Croatia approves law to criminalise femicide in 2024

Croatia approves law to criminalise femicide in 2024

Written by Leila Hawkins

  • Croatia’s parliament has passed a law to recognise femicide as a crime
  • Offenders will face a minimum of 10 years in prison
  • The new law introduces harsher penalties for sexual violence and allows victims to testify via videocall

Croatia’s parliament has approved a change to the law that recognises femicide as a distinct crime. The amendment means those found guilty will face a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail. 

Croatia has the third highest rate of femicides in the European Union (EU), behind Latvia and Lithuania. After Cyprus and Malta, Croatia is the third EU member state to recognise the crime of femicide, which is defined as the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender. 

The legislation will also increase the prison sentence for rape from 1 to 5 years to 3 to 8, and victims will have the option to give testimony via videocall rather than attending in person. 

Femicide in Croatia

Research for the period 2016 – 2021 found that 92 women were murdered in Croatia, a country with around 4 million inhabitants. Almost half had been killed by someone close to them. Alarmingly, the number increased progressively over the five-year period during which data was collected. 

Nationwide protests took place in late 2023 after 20-year-old law student Mihaela Berak was shot dead by a police officer she briefly dated. Berak had told friends he was “possessive, deranged and manipulative,” before he killed her. 

The police initially claimed her death was the result of reckless handling of a weapon, but prosecutors later launched an investigation, while campaigners and protesters called for justice for Berak and greater penalties for perpetrators of violence against women. 

The previous year, the murders of two women by former partners within 10 days of each other highlighted a lack of legal protection for women and a failure to communicate between institutions, with lawyers stating that both men could have been arrested sooner rather than merely being issued with restraining orders. 

Legal protections for women 

In 2018, Croatia ratified the Istanbul Convention, the first European treaty to specifically address violence against women and domestic violence. This step followed months of protests from conservative campaigners who claimed it would undermine traditional gender roles. 

Five years later, GREVIO, the Council of Europe’s Expert Group on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, published its analysis of the treaty’s implementation, noting a number of positive legal reforms such as the introduction of a consent-based definition of rape into the Criminal Code, and expanding the definition of domestic violence to include violence between partners who do not have children or live together. 

However, it also highlighted a failure to understand the gendered aspect of violence against women, stating that without this and the “underlying issues of power and control and its impact on victims, investigations and case building will also lack in quality.” 

It also noted that “prejudices and patriarchal attitudes still seem to prevail among many in the criminal justice system, often leading to the qualification of serious incidents of violence as a misdemeanour rather than a criminal offence.” 

Gender inequality remains a root cause of violence against women. Despite women forming the majority in higher education and certain employment sectors, they face disparities in leadership roles, salaries, and pensions compared to men. 


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