The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) told Bosnia yesterday that it must tear down a Serbian Orthodox Church built on land seized from Muslims forced to flee their homes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The church, long a flashpoint between the area's Serbs and Muslims, was built in 1998 in Konjevic Polje on land seized from Fata Orlovic.
Orlovic and others in her family eventually returned and had their lands returned under the terms of the Dayton peace accords, except for the plot on which the church was built. Her family's legal efforts to force the church's relocation proved unsuccessful, despite court rulings in Orlovic's favor in 1999 and 2001. The site became a source of tensions, at times leading to clashes between local Serbs and Muslims.
"The authorities' failure to comply with final and binding decisions... without any justification on the part of the government for such inaction, had seriously frustrated [the plaintiffs] property rights," said the ECHR, based in Strasbourg, France. It gave Bosnia three months to remove the church once the ruling becomes final and ordered it to pay O
rlovic 5,000 euros ($5,450) in damages.
The village is not far from Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serb forces in 1995. Orlovic's husband is one of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Europe's worst massacre since World War II. On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb militia forces under the command of Mladic entered Potocari, which was under the protection of Dutch soldiers who were part of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The army of Bosnian Serbs held all U.N. soldiers captive and captured Srebrenica. That night, all the refugee women and children taking shelter in the U.N. camp in Potocari were forced to get on buses and trucks and leave the city. In front of the eyes of the entire world, the Serbian soldiers held more than 1,500 Muslim men captive for 10 days and tortured, raped and killed them, regardless of their age. During this genocide attempt, world powers confined themselves to watching these scenes of horror. After the Bosnians were butchered and subjected to unprecedented brutality, the international powers decided to intervene in the ongoing war and stop the Serbian forces.
Hundreds of Bosniak families are still searching for missing people as a large number of victims were thrown into mass graves around the country during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. Since the war's end, 8,400 people remain missing according to the Institute for Missing Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Every year, the remains of more victims are identified and buried in Potocari on the anniversary of the genocide.