Motivated by the citizen’s initiative for organizing a referendum against Cyrillic inscriptions in the city of Vukovar, the Ombudswoman on 27th February 2014 wrote a letter to the President of the Croatian Parliament warning on a potential violation of the constitutionally guaranteed minority rights. Namely, the proposed question for a referendum aims at increasing the minimum criteria set for exercising the right to official use of a minority language and script in the state and self-government units, from one third (as currently guaranteed) to one half of the minority population members within the community.
As the institution for promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms the Ombudswoman emphasises that, having in mind the special importance of minority rights in modern Croatian state, the proposed change of the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities would not be in line with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
On the other hand, the Ombudswoman stressed that the procedure for deciding on the content of this question must be conducted according to the legislation in force and by adhering to the rule of law as one of the highest values enshrined in the Croatian constitution. It is important to respect the citizens’ legitimate advocacy for a referendum, their widely collected signatures and the right to exercise direct democracy, which cannot be questioned regardless the current legal ambiguity.
However, the only certain legal base currently available within the Croatian legal system for establishing (un)constitutionality of the question content proposed for a referendum is Art. 95 of the Constitutional Act on the Constitutional Court which clearly stipulates that this falls under the competence of this Court. Since only the Croatian Parliament has an exclusive authorisation to challenge the content of a referendum question before the Court, it is of the utmost importance that the Croatian Parliament uses this authority in this case as well.
In order to prevent future situations in which certain group in the society may, by way of exercising the right to direct democracy, question the already guaranteed rights of any minority, the Ombudswoman urges the Croatian Parliament to adopt the required secondary legislation which should also precisely determine which questions cannot be regarded as referendum questions.