Syrian regime forces appropriate civilian property during current military escalation in Daraa 

Syrian man passing near the rubble of buildings in a neighborhood controlled by the Syrian armed opposition in Daraa city, south of Syria - 2 October 2018 (AFP/Muhammad Abazaid)

Syrian man passing near the rubble of buildings in a neighborhood controlled by the Syrian armed opposition in Daraa city, south of Syria - 2 October 2018 (AFP/Muhammad Abazaid)

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Enab Baladi – Daraa

Forty-three-year-old Adnan, a resident of Daraa al-Balad, had his house seized and transformed into a military emplacement during Syrian regime forces’ latest offensives on Daraa al-Balad neighborhoods in southern Syria launched last July. In the attacks, the regime targeted the neighborhoods of al-Shiyah, al-Nakhla, and al-Khashabi.   

The forces of the 4th Division, led by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the regime’s president Bashar al-Assad, illegally appropriated Adnan’s house on 22 July, because it overlooks vast agricultural areas surrounding Daraa al-Balad from the southeastern side.  

“They looted the doors, windows, furniture, and a drip irrigation system I installed to water olive crops,” Adnan said.  

Since the start of the military escalation in Daraa last June, the 4th Division forces forcibly evicted several families from their houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In addition, the forces looted the properties’ furniture and turned civilian houses into “no-go” military posts. 

Adnan, who asked Enab Baladi to withhold his last name for security reasons, said that the looting of his belongings did not irritate him as much as the sight of armed forces positioned at his house’s rooftop, placing his house at risk of destruction and threatening his hopes for return.       

Residents of Daraa concerned over property pillaging and seizure 

The number of civilian houses seized by regime forces in Daraa al-Balad has reached 50, a member of the relief commission in Daraa told Enab Baladi on the condition of anonymity for security concerns. 

These houses were built after 2011 by locals of Daraa al-Balad in farmlands, to use as shelters during attacks against the city. Some residents settled permanently in these houses after the 2018 settlement agreement between the regime and Daraa Central Committee (DCC) with Russian auspices. 

The commission member added that the appropriated houses are located in the groves of al-Shiyah, al-Nakhla, and al-Khashabi to the southeast of Daraa al-Balad. 

The homeowners abandoned these houses after regime forces advanced towards the region and seized the houses for military use.   

The Syrian regime forces have been systematically looting civilian properties at every military campaign launched against opposition areas. Therefore, Daraa residents were concerned that regime forces would loot their possessions after storming Daraa al-Balad and Daraa countryside.   

The locals also feared that regime forces would destroy or burn their houses, making them uninhabitable. 

In early August, the regime’s 4th Division forces set fire on civilian houses taken as military headquarters by regime forces on the outskirts of Tareeq al-Sad neighborhood in Daraa al-Balad, before withdrawing from them.

In 2019, Hezbollah operatives demolished dozens of civilian houses in the villages of al-Shomara, al-Boyer, and Karim, denying owners the chance to return to their properties by placing explosive devices in their houses.   

The strategic location of the houses prompted Hezbollah elements and the 4th Division forces to destroy them to prevent the return of civilians to their villages and protect the secrecy of their military fortifications.    

The relief commission member said that the demolition or burning of civilian houses after confiscating them in Daraa raises an important question of where to Daraa al-Balad displaced people will return after the end of the military escalation in their region.  

Systematic and unlawful expropriation 

The right to property is protected under international norms and conventions and may not be violated under any circumstances.   

Unlawful property seizures in Daraa al-Balad neighborhoods were preceded by similar violations throughout Syria but at varying levels.

These violations go against several international covenants and instruments that consider the right to property a fundamental human right, and its denial is an infringement on individuals’ right to live in dignity and safety.    

Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (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.”

Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) of 1965 emphasized the need “to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national, or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, in the enjoyment of the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.”

Syria is among the signatory states of these two conventions and is bound to implement their provisions.    

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) stated that “everyone has the right to respect his/her private and family life, home, and correspondence.”

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement adopted by the United Nations affirmed that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of property or possessions and that property and possessions of internally displaced persons shall in all circumstances be protected against the following acts:

(a) Pillage;

(b) Direct or indiscriminate attacks or other acts of violence;

(c) Being used to shield military operations or objectives;

(d) Being made the object of reprisal; and

(e) Being destroyed or appropriated as a form of collective

punishment.”

The principles also stipulated that “property and possessions left behind by internally displaced persons should be protected against destruction and arbitrary and illegal appropriation, occupation, or use.”

As for the Syrian law, the seizure of civilians’ private property is contrary to the Syrian Constitution of 2012. Article 15 of the constitution states that individual ownership may not be expropriated except for public interest and in return for just compensation in accordance with the law. Nevertheless, the majority of expropriations throughout Syria have been carried out without any compensation in return.

Moreover, the seizure of civilians’ properties in Daraa al-Balad and their eviction violates Articles 18, 19, and 33 of the Syrian Constitution, which acknowledges the principle of equality as a right to all citizens. Still, residents of Daraa al-Balad were forcibly displaced from their region and denied the right to return home after regime forces destroyed or burned down their houses.

These practices are flagrant violations of Article 38 of the Syrian Constitution, which stipulates that no citizen may be deported from the country or prevented from returning to it. Meanwhile, Article 50 considers the rule of law the basis of governance in the state.

The aforementioned violations contradict Article 771 of the Syrian Civil Code promulgated by Legislative Decree No. 84 of 1949. The article stipulates that no one may be deprived of his/her property except in cases determined by the law and in return for fair compensation. Article 768 of the said Code says that “the owner, pursuant to the law, has the sole right of using and/or disposing of his/her property.”

Article 770 of the Syrian Civil Code states that “the owner of a thing has the right to all its fruits, products, and accessories unless there is a text or agreement to the contrary.”

United Nations confirms property seizures in Daraa

On 5 August, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, “sounded the alarm at the plight of civilians in and around the southern Syrian city of Daraa.”

“The stark picture emerging from Daraa al-Balad and other neighborhoods underscores how much at risk civilians there are, repeatedly exposed to fighting and violence, and in effect under siege.  They are facing checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets, and their property is being seized and stolen,” said Bachelet.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mentioned that “government forces seized and occupied several private homes in the areas of Shamal al-Khat, al-Panorama, and al-Sabeel in Daraa al-Mahatta, expelling the occupants and not allowing them to take any of their belongings.”

The OHCHR also said that “regime forces stole money, mobile phones, and laptops during searches of at least nine private houses on 30 and 31 July in Daraa al-Mahatta.”

The Syrian regime forces have launched a military offensive against the city of Daraa, imposed a siege on Daraa al-Balad, and demanded locals to hand over their weapons. 

The Daraa Central Committee, mandated to negotiate with the regime, demanded a return to the 2018 July settlement that stipulated releasing detainees and withdrawing regime forces to their military posts.  

On 15 August, the Russian delegation in Daraa al-Balad proposed a roadmap to the regime and opposition’s negotiations committees. The roadmap included a 15-day ceasefire, but the regime did not abide by the truce and continued bombing Daraa al-Balad and Daraa’s western countryside.   

Under the regime’s latest military offensive against Daraa, the fundamental human right to have a safe shelter and property rights remained a priority and a critical issue for most Daraa residents and other regions in Syria.   

The issues related to housing, land, and property rights in Syria have gone beyond the question of human rights to include economic and social challenges on real estate disputes and fair compensation. These challenges could be exacerbated under Syria’s lack of independent and impartial judiciary and corrupt institutions.

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