How Damascus expropriates property of Daraa’s people?


Syrian government forces re-captured Daraa as a result of a 2018 agreement, when the opposition armed faction and the government forces reached a ceasefire and a settlement agreement mediated by Russia. Under the deal, the opposition armed factions agreed to hand over their heavy weapons in exchange for some autonomy and an amnesty.  

However, after that, the government forces began to strengthen and expand their military positions and violate the terms of the settlement by arresting people who were subject to the settlement, seizing civilian homes, increasing assassinations, and turning the area into a center for drug smuggling.

Five years since the 2018 agreement, the security chaos still dominates the city and its countryside. Residents still cannot return to their homes because the government’s security services seized them while Russia turns a blind eye.

The report, issued by the Monitoring and Documentation Department, tracks the government’s seizure of homes in the city of Daraa and its countryside, owned by civilians who were displaced during the government forces’ invasion of the region, supported by Russian air forces and pro-Iranian factions on the ground.

It is based on the testimonies of residents whose homes were seized by the government’s security services and turned into military headquarters, in addition to testimonies confirming the seizure of schools and a mosque.

Civilian homes as military headquarters

“I have been sharing my house with members of the Syrian army for over five years,” said Masoud Abdullah, a pseudonym for a house owner in the Lajat area, in the eastern countryside of Daraa, who found his house seized by government forces upon returning after having been displaced.

“In August 2018, when I returned to my house accompanied by the Russian Military Police (MP), I found that army personnel were living in my house, and when we asked them to leave, they refused,” he added.

Abdullah said that he contacted the security branches and many officers to vacate the house, but all in vain. Adding “they always make excuses, even though the security situation is stable and there is no logical reason for them to stay at my house.”

Abdullah indicated that the Russian MP had received dozens of complaints from civilians whose homes were seized and turned into military headquarters by the government forces, but the military police did not provide any response, despite its previous pledge to remove the government forces from cities and towns to be returned to their military barracks.

Khaled al-Omar, a pseudonym for a resident of Lajat, which is administratively affiliated with the city of Daraa, was displaced in 2012 to a neighboring country. He asked not to disclose his place of residence for security reasons.

Al-Omar noted that his house was closed and remained uninhabited until 2018, when government forces entered Daraa.

Al-Omar further explained that the government forces seized his house and turned it into a military headquarters, while one of the soldiers took over his parents’ house, which he still inhabits with his family.

Al-Omar added that his brother asked the officer in charge of those members to ask them to evacuate his family’s properties, but they refused, saying that “when their owners return, we will leave them.”

Despite the settlement agreement sponsored by Russia between the Syrian opposition and the government forces in late July 2018, one of its most prominent provisions was the return of the displaced to their homes. At the time, Russia pledged to remove all military and security forces that entered the villages and cities of the province and returned them to their military headquarters.

According to activists from Daraa, Russia has evaded its obligations, as the Syrian government refused to remove its forces from villages and cities that have been secured, except for assassination and arrests which is carried out by armed groups linked to the government security services.

The activists noted that there is no need for the presence of government forces in Daraa and its countryside, as their presence is limited to vandalizing civilian properties.

Civilian objects to military headquarters

The government forces in Daraa and its countryside have not only seized civilians’ houses, but also took over some civilian objects as military headquarters and posts. At least six schools were seized in the Lajat area, in addition to a mosque, a dispensary, and more than nine other houses.

Rabie al-Khalf, a resident of Lajat, said, “upon our return to the region, we found that members affiliated to the security branches and military formations had seized some houses, turning them into military headquarters; they also seized a number of schools, mosques, a dispensary and some government facilities.”

According to local sources, one of their military checkpoints in the vicinity of the town of Izra, in the eastern countryside of Daraa, is headquartered in a mosque, while the Ninth Division of the government forces takes a telephone exchange building and a dispensary in Sour, in central Lajat, as their headquarters. The Division is still taking over a number of houses in the villages of Shomra and al-Modawara, in Lajat, as headquarters.

They pointed out that members of the State Security Branch of the government forces are taking the annex of the high school in the town of Jadal, in Lajat area, as a military headquarters, despite the repeated complaints of the students’ families.

According to three people interviewed by North Press, in addition to the testimonies mentioned in the report, the forces involved in the seizures are the Fifth and Ninth Divisions and the State Security Branch, in addition to several checkpoints.

It is noteworthy that the Syrian government and its forces confiscated and seized a large number of the homes of the displaced who fled from the government bombing or for security reasons, after participating in anti-government protests. The government used their houses as military positions, especially in areas with a majority of anti-government sentiment, such as Eastern Ghouta, al-Qusayr, and some neighborhoods of the city of Homs, in addition to the areas it controlled over a year ago, such as Saraqib and its outskirts.

The Syrian government permitted the confiscation of the IDPs’ homes and those opposed to it, according to Decree No. 10 of 2018, which allows the establishment of regulated areas all over Syria, designated for reconstruction.

The government granted a period of 30 days to residents to present the needed documents for compensation. Owners presenting paperwork after this period they would not be compensated.

While the government  confiscated a large number of homes in 2012 according to Legislative Decree No. 63 of 2012, which allowed the Ministry of Finance to seize the property of persons subject to the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012 and transfer their ownership to the Syrian government, which was considered by many human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, as an unfair decision. Moreover, they said that the term “terrorism” used by the government has multiple interpretations, unfairly criminalizing a large segment of the population without giving them any right to legal proceedings or a fair trial.

Seizing property in law

According to international humanitarian law, the people’s right to proper housing is protected. The conflicting parties are prohibited from seizing houses and forcibly evicting civilians, in addition to imposing legal redress on them.

The law, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Treaty and other laws and treaties, entitles displaced persons to return voluntarily and safely to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement end.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights on the right to property, it is forbidden under any circumstances “to arbitrary or unlawful confiscate all or part of the funds”.

The Pinheiro Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons, states that “The principles relating to the restitution of housing and property to refugees and displaced persons shall apply equally to all refugees, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable persons who have fled across national borders and who have been arbitrarily or illegally deprived of their housing, land, former property or habitual residence, regardless of the nature of the circumstances that originally led to their displacement”.