One of the central features of the internationally-led peacekeeping and civilian reconstruction mission in Bosnia was the extent to which it was concerned with facilitating the return of those displaced by the conflict and the reconstruction of a multi-ethnic society. The Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), which ended the conflict in Bosnia, included an entire annex (Annex 7) regulating the return of refugees and displaced persons. Annex 7 recognized the legal principle that displaced persons enjoyed the right to choose their destination. However it coupled the implementation of this right with a clear policy preference for reversing ethnic cleansing through the facilitation of return.
This study looks at several practical and theoretical problems that ultimately thwarted the Commission for Real Property Claims in achieving all that was hoped of it. In particular, the author argues that the intended solution was based on conceptual confusions that would have serious practical implications for the implementation of restitution programming. Strictly speaking, restitution is a form of reparations – a legal remedy for victims of violations of international law. From this perspective, refugees and displaced persons are entitled to restitution of the rights they enjoyed over their homes as a legal remedy corresponding to the human rights violations that previously uprooted them. By extension, once such rights are restored, displaced persons are free to exercise them as they see fit. They cannot be forced to return to homes that they no longer wish to live in.