European Court of Human Rights’ decision to remove Orthodox church built on private plot

In the case of Orlović and Others v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (application no. 16332/18. 01.10.2019) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned a church built by the Serbian Orthodox Parish on the applicants’ land after they had had to flee their property during the 1992-95 war. 

The applicants are a family of 14 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the 1992-95 war they were forced to flee from their home in Konjević Polje. 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 applicants brought restitution proceedings for their property. They were granted full restitution in a decision by the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees 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 Court found in particular that the authorities’ failure to comply with final and binding decisions of 1999 and 2001 ordering full repossession of the land by the applicants, without any justification on the part of the Government for such inaction, had seriously frustrated their property rights. 

The Court also held, by six votes to one, under Article 46 (binding force and implementation) that the respondent State had to ensure enforcement of the two decisions in the applicants’ favour, including in particular the removal of the church from the applicants’ land, at the latest within three months of this judgment becoming final. Furthermore, the Court held, unanimously, that Bosnia and Herzegovina was to pay 5,000 euros (EUR) to the first applicant and EUR 2,000 to each of the remaining applicants in respect of pecuniary damage and that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points.

References from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights