Croatia: Ex-Soldier Persecuted Because of Homosexuality

In July, Aldin Petric, a recruit in the Croatian army, was dismissed from the armed forces because of his homosexuality. He pressed a lawsuit against the policies of the armed forces, claiming damages for discrimination and abuse. Now, in a reversal, the Croatian Ministry of Defense has called him to complete the remainder of his military service. However, Petric fears that, once returned to the hands of the military, he will face life-threatening reprisals, not only for his homosexuality but for his attempt to call the armed forces to legal account.

Petric answered his draft summons in July 1998, reporting to the army barracks at Pula. Shortly after arriving, he informed his superior officer privately that he was gay. Despite the officer's promises to keep this information confidential, it quickly spread through the barracks. Petric was subjected to repeated physical abuse and attacks, as well as to isolation, by the other recruits. Although these attacks took place in the presence of officers, the latter reportedly refused to intervene. Instead, Petric himself was disciplined and removed from various details; finally he was forbidden to leave the barracks, "to avoid problems which might arise from meetings with other soldiers." Petric repeatedly requested a transfer to another barracks, but the commanding officer refused.

On July 22, Petric was summarily dismissed from the armed forces. Medical papers handed him on this occasion citedcode F65.9 from the internationally accepted ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders, a diagnostic manual published in 1992 by the World Health Organization. This code stands for "Disturbance of Sexual Preference, Unspecified," and offers a rubric for cases where the presiding psychologist suspects a sexual disorder but cannot identify symptoms or offer a diagnosis. Both the ICD-10 and the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of the World Psychiatric Association have eliminated homosexuality from their rosters of psychological disorders. However, vague catch-all classifications such as the above still allow doctors wide powers to medicalize and stigmatize sexual behaviors on the basis of prejudice or (as appears to have occurred in this case) political exigency.

Petric's parents discovered his homosexuality as a result of the army's order, and he was expelled from his home. Petric sued the Ministry of Defense for damages, citing discriminatory policies, official impunity for the abuse he suffered, and resulting psychological trauma. He was supported in his lawsuit by Croatian human-rights organizations, including the Croatian Helsinki Committee.

However, in October, the Ministry of Defense reversed the finding of Petric's inability to serve, and summoned him to complete his military service.

Such a summons represents neither redress nor compensation for the abuse Petric has already suffered. Rather, Petric fears, the summons is a form of intimidation: if honored it will place him in a situation where further and worse abuse may follow, with equal impunity. His lawsuit, along with his homosexuality, has already been widely reported in the Croatian media. Petric fears this publicity will lead to punishment and reprisals during his time in the military, threatening not only his physical well-being but possibly his life.

Petric asks for letters of protest to the Croatian Minister of Defence. These letters should ask the Minister to suspend all action pending resolution of Petric's lawsuit and the issues it involves. They should call attention to the fact that Petric has already suffered abuse at the hands of both recruits and officers; his widely known homosexuality, and the fact of his having challenged the armed forces publicly, place him at renewed physical risk should he resume military service. The Minister should also be asked to publicly ensure Petric's safety, whether within or without the armed forces.

Letters should be sent to:

Pavao Miljevac
Minister of Defense, Republic of Croatia
Ministarstvo obrane RH
Trg kralja Petra Kresimira IV.1
10000 Zagreb, Croatia
FAX: 385-1-461-3310