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2018 | HRW report - Q&A on Syria’s New Property Law

The safeguarding of the right to return to one’s property or dwelling place after conflict, or to be compensated for the loss of it, is often part of a broader reparatory mechanism aimed at restoring citizens’ rights and protections after war. In this report, Human Rights Watch breaks down the main points of a recent Syrian amendment  to legislation regarding property ownership in Syria, and discusses its legal repercussions for displaced and refugee people. The amendment is known as Law no.10 2018 (see also our articles section for further discussion of the impact of this amendment).  This report situates this piece of legislation within a pattern of previous conduct by the Syrian government in the years since the conflict began. (See also ‘Dispossession or development? The tug of war over Syria’s ruined slum dwellings’by Aron Lund, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) elsewhere in this section).

The law requires property owners to provide proof of ownership in 30 days (later extended to one year) from the issuance of the decree regulating the redevelopment of specific areas under reconstruction in Syria. The restricted time to provide proof of ownership, lack of local land registry and property documents, the lack of an appeal procedure or adequate compensation and the compulsorysecurity clearance for completing the process constitute specific procedural obstacles and discriminatory treatment against refugee and internally displaced Syrians. Indeed, without due process and adequate compensation,the law amounts to forced eviction and property seizure. The new law clearly poses the threat of violation of rights provided in several established human rights covenants:

  • the right to adequate housing, which includes the obligation of States to provide guarantees of legal protection from forced eviction, including genuine consultation, provision of legal remedies, adequate and reasonable notice before eviction, under the International Covenant on Economic. Cultural and Social Rights (ICESCR) to which Syria is a signatory
  • the right to property, as provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights;
  • the right of refugees and IDPs to protection from discriminatory legislation, and to access to appeal against unlawful eviction and property confiscation, under the UN’s Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons. 

According to a survey conducted by the Carnegie Middle East Centre in 2018, a significant part of the population would not come back without a house or property to return to. Human Rights Watch recommends that donor countries, investors, andhumanitarian agencies should not fund reconstruction programs that contribute to the abuse of property rights or that go to entities or individuals responsible for international humanitarian law and human rights violations.