The applicants are a family of 14 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, born between 1942 and 1982. They live in Konjević Polje and Srebrenik, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They survive the first applicant’s husband and more than 20 other relatives who were killed in the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. The case concerns a church built by the Serbian Orthodox Parish on the applicants’ land after they had to flee their property in Konjević Polje during the 1992–95 war. The property belonged to the first applicant’s husband and his brother and consisted of several individual and agricultural buildings, fields and meadows.
In 1998 a church was built on their land following expropriation proceedings in favour of the Drinjača Serbian Orthodox Parish. The applicants were never informed of those proceedings.
The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (“the Dayton Peace Agreement”) put an end to the 1992–95 war. In order to implement Annex 7 to the agreement, which guaranteed the free return of refugees to their homes of origin and restitution of their property, the Republika Srpska (one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina) enacted the Restitution of Property Act in 1998.
The applicants brought restitution proceedings for their property under that Act. They were granted full restitution in a decision by the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees (“the CRPC”) in 1999, followed by another decision by the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in 2001. The decisions were both final and enforceable.
The land was subsequently returned to the applicants, except for a plot on which the church had been built. The applicants sought full repossession in the following years, without success.
The applicants also brought civil proceedings against the Serbian Orthodox Church seeking to recover possession of the plot of land and to have the church removed. In 2010 they modified their claim, asking the courts to recognise the validity of an out-of-court settlement. The lower courts dismissed the claim, finding that no agreement had been concluded between the parties, which was then confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2014 and the Constitutional Court in 2017.
Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants complain that they have been prevented from effectively using their property because the unlawfully built church has not yet been removed from their land. They also rely on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the Convention to complain about the domestic court decisions concerning their civil claim.
Press release ECHR 318 (2019) 26.09.2019