Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 30 - July 2024 عربى
Regional Developments

Denying Remedy for Displaced and Refugee Syrians

While Syria has delayed its periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Treaty System for almost 20 years, this year presents an opportunity to take account of Syrian refugees’ and internally displaced persons (IDPs’) right to remedy for violations of their human rights to housing, land and property (HLP) since 2011.                

All states parties to the International Covenant and Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), have recognized that “enjoying civil and political freedom can be achieved only when everyone enjoys civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights” [and that] each state party is obliged to ensure that “any person whose rights or freedoms…are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

After four decades of ICCPR implementation, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation.

In November 2024, Syria comes up for its 4th periodic review of its performance as a state party under ICESCR. CCPR has asked Syria to explain the security clearance required of HLP right holders, address the widespread looting of their properties and other measures denying refugees and IDPs protection and assistance toward durable solutions and impeding their safe and dignified return. In advance of Syria’s full review before the Committee on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), civil society organizations specialized in housing, land and property (HLP) restitution are reporting to the ICCPR Treaty Body in response to CCPR’s questions to the state party.

In their joint parallel report to CCPR, HIC-HLRN and The Day After focus on the state party’s obligations to respect, protection and fulfilm the human right to remedy (ICCPR, ¶2.3). It explains how millions of Syrians are systematically deprived of their HLP rights under a trilogy of dispossession, destruction and displacement since the civil unrest that arose in March 2011. The report concentrates on remedy needed for HLP rights violations of Syrian refugees and IDPs in and/or from the territories that Syrian Arab Republic has recaptured from the opposition since Russia’s military intervention in 2015. That is not to say that similar violations don’t also afflict other Syrians, including those subjected to discrimination and those in other territories of the state, beyond Syrian government control.

Means to Deny Remedy

The parallel report’s scope and data are grounded in a study by TDA and other corroborating sources, and presents how practices differ in their nature, direct actors, and extent of the deprivation of remedy. It is a tale of military and administrative dispossession, destruction and displacement measures followed by re-planning the affected area under the control of state institutions and affiliated local militias.

The TDA study fills much of the theoretical by proposing a preliminary classification of these practices as:

1. Forced evictions and displacement: Evictions first began with intimidation operations and security restrictions in the first years of the conflict, then through indiscriminate bombing and otherwise making life impossible in those areas where the opposition took control, and finally through the direct forced eviction of both fighters and residents by military operations.

2. Indiscriminate bombing: Most areas covered have been subjected to months and even years of intense bombing by government forces and their allies, inflicting massive destruction of private property, without any reparation for the affected population.

3. Plunder and ‘ta`fish: The practice of plundering absentee properties cynically termed ‘ta`fish’ (Arabic for ‘furnishing’), which is understood to mean actual stripping properties of all saleable and/or reusable assets and materials that can be removed, salvaged and otherwise exploited. In all cases, the robbery is committed by the Syrian rmy, security forces and their affiliated militias.

4. Preventing return: Across all areas, the state party’s forces have permanently prevented the majority of displaced Syrians’ to exercise their right of return, or have encumbered the process by requiring ‘clearances’ from the security services and the army. Those are the agents who likely forced the displacement in the first place. Multiple denial procedures range from physically blocking re-entry, threatening ‘reprisal’ by security forces, to setting prohibitively exorbitant fees for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries to obtain and/or renew civil documents, including property records and military service discharge certificates.

5. Violations of urban regulatory plans: Government-affiliated public institutions and local administration (as organs of the state) have issued new statutory plans that call for demolition of urban structures, or their officials have declared such plans without the participation of major stakeholders, against their will, and to prevent refugees’ and IDPs’ return.

Other violations are committed on a large scale in particular areas:

6. Large-scale demolition and bulldozing of buildings in at least five areas: Jobar, Darayya, al-Tadamon, Baba Amr, and al-Qusayr, where entire neighborhoods were demolished;

7. Seizing control of properties: Confiscation of land and properties for various purposes across at least the four areas: Darayya, al-Tadamon, Baba Amr, and al-Qusayr.

The latest violations arising from the regime’s policies, are:

8. Pushing owners to sell their HLP under duress: Brokers and real estate offices with ties to prominent government figures coerce displaced Syrians in collusion with administration bodies determining security clearances and processing administrative paperwork required to transfer properties. Specific cases of such selling under pressure at low prices are reported in Jobar, Darayya, al-Tadamon and al-Qusayr.

Finally, at least two patterns of violation manifest in one or more of the studied areas, without excluding possible occurrences in other areas:

9. Selling the property of displaced people by other individuals: This practice apparently occurred repeatedly in al-Tadamon neighborhood in Damascus, managed by leaders of the local government-affiliated militias; and

10. Building residential complexes on lands owned by displaced people: This practice has been documented especially around al-Qusayr in rural Homs province.

The direct perpetrators of these violations include various formations of the army, especially the 4th Armored Division and the Republican Guard, as well as the security branches such as the Airforce Intelligence Service and the Military Security Service.

Other perpetrators include military institutions of the state and numerous local militias, most of which are sectarian in composition. Included also are local and central organs of the state such as municipalities, city councils, the Ministry of Housing and Construction and Ministry of Public Works, whereas the administrative organs of the state variously enable and ‘legitimize’ those violations, preventing remedy and ensuring long-term loss and deep resentment among the millions of victims.

For more detail, see the TDA/HIC-HLRN parallel report.

See also:

OHCHR, “We did not fear death, but the life there”: The Dire Human Rights Situation Facing Syrian Returnees, February 2024;
Syria: World’s Biggest Displacement, Facing New Conflict, 08 February 2024;
‘Domicide’ Should Be a Crime against Humanity, 29 January 2024;
Forced Displacement Sets New Record at New Year, 23 January 2024;
Hama: Syrian Government Auctions off More IDP Lands, 27 September 2021;
Syria: Gov’t. Seizes, Sells Vast Lands of War Displaced, 14 February 2021;
سوريا: الحكومة. تصادر وتبيع مساحات شاسعة من أراضي النازحين, 11 February 2021.


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