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Independent UN expert urges equal access to housing for all in Croatia

Independent UN expert urges equal access to housing for all in Croatia

Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
A United Nations independent human rights expert today urged authorities in Croatia to ensure that justice prevailed in the allocation of housing, ensuring that low-income and other marginalized groups were not denied their right to accommodation as the country transitions to post-conflict recovery.

“The current housing situation in Croatia is strongly shaped by the effects of the armed conflict on housing, and the transition from a socially-owned housing concept to a private market-oriented model,” said Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing.

“To face the present and upcoming housing challenges, the Government must adopt comprehensive housing policies to be implemented without discrimination and particularly addressed to vulnerable groups, particularly Roma communities,” Ms. Rolnik said following a visit to Croatia.

The independent expert is designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination.

She acknowledged “the immense efforts” by the Croatian authorities to reconstruct damaged houses, return occupied private property, attract new settlers in depopulated areas, and more recently open ground for the return of Croat refugees from abroad. However, “the process is still to be completed,” she noted.

“During my mission, I have encountered on numerous occasions problems created by cumbersome and complex administrative procedures and regulations, which have resulted in a slow, non-transparent and unaccountable processes,” Ms. Rolnik said, noting that most of the official efforts in recent years have sought to solve the problems of the past.

“However, Croatia is now facing the challenges of the present and the future, and the economic recession in the country has posed additional challenges to the already difficult housing situation,” she added.

She stated that “the private market in the country will never offer an adequate housing solution for the entire population,” adding that “low-income, vulnerable, marginalized, and other groups will require the adoption of durable and permanent public housing policies, which currently do not exist at the national level.

“Adequate housing cannot be treated as a sectorial issue without considering the overall conditions of economic development, access to employment and sources of livelihood and essential social infrastructure,” the UN expert said. “Recovery in areas affected by the conflict, especially in deprived regions, requires a holistic strategy, including economic and social policies, as well as a significant investment in a culture of non-discrimination, peace and tolerance.”

Ms. Rolnik drew special attention to the more than 70,000 Croatian Serbs who are still refugees after 15 years, living in neighbouring countries, including more than 60,000 in Serbia. “The full integration in the country in which they currently reside, and/or their return to Croatia, needs to be addressed jointly by the different governments in the region, especially those of Croatia and Serbia.”

She stressed the role of international agencies, including financial institutions, in resolving the issues.

“Coherence amongst the policies of these institutions is necessary to make it possible for the Croatian Government to invest in adequate durable housing solutions, especially in a context where the Government is indebted and requested to payback the loans used for its reconstruction, as well as to cutback public expenditures,” she added.

During her 10-day visit, Ms. Rolnik met with high ranking officials and representatives of the national and local government, international agencies as well as non-governmental organisations. She also visited and talked to former and current refugees, internally displaced persons, settlers, returnees and other people living in Croatia.

She will present a report on her mission to Croatia containing her findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council.