HRC views in P. L. and M. L. v. Estonia (excerpts), 2019

The complaint

3.1 The authors claim that the State party’s denial of restitution of their property amounts to a violation of articles 2, 14 and 26 of the Covenant. The authors are entitled to recover their property or to receive equivalent compensation. They claim that they suffered discrimination because other claimants in the same position were able to recover their property from the State party, regardless of whether they had received payments under the German Equalization of Burdens Act. In particular, Estonians living in Estonia were able to recover their property, which was not the case for those living abroad. Other Baltic Germans were also able to fully recover their property.

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State party’s observations on admissibility and the merits

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4.9 The authors have also failed to substantiate their claim that the State party’s courts discriminated against them on account of their Baltic German origin by deciding that they were not entitled to the return of property or compensation because they had already received compensation. In contrast with the Committee’s decisions in Simunek et al. (CCPR/C/54/D/516/1992) and Adam v. Czech Republic (CCPR/C/57/D/586/1994), the facts of the present case do not raise an issue under article 26 of the Covenant.

4.10 In the authors’ case, the applicable laws do not differentiate between former owners of expropriated property on any grounds, including those mentioned in article 26 of the Covenant. According to section 17 (5) of the Principles of Ownership Reform Act, the only criterion for deciding whether a person covered by that provision can claim return or compensation is whether the property has already been returned to that person or whether he or she has received compensation. The authors have provided no arguments or evidence to substantiate their claim that in considering the payments received by their grandmother from Germany as compensation in the sense of section 17 (5) of the Principles of Ownership Reform Act, the Court of Appeal was motivated by their Baltic German heritage. The authors have also failed to explain how the conditions established by section 17 (5) of that Act are linked to national or ethnic origin.

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4.16 The authors have also not submitted any evidence to demonstrate that, contrary to article 26 of the Covenant, Baltic Germans were treated differently or less favorably than any other group of people, including native Estonians, who filed claims for return of or compensation for unlawfully expropriated property. Their statements about the “unpopularity” of granting restitution to the Baltic Germans are arbitrary and false. Even more arbitrary is to suggest that Estonian courts operate according to the alleged popularity or unpopularity of certain ethnic groups. Section 17 (5) of the Principles of Ownership Reform Act applies to everyone, without distinction based on nationality, ethnic origin or any other ground. The only criterion is whether the property has been returned or compensation paid.

4.17 The falseness of the authors’ claim that the Estonian authorities discriminate against Baltic Germans by refusing to return or to compensate for unlawfully expropriated property can be further demonstrated by several similar cases, in which the courts decided in claimants’ favor when there was no concrete evidence that compensation had been paid by Germany. These cases demonstrate that the solution is based on law and evidence, not on biases against certain ethnic groups. In the authors’ case, evidence existed to conclude that the compensation payments were indeed made and that they were made for the loss of their grandmother’s property in Tallinn.

Authors’ comments on the State party’s observations on admissibility and the merits

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5.8 As to the merits, the relevant question before the Committee is to determine whether the State party’s authorities have discriminated against those who resettled in 1941. In particular, on 10 March 2008, the General Assembly of the Supreme Court held that these Baltic German resettlers must be treated equally to other subjects entitled to restitution and that applications for the return of property should be reconsidered. The authors therefore, had a legitimate expectation for the return of their property. However, in almost all the applications for return of property – that is, more than 30 cases – the Estonian authorities invoked evidence of compensation under the German Equalization of Burdens Act.

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5.14 Lastly, the authors disagree that the two cases referred to by the State party represent proof of non-discrimination against Baltic Germans.

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Issues and proceedings before the Committee

Consideration of admissibility

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6.4 The Committee notes the authors’ claims under articles 2, 14 and 26 of the Covenant that they suffered discrimination and denial of justice by the State party’s courts and that the administrative and judicial proceedings between 1991 and 2013 have exceeded the reasonable time requirement.

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6.9 The Committee notes that although the authors’ main claims relate to property rights, which are not themselves protected by the Covenant, the authors also allege that the decision of the Court of Appeal was discriminatory and amounted to denial of justice. In this connection, the Committee notes that the authors’ claims relate to the interpretation and application of domestic law and practice by the courts of the State party. The Committee recalls that it is generally for the courts of States parties to review facts and evidence, or the application of domestic legislation, in a particular case, unless it can be shown that such evaluation or application was clearly arbitrary or amounted to a manifest error or denial of justice, or that the court otherwise violated its obligation of independence and impartiality.

6.10 In the present case, the Committee notes that the authors have not demonstrated that the applicable domestic legislation – that is, section 17 (5) of the Principles of Ownership Reform Act – provides for any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The Committee notes that the only criterion imposed by that section is whether the property in question has already been returned or compensation has already been paid. The Court of Appeal, after taking into account the authors’ situation, based its decision on that provision of the Principles of Ownership Reform Act. The authors have failed to demonstrate that the application of that law was discriminatory, or to cite any relevant jurisprudence that would show a different application of the law based on nationality. The Committee is therefore not in a position to conclude, on the basis of the material at its disposal, that the domestic courts acted arbitrarily or that their decision amounted to discrimination, arbitrariness or denial of justice. Accordingly, the Committee considers that this part of the communication is insufficiently substantiated for the purposes of admissibility and declares it inadmissible under article 2 of the Optional Protocol.


Document data: 08.11.2019, published 25.11.2019. CCPR/C/127/D/2499/2014 Link: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2f127%2fD%2f2499%2f2014 Also available in Russian and French

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