(ECNL, Human Right House Zagreb) This research provides an estimation of the level of protection of the right to public assembly in Croatia during 2017 and 2018 and includes an analysis of the main elements of organization and administration of assemblies as well as the identification of respective challenges. The data obtained through analysis of the legislative framework was triangulated with the data collected through interviews with relevant stakeholders and monitoring of selected peaceful assemblies and public protests.
As opposed to previous years, 2017 and 2018 were not marked by a large number of assemblies with strong public response that would question the existing legislative and institutional framework for exercising the right to assembly. However, there is a visible trend of holding assemblies of various kinds, sizes and media coverage. In general, assemblies are banned only exceptionally and most of them were held without major incidents. When it comes to public perception, assemblies are still perceived as an expression of dissatisfaction and a potential cause of problems and disorder, instead of an exercise of fundamental right and freedom whose purpose is to encourage public debate and contribute to the development of democratic and inclusive society.
The legislative framework governing public assemblies in the Republic of Croatia is on relatively satisfactory level. The greatest challenge to its implementation represents the application of equal criteria to all assemblies irrespective of their type, organizer and purpose. Over the past few years there has been a progress in the policing of assemblies, especially with respect to larger protests or assemblies related to politically or socially sensitive topics. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement both in terms of improving communication of assembly organizers with competent authorities, as well as in terms of achieving uniform reaction and equality in treatment of all the organizers and participants of assembly.
The right to public assembly is subject to certain constraints and it is necessary to strike a balance between the use of this right on the one hand, and the proportionate application of lawful restrictions on the other. There are
number of unpredictable situations that may occur during assemblies and therefore it is important to emphasize good cooperation and dialogue between organizers and law enforcement services in order to foresee and prevent possible matters of concern. Even though no significant difficulties in exercising the right to public assembly or deterioration of the legislative and institutional framework have been detected, tackling existing obstacles could further enhance the protection of freedom of assembly and contribute to creation of an enabling environment for unhindered use of this fundamental constitutional right.
The monitoring report was conducted as part of the ‘Monitoring the Right to Free Assembly’ regional project, managed by the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL). Find more about the project: http://ecnl.org/publications/monitoring-the-right-to-free-assembly-in-11-countries-2018/