Court orders to tear down church built on Muslim woman’s land

Strasbourg, France: The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday told Bosnia it must tear down a Serbian Orthodox Church built on land seized from Muslims forced to flee their homes during the country’s 1992-1995 civil 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, a Muslim refugee.

The village is not far from Srbrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serb forces in 1995 — including Orlovic’s husband, the court said.

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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 favour 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 rights court, based in Strasbourg, France.

It gave Bosnia three months to remove the church once the ruling becomes final and ordered it to pay Orlovic 5,000 euros ($5,450) in damages.

Orlovic said she was happy with the ruling.

“Thank you all good people… and all who helped and who are on the side of truth. I fought for twenty years… There is nothing I did not go through and a happy day has come. I’m reborn today,” she told local online magazine.

Some 40 percent of Bosnia’s 3.8 million inhabitants are Muslims, about 31 percent are Orthodox Christian Serbs and around 10 percent Roman Catholic Croats.

The European Court of Human Rights comes under the Council of Europe, the multinational body comprising nearly 50 countries which polices rights infringements.

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