Tag Archives: compensation

The Kosovo Constitutional Court on displaced persons’ property rights: Can mediation ever count as enforcement?

by Massimo Moratti

Protecting the property rights of displaced persons in post-conflict scenarios presents a number of interesting challenges, not least when internally displaced persons (IDPs) face illegal construction on their land and therefore are forced to seek remedies before the relevant institutions, including mass claims mechanisms.

One of these cases, which is probably not an isolated one, occurred recently in Kosovo, where the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA) is the local mass claim mechanism which inherited the competences of the UNMIK Housing and Property Directorate (HPD).  Established in 2006, the Kosovo Property Agency became an independent agency functioning in accordance with the Constitution of Kosovo after the unilateral declaration of independence.  The mandate of the KPA focuses on claims for land and commercial property, which were not addressed by the UNMIK HPD, since the HPD’s mandate did not cover such claims and the local courts were in theory competent for the receiving them. Since its inception, the KPA has collected claims for over 42,000 properties and decided 96% of those claims.

While the process of issuing decisions is approaching its end, the implementation of such decisions in a number of cases is becoming particularly problematic, especially those cases where a new building has been constructed on claimed properties. It is worth recalling that the KPA was created in 2006 and for the period 1999-2006 there was no claims mechanism to deal with claims for land, nor were courts capable of effectively processing such claims.  In the meantime, “a lot has been built in Kosovo”, to quote one of the officers of the Ombudsman office when contacted about the issue of illegal construction.

The problem the KPA is facing now is how to deal with such cases, where an illegal occupant has built a residential or commercial building on a claimed plot of land. In theory, the KPA could resolve to seize and demolish the building, sell it at an auction, broker a lease agreement or place the building under administration. However, practice has departed significantly from the procedures foreseen in the law. The KPA has instead developed a mediation procedure in order to try to solve these cases without resorting to destruction of buildings. IDPs facing illegal construction are now routinely informed by the KPA about the impossibility of demolish such buildings and offered the possibility for mediation.

This offer of mediation raises a number of issues and leaves a number of questions unanswered.  The case KI187/13 recently brought before the Constitutional Court of Kosovo highlights how the procedure of mediation collides with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In this case, a female IDP who left Kosovo in 1999 and has lived in destitute conditions since sought repossession of a large plot of land in an attractive location outside Pristina with significant commercial value. On the same plot, an illegal occupant had built three houses with a swimming pool. The applicant claimed her property in 2006 and a KPA decision in her favor became final and binding in 2013.

The KPA however told the applicant that they could not enforce her claim, because the property had changed since the time she owned it and the KPA lacked the resources to demolish the existing buildings. They offered instead to mediate between her and the illegal occupant. The applicant refused such mediation and instead addressed the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, claiming a violation of her rights to property, to a fair trial and to an effective remedy. Continue reading

Chilean court orders compensation for tsunami damages

by Rhodri C. Williams

Having apologized for their failure to protect victims of the Pinochet regime three decades ago, Chilean courts have now staked out a progressive position in responding to charges of government negligence that exacerbated the effects of the tsunami three years ago. According to the BBC, Chile’s Supreme Court awarded $100,000 to the survivors of Mr. Mario Ovando, who died as a result of a fatal blunder.

The court heard that following the earthquake, Mr Ovando had heard an announcement on the radio that there was no danger of a tsunami. On the basis of that he decided to stay in his home.

However, 20 minutes later his house was engulfed by huge waves. Although his relatives managed to free him and take him to hospital, Mr Ovando died three days later.

The Chilean Navy – which runs the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service – admitted after the tsunami that it had made errors in its diagnosis and had given unclear information to government officials.

The government issued an alert, then deactivated it, then revived it only after the deadly waves had struck.

As described here in response to a UN report on reparations for victims of terrorism, the Chilean Supreme Court ruling fits into a recent pattern of establishing higher duties of care for state authorities in the face of events once written off as ‘acts of God’. And as noted by the BBC, the current case is likely to herald many more suits by other victims of the Navy’s faulty diagnosis. As such ‘pounds of cure’ accumulate in national and regional practice, one can only hope they will highlight the relative attractiveness of ounces of prevention.

Chilean judiciary apologizes

In what the BBC has called an ‘unprecedented’ move, the Chilean National Association of Magistrates of the Judiciary has apologized for failing to protect the rights of those persecuted by the Pinochet regime in the 1970s and 80s. Coming just a week shy of the 40th anniversary of the September 11, 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, the judicial apology appears to come as part of a broader moment of reflection.

Although the executive branch and security forces clearly had the most to answer for at the time, it seems the judiciary played an entirely passive role:

The magistrates’ association acknowledged that the Chilean judiciary could and should have done much more to safeguard the rights of those persecuted by the dictatorship. It said the judges had ignored the plight of victims who had demanded their intervention.

Chilean courts rejected about 5,000 cases seeking help on locating missing loved ones abducted or killed by the authorities. Critics say their usual response was they had no information about their fate.

Such a judicial apology raises an interesting set of issues. Apologies are often seen as sensitive because even as symbolic acts, they can have material consequences. There is a fine line between taking moral responsibility for atrocities and taking legal responsibility for them and compensation claims are usually quick to follow.

For instance, the recent admission by the Farc in Colombia that it shared responsibility for the suffering that has resulted from its prolonged insurgency is seen as a prelude to wrangling over its liability to compensate victims in the ongoing peace negotiations with the Government.

However, apologies are usually issued by the executive or perhaps the legislative branch, with the consequences likely to be handled through the courts or administrative reparations programs. When a Court admits liability for violations in the form of systematic failure to provide remedies, what are the consequences of that? Its hard to imagine that the relatives of the disappeared turned away twenty years ago would be permitted to go back to those courts now in order to sue them.

It is also interesting to query whether this could lead to a trend. I suspect TN readers can think of other courts that may have failed to take the high road in the past or are neglecting to do so now. Any nominations for the next few judiciaries that should be getting in line for some sackcloth and ashes?

 

Beyond restitution: New book explores property rights and durable solutions for the displaced

by Anneke Smit

Anneke Smit is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor (Canada), where she teaches Property Law. She has worked on displacement and post-conflict property issues for more than a decade, including in Kosovo with OSCE and in Georgia with a grassroots human rights NGO. She is the author of The Property Rights of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Beyond Restitution, published this year by Routledge.

Recent posts in TN by Roger Duthie and Megan Bradley as well as Rhodri Williams, highlight the importance of transitional justice in bringing displacement to an end and encouraging processes of reconciliation. Yuliya Alieva’s post on the two decades of internal displacement in Azerbaijan is a critical reminder of the intensifying need to consider the full range of durable solutions – local integration and resettlement in addition to return, in particular in protracted displacements. These discussions reinforce the importance of post-conflict housing, land and property (HLP) restitution to contribute to these processes, but they are also reminders of the limitations of the current international legal framework.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the enormous strides which have been taken in the last decades with respect to post-conflict HLP restitution. The international legal framework on HLP restitution is since 2005 dominated by the (non-binding) UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (The Pinheiro Principles). Principle 2 of the Pinheiro Principles states in part:

2.1 All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any housing, land and/or property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived[.]

As such, the Principles prioritize restitution “in kind” (or in rem) as the preferred remedy to conflict-related HLP rights deprivations. Other remedies, including but not limited to compensation, are possible but these are clearly subordinated to return of the actual property. Since their inception, the Pinheiro Principles have been discussed and publicized widely. At first, it seemed taboo to criticize the Pinheiro Principles, given the substantial and hard-won contribution they made to a critical area of post-conflict justice and solutions to displacement. Recently, however, it seems the floodgates of criticism have opened.

Rhodri’s recent blog post on the UN high level rule of law meeting alluded to the place of HLP restitution within the framework of rights-based humanitarianism; in what I find a particularly compelling warning about that movement, Hugo Slim wrote a few years ago in a paper for ODI that “as a debate essentially concerned with a political, moral and legal framework, rights-based humanitarianism may never leave the paper and seminar rooms where it is debated and find the means to have a practical effect.” This is, of course, the crux of the problem with the Pinheiro Principles – they are a lovely piece of work on paper but one which in many cases has had trouble achieving a significant practical outcome. Much of the criticism seems to point to this question: are refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) actually better off for the existence of the Pinheiro Principles?

I am a pragmatist at heart, but one who does not believe we should throw the human rights baby out with the bathwater. In Beyond Restitution my critique is two-fold. First, I argue, through a discussion that includes consideration of the development of the rights to HLP restitution and return, analysis of a dozen post-conflict case studies, and consideration of the meaning of “home” in the context of forced displacement, that the desired results of return and reintegration could not have been expected to flow directly from Pinheiro-style restitution. Second, I take this analysis as a springboard to address how the post-conflict HLP framework might continue to develop in a way which more effectively contributes to durable solutions, without losing a necessary link to transitional justice and reconciliation. I outline two of my primary arguments here; the book of course treats them in more detail:

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In search of a duty-bearer: No remedy for destruction of property during Kosovo’s international supervision

by Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti

It is easy to guess that, as in most legal aid programmes implemented in post-conflict settings, the majority of cases handled by the EU funded legal aid project “Further support to refugees and IDPs in Serbia” concern repossession of property owned by IDPs and refugees. These are mostly cases of property restitution and/or compensation for property that can’t be repossessed. This topic has been the focus of a newly released report dealing with these aspects of the right to property restitution and/or compensation.

When dealing with competent officials in the field, be they international or domestic, we often hear the statement that the case of Kosovo is “specific” or “particularly complicated”. For those dealing with housing, land and property rights, this should be nothing new. Every displacement crisis has its own specific aspects and by their own inherent nature property cases are very often “particularly complicated”. Unfortunately, the rationale behind the explanation of this kind is that international human rights standards shouldn’t be applied, and possibly the status quo shouldn’t be touched.

In its most recent report the Project assesses a number of questions “specific” to the context of Kosovo and, in fact, shows how international standards are applicable to the Kosovo context.  Although it is not always clear who the duty bearers are, it is clear that IDPs and those forced from their homes by the conflict are the right holders and that the difficulty in identifying the duty bearer renders the rights of IDPs meaningless.

The report proceeds from the general rule that internally displaced persons enjoy the same set of rights as any other citizen of the state within which they reside. When applied to the situation of an internally displaced person from Kosovo this would mean that they can assert their property rights on the same basis as any other resident of Kosovo.

Notwithstanding the fact that the applicable legal framework contains strong guarantees of the right to property, including the right to be compensated for unlawful damaging or destruction of one’s property, the position of IDPs is often not adequately taken into account by the relevant national and international authorities and their claims remain largely unattended.

The report deals with a specific caseload, the famous “18,000 compensation claims”. These are claims that were brought by IDPs from Kosovo against the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Kosovo for compensation of damages to private property that occurred as a result of the 1999 NATO air campaign and the March 2004 riots. Those claims were for long time “frozen” by a request of UNMIK, which later on was found in violation of the right to a fair trial by the UNMIK Human Rights Advisory Panel, in Opinions released on February 23, 2011 (Esat Berisa Case no. 27/08 and others v UNMIK) and March 24, 2010 (Petko Milogoric, Case no. 38/08 and others v UNMIK)

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Colombia’s Victims’ Law enacted – Last stand or new beginning for programmatic property restitution?

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a signing ceremony attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ratified the Victims’ Law last Saturday, fulfilling his  unexpected and ambitious post-election pledge to enact a property restitution bill. Commentary on TN has highlighted both the unprecedented nature of this effort and the formidable obstacles it faces.

The fate of this legislation takes on additional significance against the background of current debates over the post-conflict ‘right to restitution’ proclaimed most prominently in the 2005 Pinheiro Principles. As early enthusiasm about restitution has faded, the need to respond to prevailing humanitarian trends such as urban vulnerability and protracted displacement has led to an increased emphasis on local integration as a durable solution. The extent to which programmatic restitution – and the promotion of voluntary return – remains seen as a viable complementary strategy to local integration efforts may depend on the outcome of the increasingly rare test cases, such as Colombia, that tackle this challenge head on.

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Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.