In March of this year, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) informed Slovenia that three complaints by Slovenian fishermen against Croatia concerning alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) had been submitted to Croatia. This means that the ECtHR has found the complaints of the Slovenian fishermen admissible and will decide on its merits.
According to Article 36(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, in all cases before a Chamber or the Grand Chamber, a High Contracting Party one of whose nationals is an applicant shall have the right to submit written comments and to take part in hearings. In its letter of 5 June 2023, Slovenia informed the ECHR of its intention to intervene in this case and thus provide assistance and support in protecting the legal interests of Slovenian fishermen who have been harmed by Croatia’s non-recognition of the arbitral award. At this stage, Slovenia is only announcing its intervention and does not state its positions on the proceedings.
The background to these complaints is the Arbitration Agreement between Croatia and Slovenia, which was signed on 4 November 2009 (“the Arbitration Agreement”) with the aim of resolving a border dispute between the two countries arising after the independence of the former Yugoslavia. Specifically, the dispute concerned the delimitation of the boundaries in the Bay of Piran and on land.
The Arbitration Agreement established the Arbitral Tribunal, which on 29 June 2017 delivered its Final Award in the arbitration between Slovenia and Croatia, thus determining the course of the maritime and land boundary between the two countries. In the Final Award the Arbitral Tribunal determined (i) the entire land border between Slovenia and Croatia, (ii) the maritime boundary between the two countries, which had never been delimited before, and (iii) Slovenia’s junction to the high seas.
Despite the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling, Croatia has not recognized the validity of the Agreement and is not implementing its obligations in the way it was ordered to do by the Arbitral Tribunal’s Final Award. In the present case, the Croatian authorities are charging fines to Slovenian fishermen for fishing in an area of the Bay of Piran which, according to the arbitration ruling, otherwise belonged to Slovenia. Since the Slovenian fishermen have exhausted all legal remedies in Croatia, including at the Croatian Constitutional Court, they have initiated proceedings before the ECtHR, in which, as stated above, Slovenia will also intervene. Croatia has the possibility to take a position on Slovenia’s intervention later in the process.