UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Release


UNECE Forum Supports Property Rights for the Poor

Geneva, 7 November 2003 - The UNECE Land for Development Forum1 on financing the infrastructure for land and property markets in transition economies has just ended, bringing the cooperation between the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and many national, regional and international bodies to a new level. The Forum was organized by the Real Estate Advisory Group (REAG) of the UNECE, and hosted by Tecnoborsa, an NGO of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, and was held at the Tempio di Adriano in Rome on 30-31 October 2003. More than 150 experts from over 30 UNECE member States, from UN-Habitat, World Bank, FAO, EBRD, Stability Pact, DFID of the UK Government, the private sector, as well as the UNECE Working Party on Land Administration (WPLA) attended the meeting. They held a forthright discussion on issues of implementation, on practical projects for bringing property rights to economic development and to the alleviation of poverty which is of great concern to all member States of the UNECE region. A two-day elaboration resulted in important findings and concrete recommendations on further work and joint activities.

Addressing the Forum in a satellite link up from Lima, Peru, Hernando de Soto, international expert on the role of property rights in poverty alleviation, declared that there was strong evidence that countries which give priority to secure property rights, that are registered, traded and protected, have strongly advanced in GDP while those that have not, have fallen behind. He said that too many countries are not making enough use of their assets and that a special effort is needed to sensitize policy makers around the world on the role of property rights in enhancing the position of the poor. "Property rights", he said,"secure the credit for the poor."

Mr. Rocco Buttiglione, Minister for European Union Affairs of the Italian Government supported the vision of Hernando de Soto, arguing that Italy's economy has grown not as a result of markets without rules, but within a framework of good regulation and respect for rights of all citizens. He declared that this vision of secure rights open to all was the basis of economic development and was also the basis of the cooperation that underlies EU integration.

Key lessons in establishing secure property rights regimes

Speakers from the EBRD, the private and public sectors and from individual governments reviewed the weaknesses in property rights systems, namely, the low level of mortgage banking and finance, non-existent systems of credit rating, legal impediments to property rights, lack of professions that can facilitate trading as well as those specific issues which are holding back the access of property rights to the poor, e.g. effective land dispute resolution systems (a problem being addressed by the TPAC Programme of DFID), the high cost of services, uncertain ownership, restitution, power of new elites and judicial systems that give inadequate protection especially to the poor and vulnerable groups. New property rights are not sufficient by themselves, there has to be an enabling environment for them to be used for wealth creation. Old State-owned condominiums, for example, have been privatized in many countries, but the new ownership rights have not been accompanied with new investments nor have been used by the owners for self-advancement.

Many speakers thus agreed for the need to improve and strengthen property rights for economic development by improving the capacity of government, the judiciary, legal institutions and professionals' services as well as transparent and harmonized standards in property valuation and banking procedures. Speakers from the Stability Pact in addition warned that sustainable housing and associated rights were critical for re-establishing security in the post-conflict countries of South-East Europe and the recurrence of discrimination between and among ethnic groups over scarce housing must be avoided at all costs. Finally, there was strong consensus that policy makers should give a higher priority to integrating land and property policy including its technical focus on land registration and cadastres with its role in economic development and finance in order to increase its positive impact on social and economic development.

Next steps

After the UN-HABITAT, FAO and others had made a review of the various activities in this field, participants declared a 'shared vision' for the next steps in the land for development programme at two interrelated levels:

(i) To establish a High-level Panel under the chairmanship of Hernando de Soto to prepare a 'Toolkit on Property Rights for the Poor'. Such a tool kit would be the first comprehensive inventory of tools that would show how property rights could promote prosperity and wealth creation;
(ii) To build the network of contacts amongst public and private sectors of REAG within and across countries to implement the land for development goals and to provide country-based evidence to the High-level Panel. This network would also assist in encouraging governments in reform and in the implementation of secure property rights for all.

The proposal to create the Panel will be discussed at the fifty-first session of the Working Party on International Legal and Commercial Practice (17-19 November) in Geneva. For further information please contact:

Mr. Geoffrey Hamilton
Secretary to the Working Party on International Legal and Commercial Practices (WP.5)
UNECE Industrial Restructuring, Energy and Enterprise Development Division
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41(0)22 917 28 38
Fax: +41(0)22 917 01 78
E-mail: [email protected]
Mr. Gianluca Sambucini
Economic Affairs Officer
UNECE Industrial Restructuring, Energy and Enterprise Development Division
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41(0)22 917 11 75
Fax: +41(0)22 917 01 78
E-mail: [email protected]


Mr. Robert Hall
Chairman of UNECE-REAG
57 North Hill
London N6 4BS
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0) 20 8340 4566
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0178
E-mail: [email protected]

Web site: http://www.unece.org/ie/Wp5/reag/reag.html


1In 2001 the UNECE Real Estate Advisory Group, under Working Party 5, launched this initiative to assist governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Ref: ECE/IREEDD/03/P14