To everyone who is a parent and to those who are yet to become or may never become parents, what is one of the first things that parents seek to teach their young children? What life lesson does every parent notwithstanding their culture, religion, level of wealth or any other distinction, seek to impart to every child as a cornerstone of being a good person, doing the right thing, living as a kind human being?
Of course, that first life lesson all across the globe is simply to do no harm, do not kill or hurt another human being.
And close behind that basic part of what it means to be human is this: Do not steal. Do not take what is not yours to take.
But in a world where in every culture, every legal system, every religion, every set of moral principles, everywhere stealing is seen as wrong, a crime and something for which people should be punished, there sure is a lot of stealing going on. And very much as is the case with the murder of another human being if you murder one other person you will likely go to prison for life no matter where you are, but if you murder 25,000 people in a war or as a dictator you are more likely than not to live out your days in control over your population or in the unlikely event you are overthrown, you will spend your days in exile, protected as a former head of state. With the populations of more than 100 countries today living under the control of authoritarian governments led by dictators, this is no small matter, and these populations will in virtually all circumstances need to wait until more democratic regimes replace these despotic regimes before any chance emerges that they will be able to get their stolen homes, lands and properties back through a restitution programme. But as the past several decades have borne witness, new democracies do not invariably give back what was stolen in the past, and the list of such countries that have failed to institute restitution is a growing, rather than declining one.
As painful as these realities may be, this is the shape of our modern world, and the very much the same applies to the question of stealing people’s homes, lands and properties. The International Criminal Court and other bodies have been established to address mass murder, but the world still has no such body or organisation dedicated to getting HLP assets back to their legitimate owners.
Displacement Solutions is now researching this lacunae and exploring whether the time has come to establish a new World Restitution Agency, or WRA to act as a global clearinghouse on all matters relating to unresolved cases of HLP restitution claims which now measures in the tens, if not hundreds of millions of cases, and amounting to hundreds of billions and more likely trillions of dollars in value.
Is establishing a new WRA is feasible, affordable and achievable? Most importantly, could a new WRA provide a currently missing service to tens of millions of people who remain without an institutional champion supporting them and their unresolved restitution claims? What could a new WRA look like? Where would it be based? How many people would staff it? How would people with outstanding restitution claims access the WRA?
We are consulting with a wide spectrum of experts on these matters and would welcome your views and inputs. If you would like to contribute to this study which we hope to have published by early 2022, please feel free to send us your thoughts on firstname.lastname@example.org.