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2018 | SJAC Report - Return is a Dream - Options for post-conflict property restitution in Syria

The authors of this report urge that, regardless of the conflict’s outcome, a fair and efficient return of the 12 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees will be a necessary challenge to overcome. Previous post-conflict contexts demonstrate that without clear processes in place, property disputes and continued displacement could lead to renewed instability. A property restitution framework offers a viable solution, if managed carefully and with the interests of victims in mind. 

The authors stress that previous examples of property restitution processes in post-conflict settings are very limited, and that this currently hinders the formulation of comprehensive best practices that could be applied in the Syrian context. The best example of a successful restitution program in recent times is widely deemed to be the one established in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war there in the early 1990s. The Bosnian program was certainly imperfect – containing several crippling flaws early on – but this, too, makes Bosnia a useful case study when examining potential challenges presented by a post-conflict restitution initiative. In Bosnia, the international community had unprecedented influence in the creation and implementation of the program, and several of its actions throughout the return period were integral to its ultimate success. The authors consider that the international community is likely to play an important role in return and restitution in Syria. Thus, Bosnia offers valuable insights into the way external actors can assist or hinder a future process. (For details of the legal instruments used in the Bosnian context and for reports and articles on its implementation, see the Nuhanovic Foundation’s own Bosnia database, which is currently being updated to 2018 (to be completed by end December 2018)).

The report begins with an overview of Syrian property law and a discussion of displacement in Syria, with particular emphasis on common contexts for property dispossession. Subsequent sections address components of a property restitution framework that should be included in a national peace agreement, such as: 

  • a right to return to one’s home of origin; ?
  • the legal obligations of signatories to the peace agreement; ?
  • a framework for a future restitution program, the more detailed the better; ?
  • an international monitoring arrangement with sufficient enforcement authority. ?


Once a peace agreement comes into force, implementation must begin swiftly, including through the passage of implementing legislation, the appointment of commissioners, and the creation of a process for registering and adjudicating complaints. Eligibility requirements must be designed with an understanding of the different forms of property possession in Syria, including historic political and economic inequalities, as well as to what degree relatives of individuals who are deceased or missing can lead claims. For refugees, field offices must be set up to allow for the voluntary submission of property claims, particularly in countries to which large numbers of Syrians have fled. 

The adjudication of claims must be fair with certain due process requirements, while also balancing the need for efficiency. Throughout, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms must actively ensure the process is carried out without delay, corruption, or discrimination. And nationally, property restitution must be seen as a part of a larger transitional justice process to address all forms of victimization. 

Based on the aforementioned considerations, SJAC proposes a series of recommendations to Syria, the UN Special Envoy, and foreign governments.