Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today issued a report entitled “The Syrian Regime Announces New Auctions of Lands in Idlib Province Belonging to Displaced Persons and Refugees With the Aim of Seizing Them.”
The16-page report noted that the Syrian regime has committed many types of violations against the Syrian people since March 2011, foremost of which are arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and widespread indiscriminate bombing, which are the primary cause of the gradual displacement of the population over the subsequent years, with the total now reaching nearly 14 million Syrians, either displaced or refugees. The report further notes that the SNHR has documented the violations against the victims of forced displacement and monitored the laws issued by the Syrian regime since 2011 that aim to control their property and lands.
The new report documents the Syrian regime’s announcement, issued through the General Secretariat of Idlib Governorate, on September 29, 2022, about three public auctions whose items included agricultural land in the suburbs of Idlib Governorate. This shows that the Syrian regime continues to steal more lands belonging to the displaced and refugees and tries to cover its crimes through the policy of “public auctions”. The announcements provide for public auctions of plots for agricultural investment (rain-fed) for the agricultural season 2022-2023. The first is of lands in the Khan Sheikhoun area. The first auction date held from October 2 to 6, 2022, while the second, is of lands in the Ma’aret al-Numan area, took place from October 9 to 13, 2022, and the third, auctioning lands in the Saraqeb and Abu al Thuhour area, was scheduled to be held from October 16 to 20, 2022. According to the report, the area of land covered by auction announcement in the suburbs of Idlib governorate to date has reached at least 570,000.
The report indicates that the announcements were published under the title, ‘Auction announcement at full speed,’ and that the areas of land being auctioned might increase or decrease in size. The lands would be handed over to investors on the ground through the presentation of official deeds issued by the special committee. The announcement did not specify the locations of the auctioned lands or the names of their owners. Instead, it provided the names of regions and villages affected by the auction, along with the area offered for auction. The announcement specified the venue for the auction itself in “the Temporary Building of Idlib Governorate in Khan Sheikhoun.”
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime tries to steal land and property through procedures that appear to be legal, such as the method of auctions, but in reality they further violate the rights of the forcibly displaced, which are guaranteed by international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The confiscation through these deceptive methods by the Syrian regime is considered to be theft, and amounts to a war crime.”
The report explains that, as the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented previously, the Syrian regime’s first attempts to use public auctions as a method of stealing and controlling agricultural land and looting crops date back to June 2020. We also documented the announcement of auctions by security committees in all rural areas of Hama Governorate, and in the southern and eastern suburbs of Idlib Governorate, which the Syrian regime and its allies regained control of in 2019 and 2020. These committees are formed by the regime’s Security and Military Committee in Hama Governorate, which consists of the heads of the security branches in the region and the governorates, the Police Commander, the Public Defender, and a representative of the National Progressive Front. The participation of all these regime bodies and authorities indicates that the orders are issued from the highest level, demonstrating that the theft of land and crops in this way is a central decision issued by the Syrian regime leadership.
The report notes that, according to Thaer Salhab, the governor of Idlib, who is affiliated with the Syrian regime government affiliated “The lands offered for investment belong to those hiding in the north.” The report emphasizes that a warrant of arrest or capture may be issued by the Syrian regime’s Military Field Court or Terrorism Court without the knowledge of the person against whom it was issued, and that arrest warrants may be issued intentionally against persons whose lands are to be stolen. The report also reveals that the Ministry of Justice issued Circular No. 30 of 2021, which imposed the need for the regime’s security services’ approval in order to obtain any judicial power of attorney for the absent and the missing. The procedures for obtaining this approval are accompanied by bargaining and material extortion. Also, Many absentees are also wanted by the security branches, and this Circular means that it is impossible to give their families and relatives the right to obtain a commission (power of attorney) to manage the absentee’s funds.
The report concludes that the process of seizing the property of hundreds of thousands of opponents of the Syrian regime is consolidating the process of forced eviction and displacement, in an attempt by the Syrian regime to engineer the demographic and social structure, and necessarily constitutes a major obstacle to the return of refugees and displaced persons. The public auctions announced by the regime in recent years are just another method adopted in areas outside the regime’s control to expand the seizure process to include agricultural lands and crops, and to distribute these among its supporters. Also, those auctions announced by the regime through its security committees are a flagrant violation of the property rights stipulated in the Syrian Constitution itself, which includes a number of articles that guarantee the rights of ownership and disposition.
The report calls on the international community to condemn the Syrian regime’s practices of stealing and looting the property of displaced persons and refugees, to expose its deceptive practices in this context, and to support the speedy implementation of the political transition process to prevent further theft and looting of land and property. The report recommends that the International Independent Investigation Commission document the looting of new lands carried out by the Syrian regime through the policy of public auction. It also recommends that the OHCHR condemn the Syrian regime’s practices of extensive theft, looting and seizing control of property and residential and agricultural lands, and report to the UN Security Council and the international envoy to Syria in this regard.
And many other recommendations.