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Remove church from Muslim woman’s property, European Court orders Bosnian authorities  

25th Oct 2019
Remove church from Muslim woman’s property, European Court orders Bosnian authorities  

Fata Orlović  (Photo: IMLTV.PRESS/CC)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina to remove a Serbian Orthodox church built in a Bosnian Muslim woman’s garden after she was forced to flee during the country’s civil war.

The ruling on October 1 will end a long legal battle initiated by Fata Orlović and 13 members of her family who escaped the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, only to find a large church built just meters from their front door.

The court ruled that the church construction in 1998 was illegal and ordered authorities to ensure its removal within three months and pay €5,000 (£4,400) to Orlović and €2,000 to her relatives in damages, totalling €31,000.

‘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 rights court, based in Strasbourg, France.

Orlović welcomed the ECHR decision. “I am not against [the building of the church], but those who want it should build it on their own property,” said the 77-year old.
Orlović said the case should send a message to everyone that they should continue to “fight for what is yours and let go of what is not.”

Orlović, who lived with her husband and seven children in Konjević Polje near Srebrenica, a village in the Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, before she lost 22 of her relatives, including her husband Šaćir during the war.

She lived as a refugee in different parts of the country and did not leave her native land, despite all the persistence of her children living in the US. She returned to her village in 1999 after the war and saw a church built in her garden.

Orlović then initiated a lawsuit for the removal of the church and rejected the money offered to her to withdraw her lawsuit. She then won the 11-year legal battle in 2010, but the court’s decision was never implemented.

The Bijeljina Court had ruled that the church be demolished, but the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska, one of two country’s entities, suspended the verdict.
In 1993 Serbs expelled all Muslim residents of Konjević Polje to Srebrenica, a UN safe area that they overran two years later, killing about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in what is seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II. Two international courts declared the massacre as genocide.

The region has been controlled by Serbs since the end of the war when Bosnia was split into two entities — the Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian-led entity known as Republika Srpska. Each has its own government, and the two are linked by weak central institutions.

The family’s situation highlights one of the many issues faced by hundreds of thousands of people who fled ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war but now are looking to return to their homes.

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