SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnian authorities were ordered on Tuesday to remove from a Muslim Bosniak woman’s courtyard an Orthodox church which was built after she was driven out by Bosnian Serb forces who killed 22 of her relatives in nearby Srebrenica.
The final and binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights should end a 20-year legal battle by Fata Orlovic and members of her family who escaped the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and returned to their village in the Serb-dominated region of Bosnia to find the large church 30 meters from their front door.
The court found the Bosnian Serb authorities’ failure to comply with the binding decisions of 1999 and 2001 ordering full repossession of the land had seriously harmed the Orlovics’s property rights.
It said the authorities had to ensure the removal of the church from the land within three months and pay 5,000 euros ($5,500) to Fata Orlovic and 2,000 euros to 13 of her relatives in respect of pecuniary damage.
In 1993, Serbs drove all Muslims from Konjevic Polje to Srebrenica, a U.N. safe area which they overran two years later, killing about 8,000 Muslims in what is seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two. Two international courts declared the massacre as genocide.
While Orlovic was in exile, the Serb authorities appropriated her land and built the church for Orthodox Serbs who had fled there from the homes they had owned in the Muslim and Croat-dominated areas.
This was common practice across the Balkan country, where churches, mosques and whole new communities have sprung up in what Western peace officials condemned as a tactic to preserve the results of ethnic cleansing.
Orlovic’s situation highlights the myriad problems faced by hundreds of thousands of people who fled ethnic cleansing in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war and wanted to return to their homes.
“This is a typical case dealing with the right of a returnee to property,” Faris Vehabovic, a judge at the court, told the Klix news portal.
“The only difference is that it had become a symbol of persistent fight for justice by one woman and family,” he added.
The ruling will come into effect unless Bosnia appeals it.
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Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Ed Osmond