Monday, November 21, 2005

Is a corporation entitled to human rights?

The European Court of Human Rights thinks so, according to this article from the Guardian.

On a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that a British real estate corporation was deprived of its human rights when a squatter family was granted title to a disputed parcel after a dozen years of using the land for grazing its herd. Despite the longstanding tradition of adverse possession, or squatters rights, the court, based in Strasbourg, ruled that because the company was not notified of the adverse possession claim against it and was not compensated for the loss of the land, its human rights had been violated. The court ruled that two British laws--the Limitation Act 1980 and the Land Registration Act 1925--created "an individual and excessive burden and upset the fair balance between the demands of the public interest on the one hand and the applicants’ right to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions on the other."

It's hard to see how any form of squatters rights, no matter how narrowly construed, could meet the majority's test, since it seems to have judged that private ownership is in the public interest while squatter ownership is not. The four judges do not say why the family using the parcel in question for grazing was not entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of its possession, while the fee owner was.

The dissenters suggest that there was absolutely no human rights issue in question, because the realty company could have taken action at any time to show its intent to keep the property. "The real "fault" in this case, if there has been any, lies with the applicant companies....[T]he applicant company was not a private individual or an ordinary company with, one could assume, limited knowledge on relevant real estate legislation. They were specialised professional real estate developers and such a company had or should have had full knowledge about relevant legislation and the duties involved....Possession (ownership) carries not only rights but also and always some duties."

The European Court's jurisdiction dates from 1950, when the Council of Europe met in Rome and signed an agreement that included this phrase: "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 principle of international law."

For more information, visit the web site of the European Court of Human Rights. The full court decision and dissent is available here.)


Anonymous said...

This is troubling, but don't we have a similar law here in the US? Is this significantly different from our laws granting corporations "personhood"? Sickening, all of it. Greed incarnate.

Anonymous said...

Why? corporations are owned by people.
If I own a share of stock in a company, and someone steals company property, my stock isn't worth as much. They stole from me. Whether a corporation is a person has nothing to do with wheter its right or wrong to steal.

rn said...

"Corporation, n, an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." That’s Ambrose Bierce, from The Devil’s Dictionary. I understand the European court’s concern that the British property company should have been informed about the adverse possession claim. But doesn't it devalue the concept of human rights when we award them to corporations, too?

Anonymous said...

Well anonymous, perhaps you might want to consider whether or not it is "right or wrong" for our system to put people in the position where their only option is to sqaut (or "steal" as you put it) in order to have a piece of land. While the farmer in that case appears to be well off, there are many people throughout the world who need to sqaut just to have a place to live. Check out the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil if you want a small flavor of what I'm talking about. It's not always as simple as the right and wrong of stealing or maximizing shareholder value.

But guessing from your comment, it's likely that your a privileged person that's never had to consider such prospects.

Anonymous said...

That's right. I won the die roll in that I wasn't born in abject poverty. I agree that declaring corperations to be people is dodgy. I even agree with squatting on unowned or 'government' lands. I've not checked out the Brazillian workers' plight, so I am only guessing that the situation can ultimately blamed on their government; At which point they are well within their rights to seek whatever redress they can get. I just was saying that if I (or anything else) buy anything (fair and square - no government forced sales) then I am entitled to its use until I sell it.

rn said...

I agree that no one should boot you from your property, so long as you are using your land or making attempts to keep it yours. In that event, of course, you have rights under the law to get squatters off your land.

But, in the case at hand, the corporation bought the property knowing full well that someone was using the land, and never took steps to engage them. Caveat emptor.

It may be a good idea for municipalities to make an effort to notify title holders of pending adverse possession claims. But that has nothing to do with human rights or personhood.

Proudhon said property is robbery. Andre Gorz revamped that for the modern age when he wrote that, in capitalism, robbery is poetry.

And, as the old joke has it: War is the highest form of the real estate business.

Anonymous said...

Man you sure know how to push an objectivist's buttons! :)

"Proudhon said property is robbery. Andre Gorz revamped that for the modern age when he wrote that, in capitalism, robbery is poetry."

"Property" as they define it is natural resources, owned by all. Without trying to knock down the mutualist argument with its "cost principle" fallacy, the right to property is an extension of the right to life.

"And, as the old joke has it: War is the highest form of the real estate business."

Unfortunately, here we agree.

Anonymous said...