Conference on Sustainable Property Restitution and Solutions to Displacement in Kosovo During Transition

Final Conference Document and Recommendations

26 – 27 November 2007, Grand Hotel, Prishtinë/Priština

Eight years after the war, the restitution of property rights continues to be one of the mayor challenges for Kosovo. Approximately 17,000 minority returns have taken place since 1999, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Thousands remain displaced and their rights are not adequately protected. On 26-27 November 2007, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, in cooperation with the Spanish Non Governmental Organization ‘Movement for Peace’ and the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning organized a conference in Prishtinë/Priština entitled ‘You are displaced, your rights are not’ building upon the ideas and recommendations highlighted in the ‘Eight Year After’ report published in June 2007. The purpose of the conference was to address the unresolved property restitution issues of concern as well as to asses ways to find durable solutions to displacement through a broadly inclusive and consultative process.

This document provides a brief background to the issue of property rights and restitution for displaced persons from Kosovo, summarizes the key points which came out of the conference discussions and details the specific recommendations upon which conference participants agreed.

The conference highlighted a number of key issues which contribute to weaken the protection of the rights of displaced persons. Moreover, it facilitated the development of policy and legal recommendations:

– Lack of funding and instances of obstruction by local authorities make property restitution through the Kosovo Property Agency a challenging process.

– The legal and institutional framework is not prepared to accommodate the special needs of displaced persons. Municipalities and courts cannot notify them adequately, the legal framework in place is inadequate.

– Cadastral and judicial records pertinent to Kosovo remain displaced in Serbia. Moreover, there is no adequate public notice and review procedure to protect displaced persons when changes in the immovable property rights register take place due to technical work or property transfers. In this sense, there is a clear need to improve the technical institutional co-operation between Republic of Serbia and the institutions of Kosovo in the area of justice, immovable property rights registration and other public services.

– Conflict related destruction of informal settlements should in no case lead to further segregation of Kosovo Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian communities. Displaced persons who lived in informal settlements need special measures of land regularization in order to protect their housing rights. There is a need for a coordination and oversight body -including displaced persons’ representatives, civil society organizations and other key stakeholders- to review and regularly address the numerous technical and policy challenges which remain unresolved in the area of property restitution and displacement.

– Returns are not the only solution for displacement, a clear framework for local integration and resettlement (including land allocation schemes) are pending. This is a particularly pressing issue as thousands of displaced persons, those displaced in March 2004, continue to live in grossly inadequate conditions.

– Similarly, restitution in kind is not the only remedy available for loss of the enjoyment of property rights as a consequence of a conflict. Compensation as a remedy should also be given due consideration, in line with international principles on housing and property restitution.

– More effective outreach activities to displaced persons on the part of municipalities, courts, the Kosovo Property Agency, legal aid non-governmental organizations and other interested institutions are required in order to provide accurate information.

The conference report is available here (in English/in Serbian).