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12.10.2012 | 18:41 | IKA E - 145041/10

A Good Peace—The Fruit of Justice and Truth

Statement by the Justitia et Pax Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops

1. Hope and Fear. At a time when the Holy Father supports peace in Beirut among the religions and nations in the Near East, here, in our country, we cannot but share the concern of the Archbishop of Zagreb regarding the hasty moves ... of the public authorities in the complex border issues of our country. These issues should be resolved exclusively according to international law and in the light of scientific evidence and expert opinions ... defending the truth, as emphasized by Cardinal Josip Bozanić. Certainly all people of good will would agree with the excellent Croatian attorney Davor Vidas when he cautions that the truth can neither be decided by vote nor can it be enforced but, above all, it must be determined. Therefore, as concerned Christians and engaged citizens, we want and expect our country to be actually and specifically engaged in achieving a sustainable peace and security when it comes to itself and its neighbors.

2. Integrity and Inviolability. Our Commission expresses our deep concern for peace based upon truth, justice and international law here, in our country, hic et nunc. In fact, Croatian representatives too often forget that respect for territorial integrity, i.e., national borders and their inviolability, is an essential prerequisite for equality, peace and cooperation among states. These principles were solemnly proclaimed by the founders of the United Nations in the UN Charter of 1945, and then by the representatives of the countries participating in the Conference on European Security and Cooperation held in Helsinki in 1975, and in its Final Act (Helsinki Accords) by which they committed themselves to respect "the territorial integrity of each of the participating states" and "all their frontiers" and condemned "direct and indirect measures of force and appropriation" of another's territory.

3. Wandering and Adjudication. Despite such clear and strict principles stemming from the nature of democratic states and, therefore, from international law, for two decades individual Croatian representatives consented, far from the eyes of the Croatian citizens, public and the parliament, to relinquish rights that no country relinquishes, which are territorial integrity and the immutability of borders. The Republic of Croatia bases its sovereignty and independence on the will of its citizens as expressed by the referendum on independence of May 19, 1991. It is also based on resistance to aggression and the liberation of occupied territories, which took many human lives. Croatia declared its independence on June 25, 1991, within the framework of the previous borders of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia, respecting the general principle of international law of uti possidetis iuris, i.e., respect for the territorial status quo, as expressed in the opinion on the international borders of the new states issued on January 11, 1992, by the President of the Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia, composed of the chief justices of the constitutional courts of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium, known as the Badinter Committee.

4. Territory and Borders. With the emergence of new states or the disassociation of complex state communities, as was the case in our country, under international law the territories of the newly established states are determined according to the principle of the current actual situation on the day of their declarations of independence. That is why the international community through the legal opinion of the Arbitration Commission confirmed that the borders of the former Yugoslav republics became internationally protected state borders and that every change in the borders by force would be legally invalid. The borders, therefore, became the borders that had been established in the former state after the Second World War, i.e., those borders that existed on the day of the declaration of the independence of the Republic of Croatia. Legally valid changes up to that time could only be those that were implemented in accordance with the former constitutional order. The Croatian public knows that after the Second World War, the Federal State of Croatia no longer included large areas in its north and south—eastern Srijem and the south of what was then Dalmatia, with which Croatia had entered the Triune Kingdom, the first Yugoslav state, in 1918. Croatian citizens, however, also know that in the name of peace it was necessary to respect the right and principle of uti possidetis iuris, i.e., the actual borders in 1991, in accordance with the valid legal status.

5. State Land and Sea. For the land and sea of Croatia, the borders are those which were set for the former Socialist Republic of Croatia. As far as the sea is concerned, the demarcations between the republics of the former state were not precisely defined everywhere, although there were borders for the territories of the activities of the former republican authorities and port authorities. However, the rules on delimitation of the sea borders are defined by the "constitution of the sea," i.e., the very clear rules of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), which was ratified by 161 states and the European Union. Among the states party to the Convention are all the current coastal states along the Adriatic Sea, including the states of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, Croatia has still not exercised the undeniable right of every state, which raises the concerns of Croatian citizens and regarding justice and peace in this part of Europe.

The Croatian Danube Region. On Croatia's northeastern border, the Croatian state and citizens are still not exercising their rights to the islands of Vukovar and Šarengrad, as well as to significant territories across the Danube River. On the other side, the right bank of the Danube, there is a small part of the area that cadastrally belongs to the citizens of Serbia. However, the Croatian public does not know whether the Republic of Croatia intends to resolve this two-sided problem in accordance with international law.

Sveta Gera and Savudrijska vala (Gulf of Piran). In the west, the Republic of Croatia still does not exercise its sovereign right to Sveta Gera, despite the fact that this territory indisputably belongs to Croatia. In the Gulf of Savudrija-Piran, however, the temporary status respects the "rule of the median line," but Croatia has agreed that the final delimitation will be established by international arbitration. Unfortunately, this will not be decided solely on the basis of international law, which would guarantee justice and peace, but also on the basis of other criteria, which could lead to injustice, frustration and friction among peoples and countries that were never in conflict throughout their history. In this division, Croatia only sought what was stipulated by the UN Law of the Sea, which is the "median line," while the neighboring country aspires to the entire gulf as well as a large part of the Croatian territorial sea.

Bay of Mali Ston. In the south, the first Croatian president and the chairman of the Bosnian-Herzegovian Presidency signed a contract in 1999 that would, if ratified with the accompanying documentation, lead to Croatia's relinquishing the tip of the Klek peninsula, two small islands and one reef to the neighboring country. For now, neither side has ratified this contract. It should be noted here that this land territory also includes a considerable area of sea territory, consisting of approximately ten square kilometers of Croatian internal sea.

Boka kotorska. At the extreme south of the current territory of the republic, Croatia was forced to agree to a highly unfavorable temporary legal regime, under which it is not even permitted to monitor its coastal sea. However, neighboring Montenegro justly and laudably agreed in principle to the demarcation determined by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest and most qualified judicial instance of the United Nations for disputes between states. The present state of preparations for bringing this dispute before the ICJ is, however, not known to the Croatian public.

6. Principles and Interests. Territories and borders are often the results of historical circumstances and turmoil, wars and immense human suffering. Therefore, no government or president has the right to relinquish the land or sea territory of a state. Attempts to the contrary cannot even be imagined, let alone implemented. Therefore, no legal state in Europe relinquishes its territory to another state because state territories—land, river, lake, sea, undersea and air—are not goods or money and are not merely "real estate properties." Territory must not used for barter. Therefore, in all the democratic states of Europe and the world, the question of borders is not combined with any other issue, is not placed in any kind of "package," and is not exchanged for any kind of interest. State territory is an issue of international law and it is not a mere interest, as is heard in our country from people unskilled in democratic statehood and law. Interests, in fact, can also be selfish and illegal, while international law is a civilizational and ethical achievement of our time. State borders are eminently a matter of justice and sustainable peace, which is why we are addressing the Croatian public.

7. Justice to Peace. In conclusion, if Croatia does not correct the major failures and mistakes that have been made by its representatives regarding state borders, its retreat and silence will lead to precedents of injustice that will become a dangerous example for territorial usurpation by other countries in the unstable southeast and east of our continent, usurpation that could cause friction, conflicts and great misfortunes, which would be contrary the fundamental values of truth—in justice and peace—in a good neighbor policy.

In Zagreb, October 12, 2012

Msgr. Vlado Košić, Ph.D.
President of the Justitia et Pax Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops

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