The Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons articulated
herein are designed 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 habitual residence.
– Principle 1.1 of the Pinheiro Principles
Housing, land and property (HLP) restitution rights are essential elements to peace and reconciliation efforts aiming to fairly and sustainably overcoming situations of forced displacement. The international endorsement in 2005 of the “Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons” by the United Nations now commonly known as the ‘Pinheiro Principles’, are a consolidated global minimum standard on the HLP restitution rights of refugees and displaced persons.1
The Pinheiro Principles are an authoritative and comprehensive statement of the specific restitution rights of refugees and displaced persons as well as the obligations of governments and other controlling authorities towards populations seeking to return to and reclaim their original homes and lands. They augment the international legal and normative framework by consolidating into one framework existing human rights and legal standards on resolving displacement through the process of restitution.
The Pinheiro Principles lay out a consolidated set of international legal principles designed to ensure that refugees and displaced persons have, in the terminology of Pinheiro Principle 2.1 “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”. Such rights do not yet comprehensively exist within Myanmar law, nor have they been reflected adequately in the ongoing peace process between the government and its ethnic armed group negotiating partners, and the Pinheiro Principles can provide a useful guide for addressing restitution issues within these contexts.
Housing, land and property (HLP) restitution rights for refugees and displaced persons are firmly grounded 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.