Nairobi, 20 January, 2000: Headlines regularly inform us about the millions of personal tragedies in places like Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone. But with the resolution of the conflict begins the process of reconciliation and reconstruction. After the headlines of coups and crises comes the long road to recovery.
In many cases, United Nations agencies move in rapidly to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. But long term rehabilitation is much more complex. In the case of Kosovo, apart from the destruction of about 120,000 homes, there was an urgent need to re-establish a properly functioning civil and municipal administration. However, this was made more difficult because of a history of discriminatory laws governing ownership of property and the wanton destruction or loss of the original cadastral records. The result is that, in Kosovo, it had become difficult to resolve property disputes about illegally occupied land and property.
A major step in the rehabilitation of Kosovo has been the successful creation of a Housing and Property Directorate and Claims Commission. Established by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) under the auspices of the United Nations Mission to Kosovo, (UNMIK), the Directorate is part of larger strategy designed to restoring housing and property rights in Kosovo. The immediate costs of the directorate are being met by funds from the Finnish government who contributed about $700,00 and from the general budget of UNMIK who contributed $1.5 million. At the same time the Governments of Sweden and Norway are interested in funding the development and implementation of a Cadaster and Land Information System.
"In post conflict zones, the resolution of property disputes in a fair and impartial manner is a vital part of establishing a stable and democratic society; it is a precondition to restoring the rule of law and the protection of human rights," said Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Acting Executive Director, UNCHS (Habitat). "Furthermore, long term reconstruction can only take place once investors have confidence in the housing and property regime."
In the case of East Timor, a recent mission by Habitat to support the work of the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) found that, apart from the immediate rebuilding of over 80,000 houses, there is an urgent need to re-establish a legally recognised system of land management. However, as in Kosovo, the process is complicated by a history of discriminatory laws on housing under the period of colonial and foreign occupation. Resolution of these problems requires the formulation of a new land management and housing policy. This includes, amongst other things, the formation of Land Rights Claims Commission and a Land and Property Services Agency. Habitat is committed to working with UNTAET to establish a fully functioning system of local urban governance in order to ensure long term stability.
Similarly, UNCHS (Habitat) is committed to supporting the peace building process in Sierra Leone. A recent inter-agency mission by Habitat and UNEP to the country found that, after disarmament, shelter provision is considered the most important problem. Rehabilitating this sector involves designing a comprehensive strategy which includes providing technical assistance for developing the national and local authorities responsible for housing and infrastructure.
Based on its successful experience in Kosovo, Habitat is committed to working with UNTAET in East Timor and the Government of Sierra Leone to provide technical assistance for post conflict rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement. In particular, in order to contribute to the peace process, Habitat is committed to helping these societies re-establish local authorities and the necessary institutional infrastructure to ensure legally recognised property and housing rights.
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