Croatia violated the rights of a Serb whose property was stolen and damaged after he fled the country due to the 1991-95 war, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Thursday.
The complainant, Nikola Dabić, is a Croatian citizen born in 1949 and living in Sunja (Croatia). The case concerned the seizure of the applicant’s property and its use for the accommodation of refugees, during which time it was alleged that property had been damaged and items had been stolen. Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant complained that the State should be liable to pay him compensation for his stolen and damaged property.
Fair satisfaction: 3,200 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and 833 EUR for costs and expenses “, says the Court in a press release.
According to media reports, Dabić fled Croatia in August 1995 during the Storm military operation against Serbian forces.
A year later, Croatian authorities allowed another man and his family, refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to temporarily use Dabić’s house in the village of Sunja in central Croatia.
The decision was possible because in September 1995 a new law came into force that allowed property belonging to people who had left Croatia after October 1990 to be seized and taken from the state. The law also authorized local authorities to temporarily accommodate other people on such properties.
In 2000, Dabić applied to regain possession of his home and the application was granted, but he noted that all property in the house, as well as some vehicles and livestock, had been stolen and that parts of the house had been severely damaged.
In 2003, he filed a civil lawsuit in the Sisak Municipal Court against the state, the municipality and the man living in his home, seeking compensation for his stolen and destroyed property.
Croatian courts rejected Dabić’s action on the grounds that there was no legal basis for holding the state accountable in such circumstances.
During Operation Storm, Croatian forces recaptured 18 per cent of Croatian territory that had been controlled by Serbs since 1991. The operation ended the war in the country, but during and after the operation, about 600, mostly elderly Serb civilians, were killed. 200,000 Serbs were forced to flee their homes in Croatia.
Following Operation Storm, Croatia gave Serbs living in the country 90 days to make a request for the return of their seized property, while at the same time imposing visa barriers to ensure that they could not return to the country and regain what was theirs.