Amid judiciary absence, “Tribal Justice” reigns in Deir Ezzor
Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas
The local community in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor seeks to alleviate the disputes among the residents in a bid to find the appropriate ways to terminate them permanently as well as working to avoid any discords in the future in a society saturated by the tribe and its authentic heritage.
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, the regime forces withdrew from several regions, including the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor and many areas of the Euphrates region, which was subject to various armed opposition factions and the Islamic State (IS) group, until it eventually came under the full control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March 2019.
The people of the eastern region voluntarily turned to customary law, which allows for “tribal settlements” to replace statutory civil laws when conflicts erupt, due to the absence of judicial departments and government and Sharia courts from the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor for more than ten years, with the absence of judicial alternatives that would satisfy the population by ending civil and commercial disputes between them.
Law hinders society strife
Disagreements are due to strong adherence to opinions or positions and refusal to give them up, a situation that expresses mismatch, which may develop into a problem to create a state of tension and dissatisfaction resulting from some difficulties, which impede achieving or reaching goals.
This gap between reality and aspiration takes the problem between members of a society to a complex path and is the main reason for a conflict in which people reach an inability to agree on a specific matter due to people’s conflicting thoughts, feelings, and actions.
This conflict may amount to tension between the population, taking the character of a specific pressure on the part of the individual or the group.
Although the existence of this situation is normal in any society, its development of a crisis between its components around conflicting goals and interests, whether real or claimed, is a threat and an explicit danger to the values, beliefs, and property of the population, or the existence of the entire society, as this crisis limits the process of societal security and economic stability.
Because the function of law and judicial institutions lies in imposing a legitimate force for the population’s compliance with established principles, it is inconceivable to have a social life without a legal system that attempts to reflect the values of justice in society.
In the absence of law and legal authorities, crises characterized by the aggressiveness of an individual or collective party surface, with the aim of exploiting and subjugating another party, causing material or specific harm to individuals and groups, and this behavior is described as the use of excessive illegal force.
The slackness of the judicial structure established by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in Deir Ezzor and the lack of qualification of its human staff contributed to pushing societal groups to establish a Community Mediation Committee in the region, through the alliance of several civil organizations, aimed at resolving the differences between the population by peaceful means, mitigating the intensity of conflicts and preventing their exacerbation, and breaking the cycle of violence that has surrounded society during the past years.
Custom prevails in judiciary absence
Dozens have been killed in armed clashes between clans, cousins, and relatives in the towns and villages of Deir Ezzor governorate over the past years, and what has complicated the situation are the issues of revenge, disputes, and the state of tension, as the clans became involved in imposing their custom as an alternative to the social justice system of the Autonomous Administration. And in its absence, the tribal custom prevailed.
According to a study on the judicial reality in the Autonomous Administration-run areas by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, there is one court in Deir Ezzor, and it is the lowest in the number of judges than the rest of the courts of the Administration regions, and lawyers in the region are prohibited from pleading or having a union that brings them together, in addition to the absence of a justice council or any auxiliary departments for the judiciary forensic medicine and forensic laboratories.
The Community Mediation Committee announced in a statement on 16 March the start of a campaign to resolve disputes between individuals.
With the alliance of five civil society associations and organizations: Deirna, Furatna, Sama, Mary, and Ensaf, a campaign called “Peace is Good” was launched, according to a statement obtained by Enab Baladi.
The Deir Ezzor-based activist Ayman Alaw told Enab Baladi that this campaign is supported by the “Al-Share’ (The Street) Foundation for Media and Development, which aims to resolve disputes by peaceful means.
Deir Ezzor society has a tribal and clan character, which imposes a special pattern in daily life, which is reflected in the relationships and the behavior of individuals in it.
According to a research entitled “The Tribal Judiciary in Deir Ezzor… Local Roles in Building Community Peace,” the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies presented definitions to distinguish between tribal reconciliation, tribal custom, tribal authority, tribal norms or traditions, and tribal judiciary.
– Tribal reconciliation: It is the stage that precedes the tribal litigation process, or the tribal litigation process may end in it if the social influences surrounding the two parties to the conflict succeed in influencing the decision-making of reconciliation.
– Tribal custom: It is clan litigation in tribal societies, and it is characterized as an informal social justice, its boundaries are drawn by customs, traditions, and experiences of conflict resolution in these societies, and the word “custom” accompanies this name because the rules that are used in the solution are customary rules, and therefore it is called locally “tribe custom.”
– Tribal authority: It is the authority whose reference is the traditions and consensus of the clan or tribe community, and which makes everyone feel obligated not to take any decision or act in contravention of this reference.
– Tribal traditions: These societies developed a set of customary rules as laws that resulted from customs and traditions established by individuals’ relationships and interactions with each other in various local issues and conflicts.
– Tribal Judiciary: These rules developed until they became binding in issues of disputes and reconciliation through a societal judiciary that is “custom justice” or the tribal judiciary.
Activist Ayman Alaw explained that tribal custom was prevalent in Deir Ezzor even before 2011.
“When the state intervened to resolve a clan dispute, it acted as if it were part of the tribal disputes, instead of seeking alternative means to hold those involved accountable, which undermined and degraded the judiciary,” Alaw said.
The relation between the tribal judiciary and the official courts before 2011 is an important one, especially with the moral obligation that the tribal judiciary enjoys on both sides of the conflict, imposed by tradition.
The government judiciary, which takes into account the spirit of the law in implementation, may not be aimed at resolving disputes, according to a research paper issued by the Harmoon Center in 2021.
The nature of the personalities chosen to resolve conflicts is determined in view of their position in society, according to the circumstances and nature of each local community.
According to Alaw, the members and participants of the committees are notables, tribal elders, elite jurists, lawyers, and effective personalities who have experience in solving societal issues and have a good reputation among the people.
“The reconciliation committees have an office in every region and town, in each of which a woman and girls participate because there are issues and problems that require the presence of women alongside men to understand the terms of the case,” the civil activist adds.
Sometimes the process of convincing the parties to the conflict to resort to tribal justice may take decades.
“The community mediation committees are based in their work on a mixture of tribal custom, Syrian law, relevant international legislation, and human rights charters,” according to the director of Furatna for Development organization in Deir Ezzor, Wasel Hamad, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
“We rely on local expertise and the experiences of the committee members and their knowledge of notables and people familiar with customs and traditions. The goal is to contribute to the consolidation of the peace principle as the master of judgments,” Hamad says.
Civil society organizations work through training workshops, public meetings, and distribution of relevant paper publications after 2011 to urge families and members of the local community to abandon violence, abandon weapons, resort to peaceful solutions, and preserve the social fabric torn by years of armed conflict.
Conflict resolution expanded
The director of the Furatna for Development organization says that the reconciliation committees, through their initiatives and the response of the people, have demonstrated the importance of their role in supporting stability processes and reducing the level of violence, in addition to the essential role they play in resolving the roots of conflicts.
It also demonstrated the moral obligation that its members enjoy with the parties to the conflicts, which made it one of the important locally important peace resources in supporting community cohesion and stabilizing the daily life of local communities, Hamad added.
The committees concluded agreements and memoranda of understanding with the legislative councils, governance structures, and the judicial authorities of the Autonomous Administration.
Huwaidi Hamada, media spokesperson for the “Peace is Good” campaign team, told Enab Baladi that reconciliation committees have been formed to work since the beginning of 2021 to solve many clan conflicts and problems related to living issues, in light of the lack of resources and the economic crisis, despite the formation of judicial councils affiliated with the Deir Ezzor Civil Council.
The committees also intervened in resolving disputes regulating the distribution of electricity produced by private generators, distributing water and bread to the people to prevent food crises, and contributing to resolving personal disputes between residents of the region and the displaced from other regions, according to Hamada.
The committees also mainly contributed to solving problems resulting from traffic accidents and extortion through social media platforms.
The reconciliation committees intervened in resolving several disputes related to determining real estate ownership, random shootings, or clan revenge and contributed to preventing divorce cases, resolving inheritance disputes, personal disputes, and other issues that worry societal peace and stability.
The committees aimed at strengthening the principle of reconciliation and settling disputes through peaceful settlements and methods and resorted to legal controls to provide security and stability to protect the security and cohesion of society, the media spokesperson says.
The vision of most of the parties to the conflicts that were resolved through reconciliation committees stresses the importance of resorting to tribal customs to resolve local disputes and to overcome their effects for fear of escalation into violence. This illustrates the important role of clan reconciliation as a local tool for resolving disputes in Deir Ezzor and the societal commitment to tribal customs and traditions.
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