European Court Orders Bosnia to Remove a Serbian Orthodox Church

A Bosnian Orthodox Christian man lights a candle as she attends a Christmas morning religious service at the Orthodox Congregation Church in Sarajevo, on January 7, 2011. Bosnian Orhodox believers observe the Julian calendar, thus celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7. AFP PHOTO / ELVIS BARUKCIC (Photo …
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Monday that Bosnia and Herzegovina must take “all necessary measures” to remove a Serbian Orthodox church that was built in the courtyard of a Muslim woman expelled from her village during the country’s 1992-95 war.

The court ruled that the 1998 church construction had been illegal and constituted a violation of the right to property, stipulating a three-month deadline to carry out the verdict and remove the church.

European Court judge Faris Vehabovic said that a failure to enforce the court’s decision would be a “crime” yet added that whether or not it will be enforced “is up to the Bosnian authorities to decide.”

In 2000, Fata Orlovic and 13 other family members initiated a legal battle to have the church removed after she returned to her home in Konjevic Polje in eastern Bosnia, some 20 kilometers east of Srebrenica.

In its ruling on Monday, the court found in favor of members of the Orlovic family, ordering Bosnian authorities to remove the church along with paying damages to 14 members of the Orlovic family in the amount of 31,000 euros.

“I am not against [the church],” said the 77-year-old Orlovic, “but those who want it should build it on their own property.”

Orlovic added that the case should send a message to people to continue to “fight for what is yours and let go of what is not.”

“This is a typical case dealing with the right of a returnee to property,” Faris Vehabovic said.

“The only difference is that it had become a symbol of persistent fight for justice by one woman and family,” he said.

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