Authorities in Croatia announced the arrest of two police officers on Thursday over the beating of an Afghan asylum seeker, as the UN urged the country to immediately investigate reports of excessive use of force against migrants.
The police in Karlovac, 35 miles south-west of Zagreb, said two officers had been charged after an asylum seeker who crossed the border from neighbouring Bosnia was injured at the hands of the police.
The officers, who will remain detained for 30 days, were removed from service and disciplinary proceedings have been launched against them.
One faces a charge of “causing bodily harm” and the other of failing to report a crime.
Karlovac police say the Afghan man ended up in the police station in Slunj on the evening of June 11, on suspicion of illegal entry into Croatia.
It is the first arrest of a Croatian police officer in connection with allegations of attacks on migrants and follows a recent series of reports from numerous associations of an increase in accounts of abuse and torture perpetrated by Croatian law enforcement against those crossing the border from Bosnia to reach Europe.
Despite heated denials by the Croatian authorities, one of the latest incidents, reported by the Guardian, was described by aid workers as the most violent in the Balkan migration crisis.
On May 26, 11 Pakistani and five Afghan men were stopped by a group wearing black uniforms and balaclavas, in the Plitvice Lakes, 16km (10 miles) into Croatia from the border with Bosnia.
According to migrants’ testimonies they were slashed with knives, electro-shocked and tied to trees. “Their wrists were bound in such a manner that they had to turn their faces toward the trees,” according to a report from the Danish Refugee Council, which provides healthcare for refugees in Bosnia. “Once these people were unable to move, the men in uniforms fired several shots in the air, with guns placed close to the ears of the men. There were also shots fired close to their legs.”
One of the men told the Guardian: “They kept shooting. They were shooting so closely that the stones under our feet were flying and being blown to pieces. They kept saying: ‘I want to beat and kill you.’ They tortured us for three to four hours.”
On Friday, UN special rapporteurs urged Croatia to “immediately investigate reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel against migrants, including acts amounting to torture and ill-treatment, and sanction those responsible”.
Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in a joint statement: “We are deeply concerned about the repeated and ongoing disproportionate use of force by Croatian police against migrants in pushback operations. Victims, including children, suffered physical abuse and humiliation simply because of their migration status.
EU officials have been accused of trying to cover up evidence of a failure by Croatia’s government to supervise police, repeatedly accused of robbing, abusing and humiliating migrants at their borders, has sparked a row in Brussels.
The arrests of the two Croatian police officers risks embarrassing the Croatian interior ministry, which has always firmly denied police have perpetrated abuses, calling allegations “completely absurd” and accusing the Guardian of organising a “premeditated attack against the republic of Croatia”.
The Croatian police and interior ministry have not responded to a request for comment. (Source: The Guardian)