Bosnian Muslims Appeal Mosque Ruling

Banja Luka court says Muslim community filed damages for destroyed buildings too late.

Bosnian Muslims Appeal Mosque Ruling

Banja Luka court says Muslim community filed damages for destroyed buildings too late.

Friday, 13 November, 2009

The Bosnian Muslim community has vowed to appeal against the decision by a Banja Luka court to overturn a ruling ordering the municipality to pay 34 million euro damages for 16 mosques demolished during the war.

A magistrate in the Bosnian Serb capital had ruled in February that the town had to compensate the community for not preventing the damage to mosques during the 1992-1995 war. The destroyed sites included the historic Arnaudija and Ferhad Pasha (Ferhadija) mosques.

But on November 6, the Banja Luka district court ruled that the claims, brought by the Muslim community in 2000, had exceeded a three-year statute of limitations.

The lawyer for the Muslim community, Esad Hrvacic, told IWPR that he believed the court’s findings had not been valid, as the statute of limitations provides for a deadline of five, rather than three, years. In the case of tort law, as opposed to criminal law, Republika Srpska laws provide for a relative lapse of three years, and an absolute one of five years, he said.

“The charges were filed in 2000, which is within the deadline, as it was only possible to file the charges from 1996 - or rather, only once the war had ended,” Hrvacic said.

IWPR sought to put Hrvacic’s claims to the Banja Luka district court, but officials declined to comment.

Hrvacic said that both the February 2009 and the most recent ruling had been of historic importance.

“It clearly enough - in both instances - states that Republika Srpska, or rather its interior ministry, MUP, is responsible for not having done anything to prevent the demolition of religious buildings. In that context, even this is a satisfying verdict,” he said.

Muharem Omerdic, chief of the Department of Faith and Education at the Islamic Community Main Office (Rijaset) in Sarajevo, claimed that more buildings belonging to the Muslim community had been damaged than those of any other.

“This demonstrates a planned attack against Bosnian Muslims with the clear aim of annihilating their culture and tradition,” he said.

In his statement to the IWPR, Omerdic said, “In my research, during the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, more than 1,500 buildings belonging to the Islamic community were destroyed. This includes unique buildings with centuries and decades of history inscribed into them.”

Hrvacic said that an appeal would be filed to the Republika Srpska Supreme Court - and if this failed, a complaint would be made the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“It is sad that it has to be a legal institution from abroad to confirm how justified is our claim. It is sad, because the Bosnian judiciary was supported by substantial financial means from both within and beyond the country,” he said.

Hrvacic also expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that claims for material indemnity could not be filed with the Hague tribunal. The court’s statute says it does not discuss material and pecuniary indemnity claims of damaged parties.

“In its statute, the tribunal never provided for the solution of issues such as material indemnity to victims or institutions, such as the state itself, or religious communities,” said Hrvacic.

Apart from this claim, the community is planning to file another collective one on the issue of the destruction of religious objects both in Republika Srpska and the Federation.

“These are pioneer projects for us,” Hrvacic said. “With these claims, we are opening up a new chapter of local legal practice which may be of interest to [international] law.”

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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