The Pinheiro Principles
United Nations Principles on Housing and Property Restitution
for Refugees and Displaced Persons
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
Principle 2: All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any
housing, land or property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived...
- The Pinheiro Principles
TABLE OF CONTENTS
An Introduction to ‘The Pinheiro Principles’
UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees
and Displaced Persons – The Pinheiro Principles
Scope and application
Principle 1. Scope and application
The right to housing and property restitution
Principle 2. The right to housing and property restitution
Principle 3. The right to non-discrimination
Principle 4. The right to equality between men and women
Principle 5. The right to be protected from displacement
Principle 6. The right to privacy and respect for the home
Principle 7. The right to peaceful enjoy ment of possessions
Principle 8. The right to adequate housing
Principle 9. The right to freedom of movement
The right to voluntary return in safety and dig nity
Principle 10. The right to voluntary return in safety and dig nity
Legal, policy, procedural and institutional implementation mechanisms
Principle 11. Compatibility with international human rights,
refugee and humanitarian law and related standards
Principle 12. National procedures, institutions and mechanisms
Principle 13. Accessibility of restitution claims procedures
Principle 14. Adequate consultation and participation in decision-making
Principle 15. Housing, land and property records and documentation
Principle 16. The rights of tenants and other non-ow ners
Principle 17. Secondary occupants
Principle 18. Legislative measures
Principle 19. Prohibition of arbitrary and discriminatory laws
Principle 20. Enforcement of restitution decisions and judg ments
Principle 21. Compensation
The role of the international community, including international organizations
Principle 22. Responsibility of the international community
Principle 23. Interpretation
Applying The Pinheiro Principles: Selected Unresolved Restitution Cases
AN INTRODUCTION TO ‘THE PINHEIRO PRINCIPLES’
This booklet contains the full text of an important new international standard which outlines the rights
of refugees and displaced persons to return not only to their countries when they see ﬁt to do so, but to
their original homes and lands as well. The Pinheiro Principles are the culmination of more than a decade of
international and local activities in support of the emerging right to housing and property restitution as a core
remedy to displacement.
Though few experiences can be more harrowing than being forced by circumstance or desig n from one’s home,
every year many millions of people are left with no other option than ﬂeeing their homes, lands and properties
against their will. Whether caused by armed conﬂict, genocide, ‘ethnic cleansing’ or large-scale violations of
housing, land and property rights carried out by governments, rebel g roups or others, displacement is always
nasty, always brutish, but all too rarely is it short.
Ofﬁcial statistics now point to more than 12 million refugees worldwide, with an additional 25 million internally
displaced persons (IDPs) dispersed in camps, slums and temporary shelters within the borders of their ow n
countries. This g roup of some 37 million people, however, is only part of the displacement dy namic facing the
world today. If we add to this total those forced from their homes by politically-motivated forced evictions,
development-induced displacement, natural disasters or other means, the actual number of the world ’s displaced
is proba bly closer to 50-60 million, if not considera bly more.
Some of the most serious problems facing displaced people around the globe are the loss of land, housing and
property rights during their displacement and the consequent ina bility to return to their original homes and
lands once they choose to voluntarily repatriate. For virtually all of the worlds displaced, their main wish is to
return to their original homes in safety and dig nity.
These issues are at the centre of the entire restitution equation; whatever its cause, displacement must always
be treated as a phenomenon in need of remedy and redress when those forced from their places of ha bitual
residence determine the time is right. The process of housing and property restitution provides this remedy within
a legally sound, coherent and practical framework which should bring displacement – and often its causes - to
a permanent, sustaina ble and just end.
People displaced by forces beyond their control should never face the prospect of losing their housing, land
or property rights simply because they were violently forced to leave or otherwise ﬂed an insecure situation in
search of protection. And even when actual return and repossession is not considered safe, desira ble or possible
by the displaced themselves (for instance, when refugees choose to seek asylum, resettlement and permanent
residence in a safe third country), few displaced persons willingly renounce their rights to the places they called
home before ﬂeeing, even if they have no intention of actually returning. Nor should they have to.
And yet, housing, land and property disputes between the displaced and those currently living without their
consent in their homes (the process of secondary occupation), inadequate legal protection and remedies for
returnees and a range of other problems often act as strong impediments to the exercise of the right to return and
related rights to housing and property restitution. Consequently, millions of refugees and displaced persons who
desperately want to return to their original homes are una ble to do so because restitution rights are not treated
with due seriousness by the relevant authorities and international actors in the countries concerned.
Ultimately, the concept of restitution provides a source of hope and a wellspring of potential justice. Restitution
offers the displaced the promise that a history of injustice, the a buse of basic rights, or terror and harassment
can actually, at least in this one important respect, be reversed. In what must be seen, then, as a major advance
within the global human rights code, this aspiration to recover and repossess the dwelling, land or property the
displaced called home when their displacement began, has emerged in recent years as a distinct and claima ble
right applica ble to all displaced persons who wish to invoke it. The broader right to voluntary, safe and dig niﬁed
return is now understood to encompass not merely returning to one’s country of origin, but to one’s original
home as well. This is one reason, for instance, why UNHCR and other international and national agencies are now
paying g reater attention to the restitution elements of return than ever before.
From General Concepts and National Laws to a Comprehensive Global Standard
Housing, land and property restitution rights for refugees and displaced persons are ﬁrmly g rounded within
the core principles of many ﬁelds of international law. As a legal concept, of course, restitution has been treated
as a central (and often preferred) remedy for violations of legal obligations within many jurisdictions for more
than a century. Innumera ble United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions adopted over
the past 60 years explicitly address housing and property restitution rights. In recent decades, a range of
international human rights bodies and national institutions have reafﬁrmed the right of all refugees and IDPs to
return freely to their countries and to have restored to them housing and property of which they were deprived,
or to be compensated for property that cannot be restored to them. The recog nition throughout the international
community of the direct links between housing, land and property restitution and peace, sta bility, reconciliation
and economic development have bolstered support for the human rights remedies offered to the displaced by
restitution rights, which are now widely viewed as key elements of any constructive peace-building strategy.
In recent decades, in post-conﬂict contexts such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Tajikistan; in postauthoritarian countries like South Africa or Iraq; and in post-communist countries including East Germany,
Latvia and Albania, restitution rights have been recog nised, and laws and procedures developed and enforced.
In the process millions of displaced people have been a ble to return to repossess and reinha bit their original
homes, lands and properties. While many factors may account for the emergence of these new global standards
on housing and property restitution rights, perhaps the convergence of national-level restitution prog rammes,
combined with a widening global awareness of the plight of those who have thus far been left behind in the pursuit
of restitution rights, were the key driving forces behind the adoption of the Pinheiro Principles in August 2005.
The actual process within the United Nations leading up to what ﬁnally became the Pinheiro Principles
was initiated in 1997 when the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) proposed to the
Su b-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (the body that su bsequently endorsed
the Principles) to study “the return of refugees’ or displaced persons’ property.” In the following year, the
Su b-Commission made its ﬁrst foray into the area of restitution rights, and adopted resolution 1998/26 on
Housing and Property Restitution in the Context of the Return of Rights for Refugees and Internally Displaced
Persons, effectively sig naling the Su b-Commission’s serious attention to the restitution issue as a fundamental
human rights concern. In 1999, the UN Commission on Human Rights encouraged the Su b-Commission to
continue its work on housing and property restitution in the context of the return of refugees and IDPs.
In 2001, the Su b-Commission brought the process one step further and requested Su b-Commission expert,
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, of Brazil, to prepare a working paper on the topic.
After appointing Pinheiro as Special Rapporteur on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and
Internally Displaced Persons in 2002, and then considering his preliminary study in 2003, the Su b-Commission
asked the Special Rapporteur to prepare draft principles or guidelines on housing and property restitution
based on the initial conclusions of the preliminary study. In 2004, Pinheiro presented a preliminary set of
principles to the Su b-Commission for consideration and review. After providing detailed inputs, the
Su b-Commission then requested him to present a ﬁnal draft of the text in August 2005. Following an intensive
series of consultations with legal experts, UN agencies, States and civil society g roups during the intervening
year, the ﬁnal text was presented to the Su b-Commission and formally endorsed on 11 August 2005.
The Pinheiro principles are desig ned to provide practical guidance to States, UN agencies and the broader
international community on how best to address the complex legal and technical issues surrounding
housing, land and property restitution. For the ﬁrst time, the Principles provide a consolidated and
universal approach to dealing effectively with outstanding housing and property restitution claims.
They aug ment the international normative framework in the area of housing and property restitution rights, and
are g rounded ﬁrmly within existing international human rights and humanitarian law.
Sections II-IV of the Principles (Principles 2-10) re-afﬁrm existing human rights and apply them to the
speciﬁc question of housing and property restitution. National policy-makers, UN and NGO ofﬁcials and
others involved in the practical transformation of restitution rights from paper to deed, will ﬁnd Sections VVI (Principles 11-22) of particular relevance. In these sections, the Principles ela borate what States should do in
terms of developing national housing and property restitution procedures and institutions, and ensuring access
to these by all displaced persons. They stress the importance of consultation and participation in decision-making
by displaced persons, and then outline approaches to technical issues of housing, land and property records,
the rights of tenants and other non-ow ners and the question of secondary occupants. Legislative measures, the
prohibition of arbitrary and discriminatory laws, the enforcement of restitution decisions and judg ments and
the issue of compensation are then explored. Finally, Principle 22 discusses the responsibility of the international
community to protect housing and property restitution rights.
COHRE will be carrying out an extensive series of promotional, training, legal advocacy, litigation and support
activities in the near future based on The Pinheiro Principles, and looks forward to continuing to work together
with our partners throughout the world to bring the promise of restitution rights to refugees and displaced
persons every where. COHRE would like to express its deep appreciation to the Royal Ministry of Foreig n Affairs
(Norway), the Foreig n and Commonwealth Ofﬁce (United Kingdom), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), the Ofﬁce of Humanitarian Coordination and Assistance (OCHA) - Internal Displacement Division
(IDD), Cordaid and the Norwegian Refugee Council for their generous support for COHRE’s work on housing
and property restitution rights.
Executive Director, COHRE
Coordinator, Housing and Property Restitution Prog ramme
UNITED NATIONS PRINCIPLES ON HOUSING AND PROPERT Y RESTITUTION FOR REFUGEES AND DISPL ACED PERSONS
THE PINHEIRO PRINCIPLES
Recog nizing that millions of refugees and displaced persons worldwide continue to live in precarious and
uncertain situations, and that all refugees and displaced persons have a right to voluntary return, in safety and
dig nity, to their original or former ha bitual homes and lands,
Underscoring that voluntary return in safety and dig nity must be based on a free, informed, individual choice
and that refugees and displaced persons should be provided with complete, objective, up-to-date and accurate
information, including on physical, material and legal safety issues in countries or places of origin,
Reafﬁrming the rights of refugee and displaced women and girls, and recog nizing the need to undertake positive
measures to ensure that their rights to housing, land and property restitution are guaranteed,
Welcoming the many national and international institutions that have been esta blished in recent years to ensure
the restitution rights of refugees and displaced persons, as well as the many national and international laws,
standards, policy statements, ag reements and guidelines that have recog nized and reafﬁrmed the right to
housing, land and property restitution,
Convinced that the right to housing, land and property restitution is essential to the resolution of conﬂict and
to post-conﬂict peace-building, safe and sustaina ble return and the esta blishment of the rule of law, and that
careful monitoring of restitution prog rammes, on the part of international organizations and affected States, is
indispensa ble to ensuring their effective implementation,
Convinced also that the implementation of successful housing, land and property restitution prog rammes, as
a key element of restorative justice, contributes to effectively deterring future situations of displacement and
building sustaina ble peace.
SCOPE AND APPLICATION
Scope and application
1.1 The Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons articulated herein
are desig ned to assist all relevant actors, national and international, in addressing the legal and technical issues
surrounding housing, land and property restitution in situations where displacement has led to persons being
arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their former homes, lands, properties or places of ha bitual residence.
1.2 The Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons apply equally to all
refugees, internally displaced persons and to other similarly situated displaced persons who ﬂed across national
borders but who may not meet the legal deﬁnition of refugee (hereinafter “refugees and displaced persons”)
who were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their former homes, lands, properties or places of ha bitual
residence, regardless of the nature or circumstances by which displacement originally occurred.
THE RIGHT TO HOUSING AND PROPERTY RESTITUTION
The right to housing and property restitution
2.1 All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any housing, land and/or
property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived, or to be compensated for any housing, land and/
or property that is factually impossible to restore as determined by an independent, impartial tribunal.
2.2 States shall demonstra bly prioritize the right to restitution as the preferred remedy for displacement and
as a key element of restorative justice. The right to restitution exists as a distinct right, and is prejudiced
neither by the actual return nor non-return of refugees and displaced persons entitled to housing,
land and property restitution.
The right to non-discrimination
3.1 Everyone has the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, disa bility, birth or other status.
3.2 States shall ensure that de facto and de jure discrimination on the a bove g rounds is prohibited and that all
persons, including refugees and displaced persons, are considered equal before the law.
The right to equality between men and women
4.1 States shall ensure the equal right of men and women, and the equal right of boys and girls, to housing,
land and property restitution. States shall ensure the equal right of men and women, and the equal right of boys
and girls, inter alia, to voluntary return in safety and dig nity, legal security of tenure, property ow nership, equal
access to inheritance, as well as the use, control of and access to housing, land and property.
4.2 States should ensure that housing, land and property restitution prog rammes, policies and practices
recog nize the joint ow nership rights of both male and female heads of the household as an explicit component
of the restitution process, and that restitution prog rammes, policies and practices reﬂect a gender-sensitive
4.3 States shall ensure that housing, land and property restitution prog rammes, policies and practices do not
disadvantage women and girls. States should adopt positive measures to ensure gender equality in this regard.
The right to be protected from displacement
5.1 Everyone has the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home, land or place
of ha bitual residence.
5.2 States should incorporate protections against displacement into domestic legislation, consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law and related standards, and should extend these protections to
everyone within their legal jurisdiction or effective control.
5.3 States shall prohibit forced eviction, demolition of houses and destruction of ag ricultural areas and the
arbitrary conﬁscation or expropriation of land as a punitive measure or as a means or method of war.
5.4 States shall take steps to ensure that no one is su bjected to displacement by either State or non-State actors.
States shall also ensure that individuals, corporations, and other entities within their legal jurisdiction or effective
control refrain from carrying out or otherwise participating in displacement.
The right to privacy and respect for the home
6.1 Everyone has the right to be protected against arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy and
his or her home.
6.2 States shall ensure that everyone is provided with safeguards of due process against arbitrary or unlawful
interference with his or her privacy and his or her home.
The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions
7.1 Everyone has the right to the peaceful enjoyment of his or her possessions.
7.2 States shall only su bordinate the use and enjoy ment of possessions in the pu blic interest and su bject to
the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law. Whenever possible, the
“interest of society” should be read restrictively, so as to mean only a temporary or limited interference with the
right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions.
The right to adequate housing
8.1 Everyone has the right to adequate housing.
8.2 States should adopt positive measures aimed at alleviating the situation of refugees and displaced persons
living in inadequate housing.
The right to freedom of movement
9.1 Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and the right to choose his or her residence. No one shall
be arbitrarily or unlawfully forced to remain within a certain territory, area or region. Similarly, no one shall be
arbitrarily or unlawfully forced to leave a certain territory, area or region.
9.2 States shall ensure that freedom of movement and the right to choose one’s residence are not su bject to
any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, pu blic order,
pu blic health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with international human rights,
refugee and humanitarian law and related standards.
THE RIGHT TO VOLUNTARY RETURN IN SAFETY AND DIGNITY
The right to voluntary return in safety and dig nity
10.1 All refugees and displaced persons have the right to return voluntarily to their former homes, lands or places
of ha bitual residence, in safety and dig nity. Voluntary return in safety and dig nity must be based on a free,
informed, individual choice. Refugees and displaced persons should be provided with complete, objective, upto-date, and accurate information, including on physical, material and legal safety issues in countries or places
10.2 States shall allow refugees and displaced persons who wish to return voluntarily to their former homes, lands
or places of ha bitual residence to do so. This right cannot be a bridged under conditions of State succession, nor
can it be su bject to arbitrary or unlawful time limitations.
10.3 Refugees and displaced persons shall not be forced, or otherwise coerced, either directly or indirectly, to
return to their former homes, lands or places of ha bitual residence. Refugees and displaced persons should be
a ble to effectively pursue dura ble solutions to displacement other than return, if they so wish, without prejudicing
their right to the restitution of their housing, land and property.
10.4 States should, when necessary, request from other States or international organizations the ﬁnancial and/or
technical assistance required to facilitate the effective voluntary return, in safety and dig nity, of refugees and
LEGAL, POLICY, PROCEDURAL AND INSTITUTIONAL IMPLEMENTATION MECHANISMS
Compatibility with international human rights, refugee and
humanitarian law and related standards
11.1 States should ensure that all housing, land and property restitution procedures, institutions, mechanisms
and legal frameworks are fully compatible with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law and
related standards, and that the right to voluntary return in safety and dig nity is recog nized therein.
National procedures, institutions and mechanisms
12.1 States should esta blish and support equita ble, timely, independent, transparent and non-discriminatory
procedures, institutions and mechanisms to assess and enforce housing, land and property restitution claims.
In cases where existing procedures, institutions and mechanisms can effectively address these issues, adequate
ﬁnancial, human and other resources should be made availa ble to facilitate restitution in a just and timely
12.2 States should ensure that housing, land and property restitution procedures, institutions and mechanisms
are age and gender sensitive, and recog nize the equal rights of men and women, as well as the equal rights of
boys and girls, and reﬂect the overarching principle of the “ best interests of the child ”.
12.3 States should take all appropriate administrative, legislative and judicial measures to support and facilitate
the housing, land and property restitution process. States should provide all relevant agencies with adequate
ﬁnancial, human and other resources to successfully complete their work in a just and timely manner.
12.4 States should esta blish guidelines that ensure the effectiveness of all relevant housing, land and property
restitution procedures, institutions and mechanisms, including guidelines pertaining to institutional organization,
staff training and caseloads, investigation and complaints procedures, veriﬁcation of property ow nership or other
rights of possession, as well as decision-making, enforcement and appeals mechanisms. States may integ rate
alternative or informal dispute resolution mechanisms into these processes, insofar as all such mechanisms act in
accordance with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law and related standards, including the
right to be protected from discrimination.
12.5 Where there has been a general breakdow n in the rule of law, or where States are una ble to implement
the procedures, institutions and mechanisms necessary to facilitate the housing, land and property restitution
process in a just and timely manner, States should request the technical assistance and cooperation of relevant
international agencies in order to esta blish provisional regimes for providing refugees and displaced persons
with the procedures, institutions and mechanisms necessary to ensure effective restitution remedies.
12.6 States should include housing, land and property restitution procedures, institutions and mechanisms in
peace ag reements and voluntary repatriation ag reements. Peace ag reements should include speciﬁc
undertakings by the parties to appropriately address any housing, land and property issues that require
remedies under international law or threaten to undermine the peace process if left unaddressed, while
demonstra bly prioritizing the right to restitution as the preferred remedy in this regard.
Accessibility of restitution claims procedures
13.1 Everyone who has been arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of housing, land and/or property should be
a ble to su bmit a claim for restitution and/or compensation to an independent and impartial body, to have a
determination made on their claim and to receive notice of such determination. States should not esta blish any
preconditions for ﬁling a restitution claim.
13.2 States should ensure that all aspects of the restitution claims process, including appeals procedures, are
just, timely, accessible, free of charge, and are age and gender sensitive. States should adopt positive measures
to ensure that women are a ble to participate on a fully equal basis in this process.
13.3 States should ensure that separated and unaccompanied children are a ble to participate and are fully
represented in the restitution claims process, and that any decision in relation to the restitution claim of separated
and unaccompanied children is in compliance with the overarching principle of the “ best interests of the child ”.
13.4 States should ensure that the restitution claims process is accessible for refugees and other displaced persons
regardless of their place of residence during the period of displacement, including in countries of origin, countries
of asylum or countries to which they have ﬂed. States should ensure that all affected persons are made aware of
the restitution claims process, and that information a bout this process is made readily availa ble, including in
countries of origin, countries of asylum or countries to which they have ﬂed.
13.5 States should seek to esta blish restitution claims-processing centres and ofﬁces throughout affected areas
where potential claimants currently reside. In order to facilitate the g reatest access to those affected, it should
be possible to su bmit restitution claims by post or by proxy, as well as in person. States should also consider
esta blishing mobile units in order to ensure accessibility to all potential claimants.
13.6 States should ensure that users of housing, land and/or property, including tenants, have the right to
participate in the restitution claims process, including through the ﬁling of collective restitution claims.
13.7 States should develop restitution claims forms that are simple and easy to understand and use and make
them availa ble in the main language or languages of the g roups affected. Competent assistance should be made
availa ble to help persons complete and ﬁle any necessary restitution claims forms, and such assistance should be
provided in a manner that is age and gender sensitive.
13.8 Where restitution claims forms cannot be sufﬁciently simpliﬁed owing to the complexities inherent in the
claims process, States should engage qualiﬁed persons to interview potential claimants in conﬁdence, and in a
manner that is age and gender sensitive, in order to solicit the necessary information and complete the restitution
claims forms on their behalf.
13.9 States should esta blish a clear time period for ﬁling restitution claims. This information should be widely
disseminated and should be sufﬁciently long to ensure that all those affected have an adequate opportunity
to ﬁle a restitution claim, bearing in mind the number of potential claimants, potential difﬁculties of collecting
information and access, the extent of displacement, the accessibility of the process for potentially disadvantaged
g roups and vulnera ble individuals, and the political situation in the country or region of origin.
13.10 States should ensure that persons needing special assistance, including illiterate and disa bled persons, are
provided with such assistance in order to ensure that they are not denied access to the restitution claims process.
13.11 States should ensure that adequate legal aid is provided, if possible free of charge, to those seeking to make a
restitution claim. While legal aid may be provided by either governmental or non-governmental sources (whether
national or international), such legal aid should meet adequate standards of quality, non-discrimination, fairness
and impartiality so as not to prejudice the restitution claims process.
13.12 States should ensure that no one is persecuted or punished for making a restitution claim.
Adequate consultation and participation in decision-making
14.1 States and other involved international and national actors should ensure that voluntary repatriation and
housing, land and property restitution prog rammes are carried out with adequate consultation and participation
with the affected persons, g roups and communities.
14.2 States and other involved international and national actors should, in particular, ensure that women,
indigenous peoples, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, the disa bled and children are adequately
represented and included in restitution decision-making processes, and have the appropriate means and
information to participate effectively. The needs of vulnera ble individuals including the elderly, single
female heads of households, separated and unaccompanied children, and the disa bled should be given
Housing, land and property records and documentation
15.1 States should esta blish or re-esta blish national multipurpose cadastral or other appropriate systems for
the registration of housing, land and property rights as an integ ral component of any restitution prog ramme,
respecting the rights of refugees and displaced persons when doing so.
15.2 States should ensure that any judicial, quasi-judicial, administrative or customary pronouncement regarding
the rightful ow nership of, or rights to, housing, land and/or property is accompanied by measures to ensure
registration or demarcation of that housing, land and/or property as is necessary to ensure legal security of
tenure. These determinations shall comply with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law and
related standards, including the right to be protected from discrimination.
15.3 States should ensure, where appropriate, that registration systems record and/or recog nize the rights of
possession of traditional and indigenous communities to collective lands.
15.4 States and other responsible authorities or institutions should ensure that existing registration systems
are not destroyed in times of conﬂict or post-conﬂict. Measures to prevent the destruction of housing, land
and property records could include protection in situ or, if necessary, short-term removal to a safe location or
custody. If removed, the records should be returned as soon as possible after the end of hostilities. States and
other responsible authorities may also consider esta blishing procedures for copying records (including in digital
format), transferring them securely and recog nizing the authenticity of said copies.
15.5 States and other responsible authorities or institutions should provide, at the request of a claimant or his or
her proxy, copies of any documentary evidence in their possession required to make and/or support a restitution
claim. Such documentary evidence should be provided free of charge, or for a minimal fee.
15.6 States and other responsible authorities or institutions conducting the registration of refugees or displaced
persons should endeavour to collect information relevant to facilitating the restitution process, for example
by including in the registration form questions regarding the location and status of the individual refugee’s
or displaced person’s former home, land, property or place of ha bitual residence. Such information should be
sought whenever information is gathered from refugees and displaced persons, including at the time of ﬂight.
15.7 States may, in situations of mass displacement where little documentary evidence exists as to ow nership or
rights of possession, adopt the conclusive presumption that persons ﬂeeing their homes during a given period
marked by violence or disaster have done so for reasons related to violence or disaster and are therefore entitled to
housing, land and property restitution. In such cases, administrative and judicial authorities may independently
esta blish the facts related to undocumented restitution claims.
15.8 States shall not recog nize as valid any housing, land and/or property transaction, including any transfer
that was made under duress, or which was otherwise coerced or forced, either directly or indirectly, or which was
carried out contrary to international human rights standards.
The rights of tenants and other non-owners
16.1 States should ensure that the rights of tenants, social-occupancy rights holders and other legitimate
occupants or users of housing, land and property are recog nized within restitution prog rammes. To the maximum
extent possible, States should ensure that such persons are a ble to return to and repossess and use their housing,
land and property in a similar manner to those possessing formal ow nership rights.
17.1 States should ensure that secondary occupants are protected against arbitrary or unlawful forced eviction.
States shall ensure, in cases where evictions of such occupants are deemed justiﬁa ble and unavoida ble for
the purposes of housing, land and property restitution, that evictions are carried out in a manner that is
compatible with international human rights law and standards, such that secondary occupants are afforded
safeguards of due process, including an opportunity for genuine consultation, adequate and reasona ble notice,
and the provision of legal remedies, including opportunities for legal redress.
17.2 States should ensure that the safeguards of due process extended to secondary occupants do not prejudice
the rights of legitimate ow ners, tenants and other rights holders to repossess the housing, land and property in
question in a just and timely manner.
17.3 In cases where evictions of secondary occupants are justiﬁa ble and unavoida ble, States should take positive
measures to protect those who do not have the means to access any other adequate housing other than that
which they are currently occupying from homelessness and other violations of their right to adequate housing.
States should undertake to identify and provide alternative housing and/or land for such occupants, including
on a temporary basis, as a means of facilitating the timely restitution of refugee and displaced persons’ housing,
land and property. Lack of such alternatives, however, should not unnecessarily delay the implementation and
enforcement of decisions by relevant bodies regarding housing, land and property restitution.
17.4 In cases where housing, land and property has been sold by secondary occupants to third parties
acting in good faith, States may consider esta blishing mechanisms to provide compensation to injured third
parties. The eg regiousness of the underlying displacement, however, may argua bly give rise to constructive
notice of the illegality of purchasing a bandoned property, pre-empting the formation of bona ﬁde property
interests in such cases.
18.1 States should ensure that the right of refugees and displaced persons to housing, land and property restitution
is recog nized as an essential component of the rule of law. States should ensure the right to housing, land and
property restitution through all necessary legislative means, including through the adoption, amendment,
reform, or repeal of relevant laws, regulations and/or practices. States should develop a legal framework for
protecting the right to housing, land and property restitution which is clear, consistent and, where necessary,
consolidated in a single law.
18.2 States should ensure that all relevant laws clearly delineate every person and/or affected g roup that
is legally entitled to the restitution of their housing, land and property, most nota bly refugees and displaced
persons. Su bsidiary claimants should similarly be recog nized, including resident family members at the time of
displacement, spouses, domestic partners, dependents, legal heirs and others who should be entitled to claim on
the same basis as primary claimants.
18.3 States should ensure that national legislation related to housing, land and property restitution is internally
consistent, as well as compatible with pre-existing relevant ag reements, such as peace ag reements and voluntary
repatriation ag reements, so long as these ag reements are themselves compatible with international human
rights, refugee and humanitarian law and related standards.
Prohibition of arbitrary and discriminatory laws
19.1 States should neither adopt nor apply laws that prejudice the restitution process, in particular through
arbitrary, discriminatory, or otherwise unjust a bandonment laws or statutes of limitations.
19.2 States should take immediate steps to repeal unjust or arbitrary laws and laws that otherwise have a
discriminatory effect on the enjoyment of the right to housing, land and property restitution, and should ensure
remedies for those wrongfully harmed by the prior application of such laws.
19.3 States should ensure that all national policies related to the right to housing, land and property restitution
fully guarantee the rights of women and girls to be protected from discrimination and to equality in both law and
Enforcement of restitution decisions and judg ments
20.1 States should desig nate speciﬁc pu blic agencies to be entrusted with enforcing housing, land and property
restitution decisions and judg ments.
20.2 States should ensure, through law and other appropriate means, that local and national authorities are
legally obligated to respect, implement and enforce decisions and judg ments made by relevant bodies regarding
housing, land and property restitution.
20.3 States should adopt speciﬁc measures to prevent the pu blic obstruction of enforcement of housing, land
and property restitution decisions and judg ments. Threats or attacks against ofﬁcials and agencies carrying out
restitution prog rammes should be fully investigated and prosecuted.
20.4 States should adopt speciﬁc measures to prevent the destruction or looting of contested or a bandoned
housing, land and property. In order to minimize destruction and looting, States should develop procedures to
inventory the contents of claimed housing, land and property within the context of housing, land and property
restitution prog rammes.
20.5 States should implement pu blic information campaig ns aimed at informing secondary occupants and other
relevant parties of their rights and of the legal consequences of non-compliance with housing, land and property
restitution decisions and judg ments, including failing to vacate occupied housing, land and property voluntarily
and damaging and/or looting of occupied housing, land and property.
21.1 All refugees and displaced persons have the right to full and effective compensation as an integ ral
component of the restitution process. Compensation may be monetary or in kind. States shall, in order to comply
with the principle of restorative justice, ensure that the remedy of compensation is only used when the remedy of
restitution is not factually possible, or when the injured party knowingly and voluntarily accepts compensation
in lieu of restitution, or when the terms of a negotiated peace settlement provide for a combination of restitution
21.2 States should ensure, as a rule, that restitution is only deemed factually impossible in exceptional
circumstances, namely when housing, land and/or property is destroyed or when it no longer exists, as determined
by an independent, impartial tribunal. Even under such circumstances the holder of the housing, land and/or
property right should have the option to repair or rebuild whenever possible. In some situations, a combination
of compensation and restitution may be the most appropriate remedy and form of restorative justice.
THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, INCLUDING INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Responsibility of the international community
22.1 The international community should promote and protect the right to housing, land and property restitution,
as well as the right to voluntary return in safety and dig nity.
22.2 International ﬁnancial, trade, development and other related institutions and agencies, including member
or donor States that have voting rights within such bodies, should take fully into account the prohibition against
unlawful or arbitrary displacement and, in particular, the prohibition under international human rights law and
related standards on the practice of forced evictions.
22.3 International organizations should work with national Governments and share expertise on the development
of national housing, land and property restitution policies and prog rammes and help ensure their compatibility
with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law and related standards. International organizations
should also support the monitoring of their implementation.
22.4 International organizations, including the United Nations, should strive to ensure that peace ag reements
and voluntary repatriation ag reements contain provisions related to housing, land and property restitution,
including through the esta blishment of national procedures, institutions, mechanisms and legal frameworks.
22.5 International peace operations, in pursuing their overall mandate, should help to maintain a secure and
sta ble environment wherein appropriate housing, land and property restitution policies and prog rammes may
be successfully implemented and enforced.
22.6 International peace operations, depending on the mission context, should be requested to support the
protection of the right to housing, land and property restitution, including through the enforcement of restitution
decisions and judg ments. Members of the Security Council should consider including this role in the mandate of
22.7 International organizations and peace operations should avoid occupying, renting or purchasing housing,
land and property over which the rights holder does not currently have access or control, and should require that
their staff do the same. Similarly, international organizations and peace operations should ensure that bodies or
processes under their control or supervision do not obstruct, directly or indirectly, the restitution of housing, land
23.1 The Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons shall not be interpreted
as limiting, altering or otherwise prejudicing the rights recog nized under international human rights, refugee
and humanitarian law and related standards, or rights consistent with these laws and standards as recog nized
under national law.
APPLYING THE PINHEIRO PRINCIPLES: SELECTED UNRESOLVED RESTITUTION CASES
Millions of refugees and displaced persons are currently struggling to exercise their rights to housing and property
restitution, but are actively prevented from doing so. In some cases, Governments very consciously and explicitly
prevent return and restitution by annulling property titles, adopting new laws desig ned to quash restitution
claims and by placing citizens (often from other ethnic, religious and other g roups favoured by those in power)
within the homes and upon the lands from which refugees and displaced persons ﬂed. In other instances,
such as unresolved or still active territorial and other conﬂicts, the lack of economic options availa ble in areas
of potential return or lingering security concerns may be responsible.
The following cases illustrate just how extensive the problem of unresolved restitution claims is throughout the
world, and provide examples of situations where applying the Pinheiro Principles may provide a constructive
means of facilitating their just resolution.
Ongoing land disputes, illegal land conﬁscations of returnee lands, unclear ow nership rights, dual legal
systems (customary and modern), landlessness, land shortages, discrimination against women, and the
prevailing lack of effective restitution procedures have left hundreds of thousands of returnees una ble to return
to their original lands.
More than 525,000 ethnic Azeri IDPs, forced to ﬂee their homes and lands during the 1992-1994 conﬂict over
Nagorno-Kara bakh, remain displaced. A further 200,000 ethnic Azeris who ﬂed Armenia have been offered
naturalization within Azerbaijan. Both g roups retain as yet unresolved housing and property restitution claims to
their original homes.
Some 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have lived for almost two decades in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Many
were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality prior to their expulsion from Bhutan. The Government of Bhutan
refuses to allow the refugees to return to their original homes, and recent reports indicate that many refugee
homes and lands have been allocated by the Government to secondary occupants.
More than 200,000 IDPs are dispersed throughout Burundi, while 100,000 refugees have returned to the country
since 2003, primarily from neighbouring Tanzania. The large-scale returns, combined with the large number of
IDPs, have led to dramatic increases in the price of land, land disputes and related tensions which have prevented
the exercise of housing and property restitution rights.
Some 3 million persons have become internally displaced in Colombia due to the ongoing armed conﬂict between
Government armed forces, left-wing guerrilla g roups, and right-wing paramilitary organizations. Another
250,000 have ﬂed to nearby Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama. Colombia’s displaced often reside in the informal
slums and shantytow ns which surround many of Colombia’s major cities – most nota bly Bogotá, Medellín, Cali
More than 100,000 ethnic Serb refugees are una ble to return to their original homes in Croatia due to a
combination of unwilling ness by the authorities in Croatia to remove secondary occupiers from refugee homes
and legislation that effectively excludes Serbs from accessing Government housing repair prog rammes, despite
the fact that thousands of Serb homes were damaged or destroyed as a result of the conﬂict in the 1990s.
The Turkish invasion of Cy prus in 1974 led to the forced displacement of more than 170,000 Greek Cypriots from the
northern part of the island to the South, while a smaller number of Turkish Cypriots, some 45,000, ﬂed northwards.
Vocal demands for the restitution of housing and property have ensured that this remains a major political issue
in the country. Many analysts view the proposed arrangements within the draft peace accords addressing these
restitution claims as a key reason for the massive rejection of the peace plan in the 2004 referendum.
Though as many as 700,000 IDPs may have returned to their areas of origin in recent years, DR Congo still has
one of the world ’s largest internally displaced populations with over 1.5 million IDPs living in extremely poor
conditions. Dual land systems, ina bility to access courts to recover property and the occupation of IDP land by
secondary occupants continue to prevent sustained return and restitution.
Some 37,000 housing and property restitution claims from those displaced between 1968-2003 have been
su bmitted to the Iraq Property Claims Commission (IPCC). The vast majority of claimants are Kurds from northern
Iraq (75%), with additional claims su bmitted by Turkmen and Ara b minorities. According to various reports,
however, the IPCC has been hampered by understafﬁng and lack of resources. Of the claims su bmitted thus far,
only 600 cases have been adjudicated and over 150 appeals have been ﬁled.
Kosovo (UNMIK /Serbia & Monteneg ro)
Although the Housing and Property Directorate in Kosovo, which is administered by the UN Mission in Kosovo,
has issued decisions on some 28,000 of the 29,000 restitution claims it has received, with 40% of these decisions
already implemented, more than 200,000 Kosovar Serbs remain displaced within so-called safe enclaves in
Kosovo, or in Serbia & Monteneg ro. Thousands of Kosovo’s Roma community remain displaced throughout the
region, often forced to live in appalling conditions in slums and municipal waste dumps.
Up to 500,000 IDPs within Liberia continue to live in poor conditions in camps, squatter settlements and remote
areas throughout the country. Despite the 2003 peace ag reement, many displaced are prevented from returning
home due to land disputes, unequal access by women to inheritance rights, the lack of housing in their areas of
origin, continuing insecurity, insta bility and the lack of economic opportunities.
Nearly 500,000 refugees from Myanmar (Burma) continue to reside in border camps and in urban areas in
Thailand. An additional 1,000,000 IDPs are estimated to remain displaced within the country. Forced relocations
carried out by Government troops have particularly targeted the various ethnic g roups in the East and South of
the country. Land conﬁscations, the intentional destruction of villages and the denial of customary land rights
have all contributed to the displacement crisis in the country.
In what is by far the world ’s largest unresolved housing, land and property restitution problem, some ﬁve million
Palestinian refugees retain valid restitution claims over their original homes and lands from which they have been
expelled since 1948. These rights have been repeatedly re-afﬁrmed by UN Security Council and General Assembly
resolutions. Virtually all Palestinian refugees still possess title deeds, keys, photog raphs and other documentary
evidence proving their rights to their original homes. Similar information is kept on ﬁle at the UN Headquarters in
New York. Many experts ag ree that there can be no prospect of a worka ble peace ag reement between Israel and
the Palestinians until all outstanding housing and property restitution issues are properly addressed.
More than two decades of civil war in Sri Lanka between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam have led to large-scale displacement, with some 350,000 conﬂict IDPs still una ble to return home. Detailed
proposals for the esta blishment of a housing and land commission to resolve outstanding restitution claims of the
displaced are currently under consideration by the parties to the conﬂict.
The conﬂict ravaging Sudan has generated the world ’s largest internally displaced population and has created
what the UN has called the worst humanitarian situation in the world. An estimated six million people have ﬂed
their homes to escape ﬁghting between Government troops, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and several
smaller militia g roups alig ned with the Government. The crisis in Darfur alone has resulted in the deaths of at
least 50,000 people, and left some 1.6 million left homeless. Despite a peace ag reement ending the conﬂict in
southern Sudan, the lack of restitution mechanisms, emerging land disputes, discrimination against women
and non-recog nition of customary rights are all preventing many returnees from returning to their original
homes and lands.
Approximately 100,000 Tibetan refugees reside in tow ns and settlements throughout India, while a further
25,000 refugees live in exile in Nepal. Though the immediate likelihood of return to Tibet by the refugees is
remote, the refugees retain housing and property restitution rights to their former homes and lands in areas now
under Chinese jurisdiction, which they were forced to ﬂee since 1959.
Tsunami-Affected Nations in South and Southeast Asia
In Sri Lanka the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004 destroyed 80,000 homes and displaced one million
people. Almost a year later, as many as 500,000 remain displaced. In Indonesia, the tsunami displaced over
500,000 people in Aceh, while in India, 150,000 people were left homeless. Thousands more were similarly
affected in Thailand, the Maldives, Myanmar (Burma) and elsewhere. The Pinheiro Principles are applica ble in
this and other post-disaster contexts and may be used to support the rights of the displaced to voluntarily return
to the land on which they originally lived.
Two million (or more) Kurds who were forcibly relocated or who otherwise ﬂed the violent conﬂict
in Kurdish areas of the country during the 1980s and 1990s, remain internally displaced within Turkey. Despite
numerous judg ments by the European Court on Human Rights seeking to enforce the housing and property
rights of the displaced, most have not been a ble to return to their original homes and lands due to severe
restrictions imposed by local military ofﬁcials, the occupation of IDP lands by ‘village guards’ and general fear of
discrimination and insecurity.
More than 1,300,000 IDPs are now sheltering in some 200 camps, villages and cities throughout Uganda,
ﬂeeing ﬁghting between the Ugandan Army and rebels of the Lord ’s Resistance Army. Until the conﬂict ends, the
prospects for sustained return and restitution remain distant.
Nearly 100,000 refugees from Western Sahara are conﬁned to four camps in Algeria. Displaced for three
decades, the refugees continue to retain restitution claims to their former homes, lands and properties which
will not likely be resolved until a permanent peace settlement between Western Sahara and Morocco is reached.
Only by dealing upfront with restitution can wars and conﬂicts come to a permanent end.
- Theo Van Boven 1
From the foreword to Retur ning Home: Hou sing and P roper ty Restitution Rights of Refugees
and Displaced Persons, (Scott Leckie, ed), Transnational Pu blishers, 2003.
The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is an independent and international non-governmental,
not-for-proﬁt human rights organisation. COHRE is an NGO with Special Consultative status to the Economic
and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), the Organisation of American States, observer status with
the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and participatory status with the Council of Europe.
COHRE is registered as a not-for-proﬁt foundation or Stichting in the Netherlands (No. 41186752) and in the United
States as a 501 (c)(3) not-for-proﬁt organisation. COHRE is also registered in Australia, Brazil and Ghana.
COHRE’s International Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland, from where it oversees COHRE’s global housing
rights campaig ns and manages its regional and thematic prog rammes. Regional prog rammes currently cover
Africa, the Americas and the Asia-Paciﬁc region, while thematic prog rammes focus on Women and Housing
Rights, Forced Evictions, Litigation, the Right to Water, and Housing and Property Restitution.
COHRE’s Housing and Property Restitution Prog ramme
Since 1998 COHRE’s Housing and Property Restitution
Prog ramme (HPRP) has worked closely with gover nments,
UN bodies, NGOs, community-ba sed g roups and refugees
and IDPs to systematically address the immense housing,
land and property restitution challenges facing refugees
and IDPs in numerous post-conﬂict and post-disa ster
settings. Three key activities deﬁne the HPRP’s work:
Promoting Restitution - The HPRP ha s desig ned laws,
mechanisms, institutions and prog rammes to support
restitution claims by displaced persons in Albania, Georgia,
Iraq, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste. Additional
restitution efforts have been carried out in or concer ning
Bhutan, Guatemala, the Maldives, Myanmar (Bur ma),
Palestine/Israel and Serbia & Monteneg ro. COHRE is
regularly called on by UNHCR, UN-Ha bitat, UNDP, OCHA and
other UN agencies for policy and legal advice on restitution
is sue s .
Research - The HPRP has produced more than ten
pu blications, including Retur ning Home: Housing and
Property Restitution Rights of Refugees and Displaced
Persons, pu blished by Transnational Pu blishers in 2003.
Volumes 2 and 3 of Retur ning Home will be pu blished
by Transnational and Cambridge University Press,
respectively. The HPRP recently completed a Proposed
New UN Institutional and Policy Framework on Housing,
Land and Property Rights in Post-Conﬂict Societies.
A comparative sur vey of UN peace operations and their
involvement in housing, land and property rights issues
will be pu blished in 2007.
Training - The HPRP regularly provides in-depth and
practical training on housing and property restitution
issues to refugee and IDP g roups, NGOs and gover nment
For further infor mation on the HPRP, please contact:
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
COHRE International Secretariat
83 rue de Montbrillant
Tel: + 41 22 734 1028
Fax: + 41 22 733 8336