Destruction of Bosnia’s mosques during war could go unpunished

Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka under reconstruction in 2014. Photo: Слободни умјетник

The case against several individuals accused of destroying six mosques during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be treated as a war crime campaigners have urged, after prosecutors dropped their investigations, citing the statue of limitations.

The city of Banja Luka, the second largest in the country, saw all sixteen of its mosques destroyed by Serb forces and those loyal to them. Prosecutors had been trying to bring a case against those it believed were behind the stacking of explosives in the Zulfikarpasina and Mehdi-begova mosques in 1993, as well as four more places of Muslim worship destroyed in the Gradiska municipality to the north of the country.

The Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that they believe the investigations should have been treated as war crimes, with scope to bring the case to the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Instead the investigation was treated as a criminal offence under old Yugoslavian laws relating to the protection of cultural and historical monuments. That meant however, almost thirty years on, time ran out for those seeking justice. In a fresh move, the Islamic Community are requesting state level intervention.

“It has been requested that the demolition of mosques be criminally prosecuted as a war crime, crime against humanity or grave violation of provisions banning the destruction and appropriation of waqf property on a large scale,” Aldina Suljagic-Piro told BIRN.

Banja Luka was the centre of Republika Srpska, a proto-state funded and backed by Serbia during the civil war that raged between 1992 and 1995. The conflict saw 38,239 killed or disappeared, the vast majority Bosniaks.

In 2001, several thousand Serb nationalists attacked a group of Bosniaks attending a ceremony marking the beginning of the reconstruction of the historic 16th-century Ferhadija mosque, commonly regarded as one of the greatest achievements of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 16th century Ottoman Islamic architecture. Eight years later Serb authorities were ordered to pay £26m to local Muslims in compensation over the war damage.

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