The Definition Of Discrimination

AuthorBojic, Ines
2.1 Grounds of unlawful discrimination explicitly covered
The grounds of discrimination explicitly prohibited in the main legislation transposing the
two EU anti-discrimination directives (as listed in the Introduction, above), are:
- race or ethnic origin or colour
- gender
- language
- religion
- political or other belief
- national or social origin
- property
- trade union membership
- education
- social status
- marital or family status
- age
- health condition41
- disability
- genetic heritage
- gender identity
- (gender) expression42
- sexual orientation
2.1.1 Definition of the grounds of unlawful discrimination within the directives
The Anti-discrimination Act only lists discrimination grounds and does not provide
definitions, which are to be found either in other laws or in the case law of domestic
courts and bodies.
a) Racial or ethnic origin
National law does not provide a definition of race. In legislation and case law, the term
race is never used alone but is used together with the term ethnic origin (‘race or ethnic
origin’ or ‘race and ethnic origin’).
According to the latest available Ombudsperson’s report, as in previous years, most
complaints of discrimination relate to ‘race or ethnic origin’ (15.6 %).43 Since the Anti-
discrimination Act explicitly prohibits discrimination based not only on race and ethnic
origin, but also on colour and national origin, the four grounds are covered jointly in the
Ombudsperson’s report.44
National law does not provide a definition of ethnic origin.
41 The ADA introduced health condition as a separate prohibited ground for discrimination with the aim of
protecting people with certain health conditions (e.g. those infected with HIV) that do not constitute
42 Given the strict wording of the Anti-discrimination Act, which lists as discrimination grounds, inter alia
‘gender identity, expression or sexual orientation’, there is common confusion as to whether gender identity
and expression are separate discrimination grounds. The Ombudsperson interprets this as a single
discrimination ground, for which reason throughout the rest of the report the ground will be referred to as
‘gender identity and expression’.
43 People's Ombudsperson (2020), Report for 2019, available at
44 People's Ombudsperson (2020) Report for 2019.
The Constitutional Act on the rights of national minorities45 defines a national minority as
‘a group of Croatian citizens whose members have traditionally inhabited the territory of
the Republic of Croatia and whose ethnic, linguistic, cultural and/or religious
characteristics differ from the rest of the population, and who are motivated to preserve
these characteristics’.46
The definition of ethnic origin (narodnost), used by the Croatian Bureau of Statistics is
‘characteristic denoting a person’s affiliation to a particular ethnic group’. Ethnicity is also
interpreted as a sense of belonging to a community (nation), distinguished by the ethnic,
linguistic and cultural affinity of its members as well as the aw areness of the integrity of
their own community and its special qualities in relation to other such communities.47
The definition of ethnic origin was an important legal issue in the numerous citizenship
cases in the 1990s. In (federal) Yugoslavia, citizens had both federal citizenship and
republican citizenship. After Croatia’s independence, people who did not have Croatian
republican citizenship became aliens in Croatia. While ethnic Croats in the same situation
were granted citizenship the Croatian Citizenship Act provides that any member of the
Croatian People (ethnic Croats) will be considered to be a Cr oatian citizen no automatic
or facilitated grant of Croatian citizenship was provided for other ex-SFRY citizens who
were permanent residents in Croatia; they had to fulfil all the numerous requirements for
citizenship as real foreigners. Therefore, the main issue in many cases was whether a
person was of Croatian ethnic origin or not. In practice, a person had to prove that s/he
declared her/himself as a Croat before independence.
According to case law:
‘belonging to a certain ethnicity is primarily subjective category, the feeling of
common culture, language and social tradition that connects members of that
community to one unit, but it is necessary that such belonging is expressed in
certain behaviour of a person claiming to be of Croatian ethnic origin, especially by
declaring that ethnic origin in public documents.’48
b) Religion and belief
National law does not provide a definition of religion or belief, but the Act on the legal
status of religious communities, which regulates the rights and duties of religious
communities and their members, defines religious communities as communities of
natural persons, believers, who realise their freedom of religion through public religious
services and other expressions of their faith.49
The definition of religion used by the Croatian Bureau of Statistics is:
‘a characteristic denoting a person's affiliation to a particular religious system,
irrespective of whether the person is a registered member of a particular church or
religious community or not, or whether he/she practises religion or not.’50
45 Constitutional Act on the rights of national minorities, 13 December 2002, Article 5, Official Gazette
155/2002, 47/2010, 80/2010, 93/2011, Ustavni zakon o pravima nacionalnih manjina.
46 According to Articles 15 and 83 of the Constitution, equality and the protection of the rights of national
minorities are regulated by a constitutional act that requires two-thirds of all members of the Parliament.
47 Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities (2013), ‘Definitions of indicators for the database
on equality data’, June 2013,
48 See, for example, decisions of the High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia Nos. Us-
10396/2009-4 and Us-10396/2009-4 of 15 February 2012.
49 Act on the legal status of religious communities, 4 July 2002, Official Gazette 83/2002, 73/2013, Zakon o
pravnom položaju vjerskih zajednica.
50 Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities (2013), ‘Definitions of indicators for the database
on equality data’, June 2013:

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