When the long and brutal war in Bosnia and Herzegovina finally ended in 1995 with the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), the country was in tatters. One of the many challenges facing post-war Bosnia was the establishment of a legal system based on the rule of law. This (re)building, from a human rights perspective, was characterised by three particular features. First, the key normative framework was the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with which the Bosnian legal system was not familiar at all. Secondly, that treaty was not particularly geared towards the specific conflict-related problems Bosnia was facing, such as large-scale displacement and expropriation. Thirdly, the judiciary itself had, just as most of the power structures within the country, become divided along ethnic lines as a result of the war. Many citizens did not think of the country's courts as being impartial or independent.
In order to tackle these problems a sui generis court was created as part of the DPA: the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber. The Chamber was, in the first place, meant to cement effective supervision of the warring parties’ new human rights obligations into the Bosnian state structure. In practice, however, it also served a second function: the Chamber became a judicial translator of norms in applying general international human rights law, preponderantly the ECHR, in a tailormade fashion to the particular Bosnian post-conflict context. Its case law and practice in many ways incrementally embedded those external, international norms in the domestic legal order. The very existence of a new human rights institution and the direct applicability of international norms could, moreover, serve as points of connection for domestic judges and officials who were willing to strengthen the rule of law.
As a mixed institution, with both domestic and international elements, the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber provides a revealing case study on the ways in which international law can be applied nationally in post-conflict states. In order to assess how the Chamber inserted the legal Fremdkörper of international human rights in Bosnian practice, this chapter will look at how the Chamber interpreted and applied several substantive ECHR rights: the protection of property and housing rights.