Housing and property restitution and returns of displaced persons after a conflict are separate but interrelated and interdependent processes that require a strategic planning, involving all stakeholders in order to be successful. Housing and property restitution, combined with security safeguards and providing socio-economic development opportunities are pre-requisite for the sustainable return and reintegration of displaced persons and refugees. 

The rights of refugees and displaced persons to return and to housing and property restitution are internationally recognized standards. The right of displaced persons and refugees to return and its implications with regard to the right to property and to an effective remedy have been most recently articulated in the “Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons”, adopted by the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in 2005. These principles were developed in order to consolidate the existing standards and to ensure consistency of the response of the international community to housing and property restitution challenges in post-conflict societies.

In Kosovo, minority returns have been scarce despite the development of comprehensive returns mechanisms and strategies by the international community and the PISG. The fact that returns remain a priority eight years after the conflict reflects the reality that all mechanisms and strategies developed were not successful in providing adequate protection of the  rights of returnees. The commitment to ensure voluntary minority returns is therefore reaffirmed in the recent comprehensive proposal for a status settlement in Kosovo. Most recently, the Council of Europe has highlighted the importance  of this objective to the UNMIK Special Representative of the Secretary General. The reasons for the insufficient number of minority returns in Kosovo are manifold. Some of the main findings in this report that show the scale of the problem are as follows:   

·          In June 2007, 10,405 residential properties belonging to currently displaced persons remain destroyed 

·          As of June 2007, the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA), successor of the Housing and Property Directorate (HPD), has  received more than 23,629 claims over residential, agricultural and commercial private property;   

·          More than 20,000 claims requesting compensation for war related damage are currently suspended and pending an adequate solution;    

·          Thousands of individuals remain displaced since the 1999 conflict within and outside of Kosovo – some as a result of the March 2004 riots- and have not, for various reasons, chosen to return to their homes and to recover their possessions[2].  

Many displaced persons and refugees have began a new life elsewhere and do not intend to return to their places of origin. Some have sold their properties. Many live in poor housing conditions in other areas of Kosovo or in Serbia proper.  Through its monitoring activities and field presence in Kosovo, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has assessed the practical realization of the housing and property restitution and return process in Kosovo. 

This report analyzes in depth the development of the new returns structures, the housing and property restitution process,  the resolution of claims related to conflict damage and other relevant challenges to the protection of displaced persons’ rights. The March 2004 Riots Reconstruction Program, responding to the crisis which temporarily halted returns and housing and property restitution, is also analyzed. 

The assessment focuses on voluntary returns and reintegration and does not assess in depth the challenges resulting from the increased numbers of forced repatriations to Kosovo, nor the situation of asylum seekers and refugees. It also does not comprehensively address all challenges to  the protection of the rights of displaced persons and refugees and does not fully address the issues of interference with human rights of the persons currently occupying the housing, land or property of displaced persons and refugees. 

For the purposes of this report, the OSCE uses the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (the ”Pinheiro Principles”) as an analytical tool[3].  

The OSCE has identified various areas that need further attention. As for the implementation of the structural reforms in the returns process, the areas of concern are as follows:    

·          Funding of returns projects;    

·          property rights safeguards in returns projects;    

·          guidance on procedures for housing and land allocation;   

·          integration of returns and displaced persons protection in the municipal development plans;    

·          effective displaced persons’ participation; and measures to improve housing of displaced persons where they currently live.

Furthermore, the OSCE has identified a number of concerns with regards to the protection of displaced persons and refugees’ rights such as: 

·          Existence of an unresolved caseload of compensation claims;   

·          Lack of effective responses to fraudulent transactions;  

·          Irregular use of temporary representatives in courts;  

·          Lack of effective protection of empty reconstructed properties.

 

With regard to the Kosovo Property Agency’s (KPA) mandate, the main challenges are related to the implementation of the decisions of the Kosovo Property Claims Commission (KPCC). It is important, thus, to ensure that subsidiary legislation is adopted and that important ongoing initiatives, such as the rental scheme, are adequately implemented. Providing the possibility of land administration as a remedy for successful claimants creates opportunities for both local rural economic development and regular income to displaced persons’ provision. Co-ordination of the activities of KPA and return structures would help the return process  in practice ( for example throught mass implementation of decisions related to specific areas)[4]

The OSCE believes that the housing, land and property rights aspects of the comprehensive strategy developed by UN and the PISG need to be strengthened and prioritised in the context of the status transition and to become an integral part of the status implementation process. This will help prevent future displacement and allow for better living conditions for displaced persons.

The full text of the report is available at:

http://osce.org/documents/mik/2007/07/25813_en.pdf  (in English)                                                              

http://www.osce.org/documents/mik/2007/07/25813_sr.pdf (in Serbian)



[1] Source: Housing and Property Directorate Website. This figure leads to estimates of remaining displaced population lower than the CCK and UNHCR estimates and closer to the calculations of the European Stability Initiative.  [2] The Co-ordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohjia sources list up to 242,381 persons belonging to Kosovo Serb and Kosovo RAE communities who are displaced within and outside Kosovo. Source CCK Website (http://www.kc.gov.yu/D-ENGLISH/dokumenti-eng/program-povratka-eng.html ) accessed on 31 January 2007. The NGO European Stability Initiative (ESI) considers that two thirds of the pre-war Kosovo Serb population remain in Kosovo and estimates the displacement figures outside Kosovo to be 65,000 and the figures of Kosovo Serbs living in Kosovo to be 130,000.

[3] These principles were formally endorsed by the United Nations Sub-commission on the Promotion and August 2005. (Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Protection of Human Rights on the 11 Refugees and Displaced Persons. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2005/17) 

[4] See “An Evaluation of the Housing and Property Directorate in Kosovo”, by Bjorn Vagle and Fernando

de Medina, Nordem Report 12/2006, page 107.