The UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (The Pinheiro Principles): Suggestions for Improved Applicability

Lay Summary 

The 2005 UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons recognize the right of refugees and displaced persons to repossess property lost due to armed conflict. The Principles reverse the international community's previous approval of property seizure occurring during war and resulting from organized population transfers, a number of which took place in the first half of the twentieth century. They also consolidate the norm, emerging since 1948, of the right of refugees and displaced persons to return not only to their countries of origin, but also to their actual homes, and provide a set of standards for property repossession regimes to be applied worldwide.

This research examines the application of the principles in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and identifies six key issues that require further refinement. These are: first, the option of resettlement as equally valid as return; second, the displacement of temporary occupants; third, the designation of responsibility for property during secondary occupation; fourth, temporal limitations on repossession; fifth, multiple conceptions of property; and finally, the co-ordination of regional restitution regimes.

The Principles would be more comprehensive if they were expanded to include non-Western forms of ownership and land-usage rights that might apply in cases of communal ownership or nomadic use. It argues that these details would edge the Principles closer to being universal guidelines. The Principles are a clear indicator of the strengthening norm of post-conflict repossession of property and a resource that will guide the establishment of restitution regimes worldwide.

Published in Journal of Refugee Studies, n. 24, no. 2, p. 304-322, 2011

Political Science
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Human Rights
Social Sciences
Political Science
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Public Administration
Start date 
1 Jan 2011