Legally “invalid” state auctions to invest displaced lands in Hama, Idlib

Pistachio market in Morek town in Hama countryside - 28 July 2018 (Enab Baladi)

Pistachio market in Morek town in Hama countryside - 28 July 2018 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima

“When we left our land, we had nothing to do with militarism, and we did not join any of the factions, and there is no criminal charge against us, the only accusation against us is that we are landowners,” says Ali al-Hassan, 40, of the Maarat al-Numan area in the governorate of Idlib.

Al-Hassan, who was displaced from his land in the village of al-Halba and is currently residing in the IDP Harbanoush camps, added to Enab Baladi, “We are from a town located in the countryside of Maarat al-Numan in the southeast, from which we were displaced by Bashar al-Assad’s forces at the beginning of 2020 and our land of 15 hectares, was seized by them.

Many of the owners of these lands live in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime, which allows the regime to exploit their absence and seize their properties, according to what some of the land owners told Enab Baladi.

Al-Hassan had ten hectares of his land, wooded with pistachios, almonds, and walnuts and served by water wells, and it was his first source of livelihood.

After a period of his displacement, al-Hassan was surprised, via social media, that the regime offered the lands of the displaced for investment.

He said that what is happening to his land is a forcible appropriation of it, under the name of investment by the Syrian regime ‘thugs,’ known as ‘Shabiha,” adding that most of those areas have had their trees cut down and used as firewood.

The Syrian Ministry of Local Administration and Environment had announced the start of an auction to invest in the pistachio fields from 2 to 15 June of the same month in Idlib governorate.

The auction includes areas including the city of Khan Sheikhoun and its farms, the town of al-Tamanah and its farms, Moqa, al-Habit, Kafr Sijna, Heish Kafrbasin, Sahyan, al-Tah, Tahtaya, Umm Jalal, al-Halba, al-Rafa, al-Khawain, al-Sakik, Qleiat al-Tuwaiba, Abu Dali al-Mushyrifa, Umm Trikia, Tal Maraq, al-Tama, Tal al-Kiram, al-Niha, Rajm al-Mushrif, Umm Khuzaym Ma’asran, al-Barsa, Abu Dafna, al-Qarati, al-Halba (Sheikh Hassan’s Farm), Jarjanaz, al-Sarj, Umm Mowilat, Sheikh Baraka, Marata, Harran, Tal al-Tawfan, Hemeimat, al-Marandiyah, al-Shouha, Tal al-Rumman, and al-Khawari.

The ministry set the working period for one agricultural season.

The General Secretariat of Hama Governorate announced the acceptance of applications to participate in the public auction to invest in the pistachio fields, starting from the 30th of last May until the 7th of June.

The auction included the areas of Morek, Lahaya, Latmin, al-Lataminah, and other areas that have not been identified.

In the statement, which Enab Baladi obtained a copy of, the General Secretariat of Hama stipulated that those wishing to bid for the auction should refer to the Contracts Department to obtain the technical file for 35,000 Syrian pounds.

The bidder is not entitled to include more than one real estate area in one application so that the application includes only one real estate area.

Relatives of land owners up to the fourth degree on the father’s side, who have submitted an application for participation in the auction, and paid the initial bonds, and after the end of the auction of the land belonging to their relative, and during the auction session, can express a desire to invest in the land at the final price of the auction, according to the sequence of the degree of kinship, provided that supporting and necessary documents are attached.

Muwaffaq al-Ahmad, a resident of al-Tamanah district, 45, residing in the Harbanoush camp, told Enab Baladi, “We left our land three years ago, and we used to grow cumin, lentils, chickpeas, barley, and wheat, but al-Assad’s forces surrounded the area and seized the lands, and “they started harvesting pistachios and olives” during their control over it.

Al-Ahmad had about 450 fruitful pistachio trees, stressing that even with the return of some landowners from his relatives about six months ago, the regime refused to grant the landowners the land on the grounds that they returned late.

When is land put up for auction? 

Enab Baladi asked lawyer Ahmed Sawan about the legality of such auctions, and he replied that it is not possible to know the legality of the state’s auctions of these lands without knowing the legal owner of each land, according to the Land Registry.

If the land belongs to the property of the state, then the state has the right to lease it, but if it is private property of individuals, neither the state nor any party may invest in it or announce its lease.

Because this is considered an assault on the property of a person without his will, and it is a violation of property rights, and the Civil Code states in Article 768 that “the owner of a thing alone, within the limits of the law, has the right to use and invest in it.” The right to ownership is a permanent right, which does not fall due to lack of use no matter how long it takes, Sawan adds.

Also, this lease is a violation of the current Syrian Constitution, which stipulates in Article 15 that private property is safeguarded in the sense that public confiscation of funds is prohibited, and private property is not expropriated except for the public benefit by decree and in return for fair compensation in accordance with the law.

Sawan explained that the original right to invest in these lands belongs to its owner if they are present on the site of the land.

If the owner is traveling, they can appoint any person they trust to the notary public in the country in which they are located or at the Syrian consulate, and this agent invests the property on behalf of the owner, and no party has the right to oppose him by investing or using the land, according to the lawyer.

But if the land owner is missing or absent and whose address is unknown, any of their relatives can obtain a judicial power of attorney on behalf of the absent from the Sharia judge with easy and simple procedures.

A power of attorney authorizes the disposal, investment, and care of the land by plowing and watering, provided that the relative keeps an account of the expenses and revenues to be presented to the absent in the event of their return or to the heirs after the owner’s death is proven.

The announcement by the Ministry of Local Administration of public auctions to invest in the pistachio fields is an invalid procedure that is not based on any legal text, the lawyer confirms.

In addition, the phrase in the first line of the declaration, “Based on the provisions of Law 51/2004,” is not considered legal because this law does not include any article permitting public authorities to confiscate or seize the property of individuals.

Landowners have the right to submit to the auction by appointing a person under a power of attorney at the notary public from any country in which they reside to represent them by applying for the auction.

Sawan continued that the announcement of the public auction for investment for one agricultural season does not include the disposal of ownership of the land, and the land remains registered in the name of its owner in the real estate registry, and whoever takes the land under this auction will take it for one year, and leave it after harvesting the season, as specified in the announcement.

Financial obligations, military housing

Real estate and shops enter the public auction as a result of seizure following owners’ failure to fulfill their financial obligations, according to the Syrian Civil Procedure Code.

Moreover, the dwellings of the Military Housing Establishment may be seized because of their ownership by dissident officers, so they enter the public auction to be sold.

The property cannot be sold at public auction until it is registered in the real estate registry, in accordance with the provisions governing the real estate registry No. 188 of 1926.

Displaced farmers from the northern Hama countryside and southern Idlib countryside are unable to reach their lands, which are wooded with pistachio and olive trees, because of the regime forces’ control over these areas.


Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Hama countryside, Iyad Abdul Jawad, contributed to this report.

 

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