Experts Criticise Croatia Over Property Rights

Seventeen years after the Dayton accords which stopped the Bosnian war, the signatory countries are yet to fully implement the agreement.The US-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement, which was signed in 1995, includes sections on citizenship and property issues which the three signatories – Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have still not fully addressed.

Ratko Bubalo, a researcher for the Humanitarian Center for Integration and Tolerance, says that Serbia and Bosnia have made the most significant moves towards integrating those citizens of the former Yugoslav republics who sought protection after the conflicts, while Croatia has made more limited efforts towards resolving this issue.

“Serbia and Bosnia have completely fulfilled their obligations in this area. In terms of numbers, Serbia has accepted 800,000 people from the ex-Yugoslav countries as its own citizens,” says Bubalo.

“Croatia, however, has put up ethnic barriers to those who wish to obtain Croatian citizenship, and only ethnic Croats have been able to enjoy that right. Serbs and Bosniaks who were resident in Croatia during the 1991 conflict have still not obtained citizenship,” he adds.

“Unresolved Issues among the Countries Signatories to the Dayton Agreement” a study published by the Igman Initiative, an association of various NGOs, points out that the agreement emphasises the importance of returning property and tenancy rights to displaced persons and refugees, to enable them to return home.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, out of 1.1 million housing units registered during the census in 1991, 42 per cent were destroyed during the war between 1992 and 1995.

Despite the enormous damage, the authorities in Bosnia have managed to return 99 per cent of property to its legal owners, regardless of whether they were located in Bosnia and Herzegovina or in another country where they had found refuge.

The right to the return of immovable property was disputed only in relation to the issue of the so called “army apartments”, apartments owned by the former Yugoslav People’s Army.

This issue was approached differently in the different entities in Bosnia. Republika Srpska has returned the apartments to former officers of JNA, regardless of their relocation to Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia or Montenegro.

The return of those apartments in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina still remains unsolved.

Vehid Sehic, a member of the Igman Initiative from Bosnia, says that a law must be brought in to remove time limits on the resolution of property issues, as has been done for war crimes, to prevent injustices in this area.

The situation in Croatia when it comes to property rights still remains largely unresolved.

“The process of establishing mechanisms of restitution has been very slow. There have been significant obstacles to progress, and even now it has not been implemented in a way that helps people find lasting solutions,” reads the Igman Initiative’s white paper on property issues.

“Out of 132, 600 people who returned to Croatia after the conflict, only 38 percent remained. Forty five per cent went back to Serbia or Bosnia as they could not find a way to stay on after their return. The rest of them died,” says Miodrag Linta, a representative of Croatian Serb refugees.

The Igman Initiative is an umbrella organisation for some 140 NGOs from across the region. It aims to promote and facilitate dialogue between the states of the so-called Dayton Triangle, and pushes for the complete normalisation of relations between the neighbours.

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