussion. Simultaneous translation was provided (English and Croatian) so all participants were able to participate.
The Conference was opened by Ms. Mirjana Radaković, Center for Direct Protection of Human Rights, and participants were also welcomed by Mr. Branko Sočanac, Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Mark Nevill, Council of Europe, Directorate of Human Rights.
Topic 1: Position and Role of NGOs in a Democratic Society
According to Mr. Pavel Demeš, the representative of the Council of Europe, working in SAIA- Service Center for the Third Sector, NGOs globally play a very important role, but there are certain issues that they can not solve alone. Therefore, they have to co-operate with other organisations - GO and officials.
As Ms. Teršelič pointed out, ever since she began working on organising civic initiatives, in the late '80s, there have been problems.
The new law on associations did not improve the situation. The law reflects the negative attitude towards independent civic initiatives; it is controlling, not encouraging.
Topic 2: The Freedom of Association
Introductory speakers were Mr. Jeremy McBride, Council of Europe and Mr. Juraj Hrženjak.
Mr. McBride works in the Institute of European Law, the University of Birmingham and he spoke about freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Freedom of association, said Mr. McBride, enables individuals to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and even defend their common interests. It is undoubtedly vital for a healthy democracy.
The Croatian point of view was given by Mr. Juraj Hrženjak, who spoke about freedom of association under article 43 of the Croatian Constitution.
Topic 3: European and Domestic Solutions Regarding Legal Framework of the Work of NGOs activists
Ms. Jasna Prka, Croatian Ministry of Administration, and Mr. Gojko Bežovan, Center for Development of Non-profit Organisations (CERANEO) spoke about situation in Croatia. European solutions were explained by Mr. Pavel Demeš.
Before passing the Law on Associations, said Ms. Prka, there were 19 500 associations in Croatia and 15 000 have requested pre-registration. 10 000 demands have been dealt with. It is not only Law on Associations that has to be kept in mind, but also other laws and regulations. They make the registration and functioning of NGOs more complicated.
Mr. Bežovan pointed out how important it was to have impact on the laws.
Croatia had the shortest time for pre-registration and penalties for violations are the highest for associations. Regulations for associations' activities are restrictive and there are no standards - there are differences between decisions made by the Ministry and those made on the county level.
Value added tax is also a big problem to NGOs, and it had a strong negative impact.
Mr. Demeš stated that there were great differences in legislation on associations in European countries; therefore, it is hard to talk about European solutions as such. Some countries do not even have specific laws on NGOs - including USA, the country with the highest rate of NGOs.
This matter can be satisfactorily regulated through the tax laws. Tax benefits should be given to organisations that do something for the public good.
Topic 4: European and Domestic Solutions Regarding Social Framework and Networking
Kristian Egil Torheim, Rainbow, Norway, opened this topic.
He spoke about Rainbow, a non - registered organisation in Norway, which was established in 1990, when refugees came to Norway. The main goal was to prevent government to forcibly return refugees into a war zone.
Mr. Torheim finds contacts with NGOs in Croatia especially important - information that they gather can be used by the Norwegian Government in deciding matters relating to refugees.
The second day of the Conference began with an insight into Croatian experiences on the subject. Introductory speakers were Mr. Tonči Vidan, Green Action, Ms Bojana Genov, Ad hoc Women's Coalition and Mr. Davor Jurić, Association of Independent Trade Unions of Croatia.
Mr. Vidan spoke about the Green Action and its work.
He described the campaign against building a thermo plant in National Park, as the role model. The Green Action co-operates with local self-management units. The lower the level of governing is, the more co-operative they are, observed Mr. Vidan.
Ad hoc Women's Coalition is informal, as it is not possible, through our legal framework, to register a network. The Coalition, as Ms. Genov said, had acted on three occasions so far: on a draft of the Law on Abortion (more restrictive than the previous one), and twice during elections. The women in the Croatian Parliament have realised that they, regardless of their Party, have common interests as women and that they can represent the interests of a wide diversity of women.
Mr. Jurić spoke about the trade union movement. The trade unions' goal is efficient social political power. Their basic demands are social justice, a higher standard of living, and ecological responsibility. They support parliamentary democracy, equality, and emancipation of sexes.
Topic 5: Presumption for Future Cooperation in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Introductory speakers were: Ms. Vesna Kos, Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, Mr. Željko Thűr, Ombudsman's Office in Croatia, Ms. Vesna Kesić, B.a.B.e., Mr. Mark Neville, Council of Europe, Directorate of Human Rights.
Ms. Kos spoke as a member of the Commission for Equality Issues, which collaborates with NGOs. The State institutions, which deal with human rights, have been established just recently and now it is time for them to start function properly.
25 representatives of NGOs are part of the consultation board, which co-operates with the Government.
An example of co-operation between NGOs and officials is this Conference itself, concluded Ms. Kos.
Ms. Kesić started her expose by stating that human rights were framework for co-operation, both among NGOs and between NGOs and officials. Sometimes the co-operation is difficult because of the lack of the culture on human rights.
Mr. Thűr, Ombudsman Office, explained his Office work. Everyone has the right to ask for their help but the Office cannot give orders to anyone. All they can do is to warn, inform, suggest, give recommendation.
NGOs contact the Ombudsman Office frequently, but, as they are not familiar with the procedure, the data they provide is sometimes not complete.
Therefore, the Office has printed and distributed the brochure, which contains information on how to approach the Ombudsman Office.
Mr. Neville, the Council of Europe, stated that it was necessary to grow and strengthen a civil society both through support and legal framework and social framework.
The Council of Europe has given its expertise on legislation - the law on humanitarian associations was criticised. Anyhow, it is better when this is done by local experts because they understand it better.
Mr. Neville listed the European conventions, which were accepted by Croatia. Those are above Croatian laws, except for the Constitutional law.
Mr. Neville concluded by trying to evaluate this Conference. The answers to the following questions will provide the information on how successful the Conference was:
- Is there an ongoing dialogue between NGOs and government authorities?
- Have significant recommendations on legislation been taken into account by Croatian authorities?
- Have NGO managed to work together to put forward issues?
- Has the Law on Associations as it stands at the moment been lightly applied or has it been heavily applied?
- Is there any more openness in legislation process-by that I mean in particular is there any opportunity of having available draft legislation before it's passed in order to have ability to comment on it?
We should be able to answer this question within six months- or a year period.
Ms. Radaković, Center for Direct Protection of Human Rights closed the Conference.
There have not been formal conclusions, but we can make some points from the course of the Conference itself.
- NGOs, officials, international organisations, embassies… have all gathered at one place and discussed.
- NGOs were recognised as important party in building civic society.
- Both NGOs and government officials expressed their willingness for future co-operation and they perceived each other as partners.
- It is also important to point out that some co-operation already exists - there are some joint projects and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia has participated in organising the Conference.
- Intergovernmental organisations have expressed their support and readiness to co-operate with NGOs.
- The event was covered by media (TV, radio, newspaper).
- The publication on the Conference (which will cover all the topics and the discussion) is planned to be printed until October 1998.
At the end, we would like to thank all who helped us, materially and technically, in organising this Conference thus contributing to its success.
Centar za direktnu zaštitu ljudskih prava
Center for Direct Protection of Human Rights