Right to property

The right to property, also known as the right to protection of property, is a human right and is understood to establish an entitlement to private property. The right to property is not absolute and states have a wide degree of discretion to limit the rights. The right to property is enshrined in Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but is not recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[1] The right to protection of property is enshrined in the regional human rights instruments of Europe, Africa and the Americas. Regional human rights instruments When the text of the UDHR was negotiated Latin American states argued that the right to property should be limited to the protection of private property necessary for subsistence. Their suggestion was opposed, but was enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which was negotiated at the same time and adopted one year before the UDHR in 1948.[5] Article 23 of the declaration states that: "Every Person has the right to own such private property as meets the essential needs of decent living and helps to maintain the dignity of the individual and of the home."[6] The definition of the right to property is heavily influenced by Western concepts of property rights, but because property rights vary considerable in different legal systems it has not been possible to establish international standards on property rights.[7] The regional human rights instruments of Europe, Africa and the Americas recognise the right to protection of property to wearying degrees.[8] After failed attempts to include the right to protection of property in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) European states enshrined the right to protection of property in Article 1 of Protocol I to the ECHR as the "right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions",[9] where the right to protection of property is defined as: (1) Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law. (2) The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.[10] Therefore European human rights law recognises the right to peaceful enjoyment of property, makes deprivation of possessions subject to certain conditions, and recognises that States can balance the right to peaceful possession of property against the public interest. The European Court of Human Rights has interpreted "possessions" to include not only tangible property, but also economic interests, contractual agreements with economic value, compensation claims against the state and public law related claims such as pensions.[11] The European Court of Human Rights has held that the right to property is not absolute and states have a wide degree of discretion to limit the rights. As such the right to property is regarded as a more flexible right than other human rights. States' degree of discretion is defined in Handyside v. United Kingdom, heard by the European Court of Human Rights in 1976. Notable cases where the European Court of Human Rights has found the right to property having been violated include Sporrong and Lonnroth v. Sweden, heard in 1982, where Swedish law kept property under the threat of expropriation for an extended period of time.[12] The American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) recognises the right to protection of property, including the right to "just compensation". The ACHR also prohibits usury and other exploitation, which is unique amongst human rights instruments.[13] Article 21 of the ACHR states that: "(1) Everyone has the right to the use and enjoyment of his property. The law may subordinate such use and enjoyment to the interest of society. (2) No one shall be deprived of his property except upon payment of just compensation, for reasons of public utility or social interest, and in the cases and according to the forms established by law. (3) Usury and any other form of exploitation of man by man shall be prohibited by law."[14] The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) protects the right to property most explicitly in Article 14,[15] stating that: "The right to property shall be guaranteed. It may only be encroached upon in the interest of public need or in the general interest of the community and in accordance with the provisions of appropriate laws."[16] Property rights are furthermore recognised in Article 13 of the ACHPR, which states that every citizen has the right to participate freely in the government of his country, the right to equal access to public services, and "the right of access to public property and services in strict equality of all persons before the law". Article 21 of the ACHPR recognises the right of all peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources and that this right shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people, who may not be deprived of this right. Article 21 also provides that "in case of spoliation the dispossessed people shall have the right to the lawful recovery of its property as well as to adequate compensation."[17] [edit]Other international human rights instruments Property rights are also recognised in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which states in Article 5 that everyone has the right to equality before the law without distinction as to race, colour and national or ethnic origin, including the "right to own property alone as well as in association with others" and "the right to inherit". The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women recognises the property rights in Article 16, which establishes the same right for both spouses to ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, and Article 15, which establishes women’s' right to conclude contracts.[18] Property rights are also enshrined in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. These international human rights instruments for minorities do not establish a separate right to property, but prohibit discrimination in relation to property rights where such rights are guaranteed.[19] The arguments advanced by the Levellers during the early English Civil War on property and civil and political rights, such as the right to vote, informed subsequent debates in other countries. The Levellers emerged as a political movement in mid 17th Century England in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. They believed that property which had been earned as the fruit of one's labour was sacred under the Bible's commandment "thou shall not steal". As such they believed that the right to acquire property from one's work was sacred. Levellers views on the right to property, and the right not to be deprived of property as a civil and political right, were developed the pamphleteer Richard Overton.[24] In "An Arrow against all Tyrants" (1646) Overton argued that: "To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For everyone, as he is himself , so he has a self propertiety, else he could not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. Mine and thine cannot be, except this. No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man."[25] The views of the Levellers, who enjoyed support amongst small scale property owners and craftsmen, were not shared by all revolutionary parties of the English Civil War. At the 1647 General Council Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton argued against equating the right to life with the right to property. They argued that doing so would establish the right to take anything that one may want, irrespective of the rights of others. The Leveller Thomas Rainborough responded, relying on Overton's arguments, that the Levellers required respect for others' natural rights. The definition of property, and whether it was acquired as the fruit of one's labour and as such a natural right, was subject to intense debate because property ownership was tied to the right to vote. Political freedom was at the time associated with property ownership and individual independence. Cromwell and Ireton maintained that only property in freehold land or chartered trading rights gave a man the right to vote. They argued that this type of property ownership constituted a "take in society", which entitles men to political power. In contrast Levellers argued that all men who are not servants, alms recipients or beggars, should be considered as property owners and be given voting rights. They believed that political freedom could only be secured by individuals, such as craftsmen, engaging in independent economic activity.[26][27] Levellers were primarily concerned with the civil and political rights of small scale property owners and workers. In contrast the Diggers, a smaller revolutionary group led by Gerard Winstanley, focused on the rights of the rural poor who worked on landed property. The Diggers argued that private property was not consistent with justice and that the land that had been confiscated from the crown and church should be turned into communal land to be cultivated by the poor. According to the Diggers the right to vote should be extended to all and everybody had the right to an adequate standard of living. When the monarchy was restored in 1660 all confiscated land returned to the crown and church. Some property rights were recognised and limited voting rights were established. The ideas of the Levellers on property and civil and political rights remained influential and were advanced in the subsequent 1680 Glorious Revolution.[28][29] But restrictions on the right to vote based on property meant that only a fraction of the British population were given the right to vote. In 1780 only 214,000 property owning men were entitled to vote in England and Wales, less than 3 percent of the population (8 million). The Reform Act 1832 restricted the right to vote to men who owned property with an annual value of ?10, giving approximately 4 percent of the adult male population the right to vote. The reforms of 1867 extended the right to vote to approximately 8 percent. The working class, which increased dramatically with the industrial revolution, and industrialists remained effectively excluded from the political system.