Conscientious Objection in Croatia

Natalie Sipak

On 6th April 2002 a new Defense law was passed in Croatia. One of the most important facts from this law is that it clearly states that civil (alternative) service will be regulated by a separate law, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice (at present) or the Ministry of Labour and social welfare.

As far as our information goes, a final draft of the Civil service law is done. ARK has only seen a rough draft of it, and it did not look too promising. We have already filed an official complaint to the Ministry of Justice (together with Amnesty International Croatia) for not being included/ invited to join the working group that is writing the draft. No official response so far. It seems now that the Ministry of Justice is under pressure to produce the final version urgently, for there is a big increase in applications for conscientious objection. Last year 4009 applications were submitted (in 2000. it was only 680!) which is about 20 % of the total number of conscripts. This year, by 15 March there were already 1,500 applications (7,5 %), and the number is increasing rapidly. The Office for civil service (at the Ministry of Justice) is totally swamped with applications, and since there is still no new law yet, no new institutions were added to the list of places where civil (alternative) service can be carried out. According to the present regulations, the Minister of defense has to sign any application from institutions that would like to be on that list. He has refused to do so in the last 2 years so everything is blocked until the new law on civil service is passed and the present procedure changed.

In the last period there has also been an increasing number of complaints from CO's about social discrimination. A large number of CO's does not have any source of income while being in civil service (they do not get any form of material compensation from the government, besides public transportation costs), which means their families are being endangered by lack of financial means to survive. According to the present law, CO's are not allowed to work while serving civil service.

The debate on abolishing conscription is still quite alive, and of course there are different opinions. It is looked upon from different angles; it involves national security issues, money issues, NATO membership, etc....

ARK openly & consistently speaks in favor of the abolishment of conscription (and the military itself, of course), so questions on civil control of a "professional" army were raised in various occasions by various NGO's.

ARK and other NGO's working on CO issues in Croatia are consistent with their "politics" of demilitarization. We openly address and support the term of total objection, being in favor of civil (alternative) service as a voluntary, not compulsory way of contributing in the community.

The CO movement in Croatia is quite "informal and lose", meaning there is co-operation among individual NGO's working on this issue, and even support from NGO's that are otherwise engaged in other topics. But there is no consistent "visible movement", more individual daily work with common actions/campaigns at different occasions. The informal network of CO groups in Croatia links Zagreb-Vinkovci-Vukovar- Porec-Osijek-Cakovec-Karlovac-Pula. ARK is trying (but not too successful due to the lack of activists L) to seek contact with different NGO's in all parts of Croatia (especially the former "Krajina" area & Dalmatia) who would be willing to take up CO work (counseling, legal advice, actions, campaigns, etc.).

The lobbying for the Civil service law will continue together with Amnesty International Croatia and other CO groups. There are quite good contacts with CO groups from the region (Bosnia & Hercegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia) and different ideas for co-operation and exchange of experiences.

For the International CO day on 15 May ARK is starting its public campaign "Civil service is safer" which will be the national campaign for promotion of civil service and conscientious objection in Croatia. The idea is to spread about 5000 condoms (in colaboration with the NGO network for CO: Zagreb-Vinkovci-Vukovar-Porec-Osijek-Cakovec- Karlovac-Pula) to the public. Each condom will be packed in a carton box with written information on sexual health and proper use of condoms, and a leaflet with information on how and where to apply for civil service and where one can get additional information about CO in their local community. The campaign will be done in cooporation with the women's NGO CESI - Center for Education and Counselling of Women based in Zagreb.

The logo of the campaign is a machine gun stuck inside a condom.

Natalie Sipak works with ARK and is a member of the WRI Executive.

Antiratna Kampanja Hrvatske (ARK) Vukovarska 237c 10000 Zagreb; tel /fax +385 1 615 8711 email ark@zamir.net website www.zamir.net/~ark/