Property

  • Under the European Convention on Human Rights, people have the right to possess property that is lawfully theirs. Governments cannot take property away without proper reasons - and neither can other people.
  • For example, if a government takes land away from someone for public use, the former owner has to be properly compensated.
  • Judgments from the Strasbourg court have helped people recover houses and money that had been unlawfully taken away. They have also led countries to create rules to make sure that the right to property is protected.

 

Examples

Widow wins fight for husband’s property confiscated by the police

When Karol Rummi’s husband died, his valuable possessions were arbitrarily confiscated by the police. When Mrs Rummi tried to get them back, she was not allowed to make her case in court and told that the property now belonged to the state. The European court ruled that her right to property had been breached. She was compensated and the law was changed to prevent similar problems happening again.

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98 year-old wins decades-long fight for property seized by the Communist regime

After the fall of communism in Romania, laws were passed giving people the right to claim back property nationalised by the old regime. Tens of thousands of people made such claims, but a huge number faced delays and failures to deal with their applications. The European court ruled that the system must be reformed – leading to a new law which made the restitution system more effective.

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Reforms after bank refused to pay out pensioner’s savings

Ruža Jeličić was a citizen of the former Yugoslavia. She worked in Germany in the 1970s and 80s and kept savings of German marks in a bank in the former Yugoslavia. However, along with thousands of others with foreign currency savings, she was banned from withdrawing the money after moving back home. After Mrs Jeličić stopped working and her husband died, she had no money to live on.

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New compensation rules after villagers forced from their homes to live in extreme poverty

The government evicted the inhabitants of a small village for counter-terrorism purposes. They were not allowed to return for over 10 years. In the meantime, they were given no alternative housing or money, and they lived in extreme poverty. The Strasbourg court ruled that their rights had been violated. A new law introduced compensation for damages suffered during anti-terrorist activities.

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Reforms introduced after failure to pay compensation to Chernobyl rescue worker

Anatoliy Burdov was exposed to radiation whilst working on the emergency response to the Chernobyl disaster. He was entitled to certain social benefits, but the authorities refused to pay - even when ordered to do so by Russian courts. The Strasbourg court said that this violated Mr Burdov’s rights. As a result, reforms were introduced to improve the enforcement of judgments.

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Changes to fair compensation laws after families were forced to give up their land

Two families owned some land in Thessaloniki. The authorities took away part of the land to carry out public works - but the families were paid only a fraction of the land’s true value. The Strasbourg court found that this violated their right to property. Greek case-law was subsequently changed, requiring courts to properly compensate people when their property is expropriated.

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Woman forced to allow hunting on her land against her beliefs

Catherine Schneider was ethically opposed to hunting, but she was forced to allow it on her land under an old law. The Strasbourg court ruled that forcing her to be part of a hunting syndicate breached her basic rights. The law was changed to allow people to follow their conscience on hunting.

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