A final concerted push by the Government of Croatia is what is still needed to resolve the remaining issues of internally displaced persons in Croatia. This is the key finding of the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the human rights of internally-displaced persons, Prof. Dr. Walter Kälin, who just concluded an official visit to Croatia from 6 to 8 June 2005 at the invitation of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During his visit, the Representative met with the President and Prime Minister of the Republic, as well as senior officials of Government Ministries and Offices, the Ombudsman, the Council for National Minorities, international agencies and non-governmental organizations. The Representative was informed of the ongoing efforts to return displaced persons to their places of former residence, to repossess properties temporarily occupied by others, to provide reconstruction assistance to homes damaged in the armed conflict and to arrange for housing alternatives to former tenancy rights holders. He was also apprised of efforts undertaken to integrate national minorities into representative and decision-making structures, and met with internally-displaced persons in the Eastern Slavonian region of the country.
"There is a comparatively small group of cases still remaining after the substantial investment already made by the Government," the Representative observed, "which calls for commitment of the necessary resources to resolving the situations of these people who have waited so long." He called upon the Government to take the necessary practical steps to give effect to its commitments, "in order that the international community can remove the Republic of Croatia from the list of countries around the world where the plight of internally-displaced persons is cause for such concern". In order to ensure the durability and acceptance of the measures taken, the Representative noted that "it is important that the implementation of the Government's laws and policies addressing these questions occurs free of discrimination, and carries with it a maximum level of transparency."
The Representative welcomed the commitments at the highest political levels to resolving the issue. "Both the President and the Prime Minister made very clear to me their desire finally to resolving the difficult issues caused up by the massive displacements of persons in the conflicts of the 1990s."" The Representative welcomed the recent conclusion of the Sarajevo Declaration concerning the return of refugees in the region, but emphasised that careful planning is required in order to ensure that returnees can find durable solutions rather than becoming internally-displaced persons themselves. He also called upon media and policy-makers to work towards diminishing public prejudices against returnees and other displaced persons. Wider issues of employment and development were also on the Representative's mind. "If solutions are to be truly sustainable, we must not overlook the critical fact that homes alone are of little value if there are not the jobs and economic opportunities to go with them or if they are not equally accessible to all", he said. He called on the Government, in collaboration with the international partners, to develop effective development and investment strategies for the regions most affected by displacement.