Property Restitution

The General Assembly of the United Nations invited all states in 1950 to observe the 10th of December as the International Human Rights Day, honoring the Anniversary of the Assembly's adoption of the International Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Among the Rights that were recognized and protected was the Right to Property.

Since then all European organizations and bodies have also recognized this right, and the European Union now is not an exception, because the Reform Treaty of Lisbon, signed by the European leaders in 2007, endorses all the European Human Rights Treaties and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights of Strasbourg to protect property rights and condemn all violations.

Speech of Stratos Paradias, President of UIPI ( Union Internationale De La Propriete Immobiliere):

"The Right to Property is widely recognized in international and national level as a true human right. But, what is important for the property owners, is that the Right to one's Private Property is not only recorded in the international treaties and the national legislations, but also respected, honored and practiced, as the basis for political freedom, the initiative for productive work and savings, for social and individual progress of the people everywhere. And it is a Human Right that concerns every human being on earth because it is affecting everyday, everybody on this planet!!

Today there are still many who forget that the right to property provides an assurance and safeguards many other human rights such as political freedom, free speech, right to education etc. Individuals or people who can exercise their property rights, are far less vulnerable to oppression of any type and are in a much better position to enjoy the other human rights. No doubt that property rights were the first victim of any totalitarian system, like fascism or communism, and any international conflict. And in any war, the property of the "other side" is among the first victims. But, we have all lived to witness what has happened during the last century, to states and societies who had deprived their citizens of their Property Rights, and they thought that this could last forever!

When, in the middle of the 20th century, communism ruled in Eastern Europe, property rights were heavily attacked and even abolished, because marxist philosophy was based on the abolition of private property rights, especially the means of production. They either destroyed the property of unwanted people on ethnical or political ground or launched confiscation. Property means economic strength, that is the basis of economic freedom. And there is no political freedom without a reasonable degree of economic freedom. Democracy can be practiced by people that are free to decide what is good for them and the society. People whom the system denies the right to property are not free and not in position to care themselves and for their future. We strongly believe that the lack of respect for private property was one of the main reasons why the communist regimes collapsed financially and, of course, politically at the end of last century.

In the non-communist world, during the same century of wars, but also of rapid development and progress in most countries, it was widely accepted that the free enjoyment of one's property is a right absolutely vital for the citizens of all countries, a driving force of private initiative, of productive work and savings, of the increase of the wealth and prosperity all over the world. Concerning private real estate property, today this sector houses millions of European citizens and business activities and contributes tremendously to the economic and social life of Europe, and also to the budgets of all European States. Therefore, private property rights are extremely important, and should be guaranteed for the common benefit.

This was why on the 10th of December of 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was signed in New York, included in its article No 17 the recognition and protection of Property Rights as a genuine Human Right!

The European Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Rome two years later, and the protocol No 1, concerning the protection of private property even later on, while on December 2001, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, signed in Nice, provided the same in its article No 17.

Unfortunately, today there are still countries, or situations, where property rights are not fully respected. Even today, in many democratic countries, property rights are violated in many ways by states or local authorities, by either expropriation without full compensation, or indirectly through heavy taxation, unfair rent regulations, environmental restrictions, building prohibitions and so many other methods.

Especially in most ex-communist countries of eastern Europe, some of them already members of the European Union, the process of restitution of real estate properties to the former owners is far from being completed, or is facing serious procedural problems, while in some other countries, especially in the Balkans, it has not even started yet!
Thousands of former owners have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights for this reason. This is a problem that seeks an urgent political solution. These countries in most cases respect private property acquired recently in dubious circumstances, but not the property rights of those who owned the same property some decades ago and lost it by acts of the totalitarian regime. How can these countries, EU members or not, be trusted when they invite new foreign investors to buy land, property and do business there, when they do not respect the property rights of their own citizens?

On the other hand, in European level, as we all know, real estate property matters are kept in the competence of the Member States. In spite of this, today there is a sector where the Right to Property is being undermined by the threat to recognize a controversial direct Right to housing for all inhabitants of Europe!
Nobody is against the idea that all people should be adequately and decently sheltered, but when decent housing is a problem, it is the duty of the community to provide it. This is certainly not the duty of house owners, as one could understand from statements of some activists, just as it is not the duty of farmers and food producing industries to provide a free lunch for everybody. UIPI is proposing the recognition of the Right to Aid for Housing and is demanding measures to assist the private rented sector in providing more housing units, with fewer restrictions and lower taxation of private landlords.

So, coming back to where we are now, in this celebration of the World Property Day, we strongly believe that Albania must show to Europe that human rights and especially property rights are respected in this country. Albania must follow the road to the full restitution of all confiscated properties. The sooner, the better!

Conscious that the battle for the right to property is the battle for one of the fundamental human rights, we promise to the Albanian owners that in their struggle for their rights, they will always have by their side the UIPI which, on the ground of the Thessaloniki Declaration of 2004 and the Declaration of Oslo of 2005, shall not spare the efforts with the international entities for the realization of the process of restitution of the properties to the rightful owners in Albania".

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May this speech be an inspiration to the authorities in Czech Republic and Poland, as well as many other countries that are failing to observe Fundamental Human Rights.

Eduardo Lichnowsky - edugraf2@hotmail.com
08.21.2009