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Bosniak Compensation Bid Fails

Srebrenica survivors angered by court rejection of compensation claims for murdered relatives.
By Nick Hawton

Shortly before the eighth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre last week, Bosnia’s human rights court infuriated many survivors by dismissing claims for compensation from Republika Srpska for those who died.

Some 1,800 people who lost loved ones in Srebrenica filed claims with the court accusing the Banja Luka authorities of deliberately blocking their attempts to find out what had happened to their relatives. They requested financial compensation, the amount of which was to be determined by the court.

In March, the Human Rights Chamber, a body that consists of both local and international judges to address human rights grievances across the country, ordered Republika Srpska to provide some 2 million US dollars to 49 people who filed similar claims.

Rather than transfer the money directly to the survivors, however, the court ruled that it be given to a special fund that had been set up to build a new cemetery and memorial for victims of the massacre, the “Foundation of Srebrenica-Potocari”.

At the time, the president of the court, Michele Picard, heralded the decision as the first one to take into consideration the suffering of the families from Srebrenica. She added that the court would be hearing thousands more applicants - a statement that led the remaining 1,800 people waiting for decision to believe that they would be similarly compensated.

However, last week the court ruled that its decision on the original 49 cases “addresses the complaints of the present applicants” and that therefore, the remaining 1,800 need not be examined.

In its decision, the chamber stated, “Even if we were to consider the admissibility and merits of the current applications individually and to explicitly find the same violations of human rights, we could not provide any more extensive remedy than the collective remedies provided for all the victims of the Srebrenica events in the (other 49 cases).”

The decision infuriated victims groups in Bosnia.

“It’s all high politics,” said Munira Subasic of the Association of Mothers of the enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa. “Why weren’t all the cases considered individually? We’re very disappointed.”

Her association argues that all the cases should be considered on their own individual merits and that to dismiss 1,800 claims outright diminishes the seriousness the crime. They also point out that the court’s decision technically means that they found no violation by Republika Srpska’s authorities.

Many have speculated that the court might have acted under time pressure - it is slated to close down at the end of the year and reportedly has a backlog of thousands of cases.

Others are suspicious of the 2 million dollar figure the judges arrived at for the original 49 cases.

As it happens, in February, the Foundation of Srebrenica-Potocari that is overseeing the creation of the monument and cemetery – and is chaired by Bosnia’s High Representative Paddy Ashdown – announced that it was 2 million dollars short of the 5 million dollars it needs.

Just three weeks later, the human rights chamber awarded 2 million dollars to the 49 Srebrenica families and designated the money for the monument’s construction.

Nick Hawton is a BBC correspondent in the Balkans.

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