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Property Restitution in Eastern Europe: Domestic and International Human Rights Law Responses

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For more content, see Review of Socialist Law.

This article presents an overview of how those East European countries that are members of the Council of Europe have approached the problems of restitution as a means of reparation for past injustices. In doing so, attention will be paid to: the entitled persons and the extent of restitution; the underlying motivations vis-à-vis the form of reparation (restitution in kind or compensation), and attitudes towards minority groups and foreigners as part of the restitution process.

Emphasis will also be given to the role played by international instruments (the ECHR and its future Protocol 12, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, various UN resolutions, etc), as well as by judicial institutions (the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee) in the evolution of the restitution process in Eastern Europe in general, and regarding such issues as equality between foreigners and nationals as well as minority and religious groups and the elaboration of an international standard of restitution as reparation for abuses of human rights in particular.

The bodies of the ECHR have managed to avoid problems related to restitution and reparations for past injustices by arguing that the right of restitution is not guaranteed by art.1 of Protocol 1 to the the ECHR. But the entry into force of a new Protocol 12 to the Convention will likely result in changes being made in this thought process, at least as regards the position of foreigners. If measures denying restitution, owing to the claimant's nationality, were taken after ratifi cation of Protocol 12, the way should be opened in the future to foreigners (in addition to procedures before the UN Human Rights Committee) to more effectively defend their rights relative to such restorative measures: notably, the possibility of seizing the Strasbourg Court with claims relating to justifi cation for "unequal treatment".

The right to remedy the injustices committed to the victims of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law has appeared with increasing frequency on the agenda of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Furthermore, in its recent case law, the UN Human Rights Committee has evidenced a concern over several questions relating to the respect of possessions; it has already opted for the proposition that any discrimination on the basis of nationality in restitution legislation can be deemed to be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Lastly, after ratifi cation of Protocol 12, we can expect a link to be forged between the vision of the UN Commission on Human Rights and that of the European Court of Human Rights that may—in the future—lead to the elaboration of a common international mechanism regulating restitution as a means for the reparation of abuses of human rights.


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