Property rights: maintained by international conventions and violated by Syrian regime’s laws

Destroyed buildings in al-Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria - May 2020 (Lens Young Dimashqi Facebook account)

Destroyed buildings in al-Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria - May 2020 (Lens Young Dimashqi Facebook account)


The right to property is essential to maintaining the continued existence of human beings, allowing them to exercise their other rights in order to feel their humanity, which has been enshrined in international conventions.

The ongoing conflict in Syria for nine years has expropriated the property rights of thousands of internally displaced people within Syria (IDPs) and refugees abroad.

According to a report issued in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, six-in-ten Syrians have left their homes, which is considered by the report as the most significant percentage of displacement in the world.

According to the report, “this percentage of displacement has never been witnessed by any country in recent decades.”

The research center’s report estimated the number of Syrian IDPs and refugees to be 12 million and 500,000 persons.

Within the absence of original homeowners, the Syrian regime’s government has issued laws to “confiscate their property on the pretext of committing terrorist crimes,” contrary to the content of international conventions.

Meanwhile, international law provisions have protected the individual property rights of human beings, especially refugees, as a result of international conflicts and wars.

The following are some of the most prominent of these international provisions:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was proclaimed in 1948 and is one of the first international conventions that explicitly addressed property rights after the formation of the United Nations (UN).

There is general agreement that the UDHR is the foundation of international human rights law and has a legal binding force, according to the UN.

Article 17 of the UDHR asserted that “everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.” It also stated that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his/her property.”

While Article 25 of the UDHR provided that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in the circumstances beyond his/her control.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) repeated what came in Article 25 of the UDHR.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted in 1966. Article 17 stated that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his/her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his/her honor and reputation.”

Article 17 of the ICCPR also provided that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

It was adopted and opened for signature in December 1965 and came into force in 1969.

Article 5 of the ICERD stipulates that everyone has the right to own property alone and in association with others, and the right to housing, without distinction as to race, color or national or ethnic origin.

The Pinheiro Principles

The “Pinheiro” principles are named after the UN Special Rapporteur, who led the process of establishing them.

These principles are guidelines for the restitution of housing and property to refugees and the IDPs.

The Pinheiro Principle’s articles stressed that the funds and property of IDPs in any country should be protected in all circumstances, especially against looting, direct and indiscriminate attacks, and other acts of violence.

They also stated that the property owned by IDPs shall not be used as a shield for military operations or targets or to be the object of retaliation, destruction, or seizure as a form of collective punishment.

These principles provided that the funds and property left behind by the IDPs should be protected against destruction, arbitrary and illegal appropriation, occupation, or use.

The Fourth Geneva Convention

The emphasis on the importance of individual movable and immovable property and its inviolability is not limited to times of peace in international law, but also at times of armed conflict.

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “any destruction by the occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or the state, or other public authorities, or social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

Thus Article 53 prohibited the destruction of movable and immovable civilian property unless it was for military purposes if proven necessary.

Syrian laws violate international conventions

Based on these international conventions, the Syrian regime’s government has increased the suffering of its opponents over property ownership in many ways, including the confiscation of their property on the pretext that they are “terrorists” or “terrorism supporters.”

Article 12 of the Counter-Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2019 states that “in all offenses set forth in this law, the court shall, by conviction, order the confiscation of movable and immovable property, proceeds and items used or intended for use in the commission of the offense.”

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization said that the “Anti-Terror” Law No. 19 is contrary to the government’s intention to encourage Syrian refugees to return to Syria.

Moreover, Law No. 10 of 2018, which was amended by Decree No. 66 of 2012, aims to create one or more regulatory areas within the overall organizational chart of the administrative units, at the suggestion of the regime’s government’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment.

The provisions of Law No.10 impose many obligations on the landlord, whose property is to be confiscated by law if they were not fulfilled.

This law comes while the Syrian regime’s prisons are filled with detainees who have the right to these properties, along with IDPs and refugees inside and outside Syria.

As for the obligations that the landlord might not fulfill under the stipulated period of Law No. 10, which is a year, the landlord will forfeit his/her property title of movable and immovable property.

Thus Law No.10 represents a violation of the provisions of international conventions over property rights.



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