Strasbourg, 6 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Croatia today became the 40th member of the Council of Europe at a ceremony in Strasbourg attended by Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic.
Croatia joined the pan-European rights body amid criticism over the human rights situation in the country.
However, the signing ceremony was interrupted by a protest organized by the international journalists' organization, Reporters without Borders. One of the conditions linked to joining the Council of Europe is the maintenance of freedom of the press. Members of the organization distributed flyers which outlined what they called the "state's iron control" over the media.
The protesting reporters said two journalists with the independent newspaper "Feral Tribune" faced potential conviction for defaming Croatian President Franjo Tudjamn. The two journalists were acquited recently, but the state prosecutor is appealing the decision.
The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Leni Fischer of Germany, said Croatia must guarantee that it will work to protect minority rights, secure freedom of the press and cooperate completely with the United Nations war crime tribunal in the Hague.
In May, the Committee of Ministers delayed Croatia's entry into the Council for six months, although the organization's Parliamentary Assembly had earlier approved its application. The ministers called on Croatia to respect its obligations under the Dayton peace accords and cooperate in the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina September 14.
After the elections, the Committee ruled that Croatia had honored all of its commitments to the Council.