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How “Protection and Management of Absentee Property” Act violated Syrian laws

Residential buildings overlooking the Euphrates River in al-Raqqa city, northern Syria - 09 July 2020 (Enab Baladi)

Residential buildings overlooking the Euphrates River in al-Raqqa city, northern Syria - 09 July 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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A week after its issuance, the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES)” repealed the “Protection and Management of the Absentee Property” Act to manage the property of people living outside Syria, in its areas of control. The NES announced that it will revise and redraft the law  to “meet the region’s aspirations and rights.”

The “Autonomous Administration” released a statement on 12 August, in which it justified its cancelation decision with the media uproar caused by the law, besides the clamor it raised in the legal and human rights community, civil society organizations, relevant bodies and associations, the popular community, and expatriates.

It also attributed its decision to the consequences of the law’s possible application due to misunderstanding it and different interpretations of its articles.

The law stipulated the formation of the “Absentee Property Protection Committee” following a decision by the “Executive Council” of the NES. This committee consists of 11 representatives from the NES controlled- areas.

The committee, headed by two trustees, is responsible for the administrative works and the inventory and preservation of the absentee’s property and assets.

The committee’s tasks also include studying the objections submitted from those affected by its decisions, assisted by subcommittees in the areas under the NES’s control.

The two trustees follow the committee’s work, commissioned by the “Executive Council,” administratively and financially.

The trustees are authorized to file all lawsuits and present all legal defenses “to preserve and protect the absentee’s property.”

The committee does not have the right to sell or purchase the absentees’ property.

According to the law, anyone who covered, misused, or benefited from the absentees’ property is sentenced with imprisonment for less than one year and a penalty of up to five million Syrian pounds (SYP = 2,400 USD) or with the two penalties together.

An informed jurist said to Enab Baladi that the “Autonomous Administration” as a de facto authority controlling a portion of Syrian territory has no domestic, regional, or international legitimacy to issue a “law” binding on Syrian people and institutions and bodies of the Syrian government, and imposing penalties on those who violate it.

He added the promulgation of such legislation is entrusted with the legislative authority emanating from a constitution approved by the Syrian people.

The NES’s legal definition of the “absentee”

The jurist pointed out that the “Protection and Management of the Absentee Property” law included a series of abuses and violations of rights that constitute an unacceptable assault on Syrians’ freedom and property.

The law defined the term “absentee” as every person holding the Syrian nationality and the likes who are not registered in the civil registry and do not have Syrian citizenship as by the 1962 census. Those people are permanently residing outside Syria, and none of their first or second-degree relatives are in Syria.

He indicated that this definition is made up and exclusionary, which applies to a traveler, not an absentee, which the Syrian law considers to be the person who has been prevented by compelling circumstances from returning to his place or running his/her affairs personally or through a legal agent for more than a year, and thus had his/her or others’ interests affected.”

The NES’s law ignored the core criterion for considering a traveler as an absentee, which is not being able to return for “extreme” conditions. Instead, the NES’s law adopted an “unregular” standard to consider a person as an absentee by permanently residing outside Syria, even by the person’s own free will.

Hence, this “made up” definition by the “Autonomous Administration” enables it to consider all of its political opponents living outside of their regions or fleeing from it regardless of the reason as “absentees,” thus violating their property.

Not to mention that the requirement set by the NES’s law in Article “14” for a Syrian citizen to benefit from his/her property, the return and stay in Syria, is an explicit violation of individuals’ right of free movement, safeguarded in Article “13” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article “12” of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Legal provisions for the absentee

The provisions on the absentee are included in the Syrian Civil Code and the Personal status laws of Syrian people.

The Syrian Civil Code

Article “379” of the Syrian Civil Code stipulates that “a limitation period of more than five years shall not apply to persons who are incompetent or the absentees.” According to the Syrian lawyer, Ahmed Sawan, this article states that the rights and funds of the absentee are imprescriptible no matter how long.

While Article “34” provides that “absentees and missing people are subject to provisions of special laws; however, if not possible, they become subject to the provisions of the Islamic sharia. This means that the Syrian Civil Code has refereed jurisdiction of missing people to the Personal Status Law.

The Personal Status Law of Syria

Articles “202” and “203” of the Syrian Personal Status Law define the term “absentee” as the person whose life’s details are known, but has no residence, nor a known home, or who has a recognized residence or home abroad, but cannot take over his/her affairs.

Sawan told Enab Baladi that one year after the person’s absence, which would disrupt his/her interests, two possibilities are considered, either the absentee authorized an agent or not.

If the absentee has authorized a general agent, then the court approves the agent if conditions of justice and full eligibility are met; however, if the absentee has no general agent, the court will then issue a decision to appoint a “procurator for the absentee.”

The procurator is the legitimate deputy of the missing people and the absentees, for their inability to dispose of their money.

The procurator asks permission from the judge before any action regarding the absentee’s property, while money donations from the absentee’s funds are prohibited until the person returns home to manage his/her affairs.

Property rights infringement

The repealed law by the “Autonomous Administration” gave the “Absentee Property Protection Committee” the right to rent and invest the absentees’ property for community development without changing its descriptions.

According to Article “12,” the absentees lose the right to a quarter of their property “without prejudice to the principle right” if they or one of their first or second-degree relatives did not attend within a maximum period of one year.

The money of the absentee is only delivered after the approval of the presidency of the “Executive Council” affiliated to the “Absentee Property” department.

Sawan clarified that controlling a quarter of the absentee’s property from revenues, fruits, crops, and rents represents property rights infringement. He added, the right to property is maintained by all laws and constitutions, and the absence of people does not justify any authority to seize the absentees’ properties for whatever reason.

Sawan pointed out to the illegitimacy of the NES’s law, as it was issued by a “de facto” authority that rules by force and has no legitimate electoral authority.

This authority has no legitimate right to issue laws in the first place, Sawan said.

Religious and sectarian discrimination

Article “19” of the “Protection and Management of the Absentee Property” repealed law mandated a committee of the Syriac, Assyrian, and Armenian communities in north-eastern Syria to manage their property in accordance with the provisions of the law. The committee is entitled to make decisions regarding the sale, purchase, and investment of their property.

The informed jurist said that the NES practiced religious and sectarian discrimination by granting special attention to the Syriac, Assyrian, and Armenian properties, which means that the law was intended only for Muslims’ properties.

This religious and sectarian discrimination is condemned and rejected, for it violates the principle of equality between Syrians, and it goes against all international conventions and norms, particularly Article “2” of the UDHR and Article “26” of the ICCPR, Sawan said.

How can the absentees protect their properties?

Sawan pointed out to Enab Baladi that people abroad should keep property documents of all kinds, such as a title deed, a property registration statement issued by the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, and a selling agency authorized by the notary.

Other documents include a court rule certifying the purchase, any regular contract with a fingerprint, a signature, and witnesses, or any receipt issued by the municipality or financial authority.

He added the absentees can also resort to the international community, such as the different entities of the United Nations.

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