Ombudswoman Vidović warns police denying her access to information regarding migrant cases



Karlovac, 06062018.
Policijski sluzbenik uocio je ilegalne prelaske i s ciljem sprecavanja prelaska drzavne granice izdao zapovjed da pocinitelj stane. On je na njegovu zapovjed direktno krenuo u napad na policijskog sluzbenika. S ciljem odbijanja napada na sebe, policijski sluzbenik je uporabio vatreno oruzje na nacin da je ispalio hitac u zemlju.
Na fotografiji: Privodjenje migranta.
Foto: Robert Fajt / CROPIX
Robert Fajt / HANZA MEDIA

Illustration: Arrest of a migrant

We will never find out what happened to Afghan girl Madini Hussiny (6) on November 21, 2017, when she died on railroad tracks on the Croatian-Serbian border.

The thermal vision camera recording of the incident has not been preserved due to unexplained circumstances. Have the police acted according to the law - as the Croatian legal system has concluded by dismissing criminal charges against police officers - or inhumanely, as the girl's family members claim? It will remain a mystery, because the evidence, the camera footage, simply does not exist anymore.

This is not the only case - there is no record in other cases involving illegal migrants, either, says Ombudsman Lora Vidović in her report on the police treatment of migrants made on the basis of her investigation and unannounced visits. The report has been sent to the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, which held a session devoted to the issue of migrants on Thursday.

Erasing records

The results, warns Vidović, clearly point to violations of human rights of illegal migrants during police action. Complaints she has received describe cases of violence by police officers such as the forced pushing into vans, beatings with sticks, forcing migrants to take off their shoes and kneel or stand in snow, passing through a gauntlet of beating and insults, seizing of money and valuables, destruction of cellphones and forced return over the 'green' border - instead of the legally prescribed procedures.

- The Ministry of Interior [MUP] responds to [my] inquiries by dismissing the complaints as insubstantial or inaccurate - stresses Vidović. She cited the complaints before the Committee on Thursday. - The [claim] by the MUP that investigations cannot be carried out due to the lack of precise data is unconvincing - she said. - Even when we provided the necessary data, it turned out that part of the evidence recorded by the thermal vision cameras at the time of the act was missing.

Even when the footage is not preserved, warns the Ombudsman, there must be and official note on who has ordered the deletion. Another reason for the absence of recordings given to the Ombudsman was a sudden loss of power for the cameras, which thus failed to record anything at the very moment a violent police act had allegedly occurred.

Armed threats

She also recalled the use of firearms during the stopping of a van in Donji Srb, which turned out to be carrying 30 migrants, of which nine were children, during which two of the children were wounded.

- In its report, the MUP stated there were no indications that the van carried illegal migrants [in the closed cargo area], which is not convincing. In that poorly populated area near the state border, all attention of the strengthened number of police officers is aimed precisely on the irregular migrants and smugglers. After the event, the parents of wounded children complained to me, giving similar statements to the effect that they had been pulled out of the car immediately after the arrest and after the driver's escape, after which the police officers began to beat them and threatened them firearms while they were lying on the ground. When they began to protest, they were allegedly beaten with sticks and kicked by feet for five to ten minutes - until the police realized there were two wounded children in the van.

The Ombudsman also said that, when she visits a police station, in accordance with her official powers, she is denied access to information. This is apparently the first time so far that the Ombudsman has been obstructed in her work.

MUP's response: "Such unsubstantiated accusations harm migrants the most"

In a response to Jutarnji list, the Ministry of Interior stresses that there has not been a single case so far in which the use of force against migrants, or theft of property by police officers was established.

Although it is common for cabinet ministers, state secretaries or assistant ministers to participate in the sessions of the working bodies of the Parliament, the Thursday session of the Committee was attended only  by Deputy Director Of Police Jozo Šuker. He reiterated in principle that there had been no use of force against migrants, and that investigations often cannot be carried out because the complaints do not give enough data for that.

We thus asked the MUP for additional comment. The response stated that the MUP again faced charges that were not based on verifiable facts. The Ministry claims it has checked all the cases that could be checked in detail. "The publication of such, increasingly drastic testimonies, puts a question mark over the police conduct at first", says the release. "Later, when the [accusations] prove unfounded, it only harms the refugee population. The Croatian police will invest all the necessary efforts to protect the national interests, but also the state border from illegal migration."