Ombudswoman Lora Vidović submitted the Annual Report for 2019 to the Croatian Parliament, which provides comprehensive analysis and assessment of the state of protection of rights and freedoms in Croatia, as well as 133 recommendations to the state administration bodies, local and regional self-government units, professional associations, trade unions and others, intended to eliminate the systemic problems that citizens face on a daily basis.

Through more than 50 topics, the Report provides an overview of the situation in almost all areas of life, with special reference to groups in a vulnerable position, such as the elderly, socially disadvantaged, residents of the rural areas, members of the national minorities, especially Serbs and Roma, migrants and veterans, among others.

For the first time, most complaints were related to health care, followed by discrimination, labour and civil service relations, the judiciary, the rights of persons deprived of their liberty and others. The systemic problems remain the same as in previous years and still represent a serious obstacle to the realisation of citizens’ guaranteed rights – they live in severe poverty, lack information about the rights, as well as the trust in institutions, while public services are often unavailable for them.

An example for this can be seen through increasing waiting lists for health care services and the lack of medical teams, so those who cannot pay for the private health services still have to wait. That is why the Ombudswoman recommended that concrete measures should be taken to reduce waiting lists, to adopt a new Emergency Medicine Network, but also to regularly and effectively inform citizens about their health insurance rights. It is especially difficult to achieve access to the health services in rural areas, due to many years of unequal regional development, resulting in inadequate public transport and other services.

The fact that 17% of citizens in 2019 felt less discriminated in comparison with the same survey conducted in 2015, certainly is encouraging, but numerous challenges still remain. This in particular relates to the field of work and employment, primarily to the unequal treatment of older persons, those with impaired health, members of the trade unions, but also to those discriminated on the basis of political conviction and ethnic or national origin. As before, throughout 2019 members of the Roma and Serb minorities and migrants were stigmatised in public discourse, and we witnessed physical attacks, especially on members of the Serb minority.

The at-risk-of-poverty and social-exclusion rates are somewhat reduced, but not in the case of older persons, especially those living alone who are almost twice as much more vulnerable than the EU average. This should certainly be considered during the process of applying tailor-made welfare measures for maximum effect.

Older people, as well as the homeless and young people from the alternative care, should be more protected by the amendments of the Social Welfare Act, which, despite the announcements, which were not prepared in 2019. Such amendments should also finally tend to the problem of totally inadequate and thus almost non-existent supervision of homes for the older and infirm, a problem we have been warning for several years, but still remains unresolved.

In addition to the new recommendations, in each chapter the report also gives an overview of the fulfilment of those addressed earlier. For example, after our recommendations, donating food to social self-services was simplified, a minimum amount of water required for the basic life necessities, which could not be denied to those who could not settle the bills, was prescribed, and the scholarship for Roma students was increased.

The report was based on 5.009 cases that Ombudswoman handled in 2019, information gathered through fieldwork across the country, relevant researche, as well as the data from the competent bodies and other stakeholders, which she requested on 637 addresses. It is intended for all interested parties, as an argumentative and constructive basis for raising the overall quality of life in Croatia, which is only possible through a high degree of respect for all citizens’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws.

NOTE: English version of the Ombudswoman Annual Report 2019 will be available online upon the translation.