A National Call Centre for crime victims opened today at the Ministry of Justice in Zagreb, as volunteers began answering a toll-free information hotline. By dialing 116 006, people who have fallen victim to any sort of crime, anywhere in Croatia, can now receive information about their rights, what steps to take next and where to seek professional help. The hotline was created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of a six-year partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court aimed at assisting the victims of violent crimes.
One advantage of the designated toll-free number 116 006 is that it is standardized across the European Union. This does not mean, however, that all EU member states are already providing this sort of service. In fact, Croatia is just the sixth EU member state – after Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands – that has established a hotline specifically for crime victims.
Volunteer-driven effort expands support now available only at county courts
The hotline, which operates every working day from 8 a.m to 8 p.m, offers information and counseling to victims of crime and abuse. The service is free of charge and information is available in English as well as Croatian, so many foreign visitors can also use it. The hotline is staffed by 27 volunteers, most of whom are students of law or psychology who received six months of specialized training before the hotline opened. The total cost of the call centre was USD 172,000, with UNDP providing USD 148,000, and the Netherlands contributing the remaining USD 24,000. The Ministry of Justice provided the premises for the call centre, and the volunteer staff are organized by a non-governmental organization (NGO), the Association for Witness and Victim Support.
“This new service reflects a new trend in criminal law and also in social sensitivity,“ said Minister of Justice Orsat Miljenić. “Whereas victims were once seen primarily as witnesses who could help the court deliver convictions of criminals, now victims and their rights are being put in the forefont.“ The new service will help avoid additional traumatization and unnecessary stress for victims involved in court proceedings. “We see the partnership that has emerged between the Association for Witness and Victim Support and the Ministry as a model for how NGOs can deliver social services,“ he added.
“This service enables crime victims to seek help even before the court proceedings start,“ said Supreme Court President Branko Hrvatin. “This will help us reduce the dark figures of criminality to the lowest possible level, by reducing the large share of crimes that now go unreported because victims are afraid of the perpetrator or lack information about the necessary steps. We must show the offenders that they will not get off unpunished, that they will be convicted. At the same time, we should be careful to avoid the further victimization of victims.“
“Ensuring that victims receive the respect and care they deserve is a priority for us,“ said UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton. “Our total investment in protecting victims' rights in Croatia is now USD 1.5 million, and we aim to continue assisting victims of domestic and sexual violence.“
The toll-free hotline is a continuation of UNDP's work in providing support to victims and witnesses of crime in judicial proceedings. Since 2008, UNDP has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court to create a network of offices that provide crime victims with the information and support they need to appear in court and testify with confidence. Offices for Witness Victim Support have been created at county courts in Zagreb, Zadar, Osijek, Vukovar, Sisak, Rijeka and Split. They rely on a small number of professional staff and a network of 193 volunteers. So far, these seven offices have provided help and counselling to more than 14,000 victims.
More information about the toll-free hotline is available in an informative leaflet for citizens.
Speech by UNDP Resident Representative at the Ministry of Justice