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 courtyard after she was forced to flee during the country’s 1992-95 civil war.
The ruling, announced by the ECHR on October 1, likely will end a long legal battle initiated by Fata Orlovic 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 euros ($5,500) to Orlovic and 2,000 euros to her relatives in damages.
The 77-year old Orlovic welcomed the ECHR decision, telling RFE/RL that "I am not against [the building of the church], but those who want it should build it on their own property."
Orlovic 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."
The family has been fighting in the courts to have the church removed since 2000, when she returned to her village of Konjevic Polje in eastern Bosnia, some 20 kilometers east of Srebrenica.
Serbs in 1993 expelled all Muslim residents of Konjevic 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.