Public auctions of forcibly displaced people’s lands are another Syrian regime method to seize its opponents’ property in a widespread and deliberate manner
at least 440,000 dunums of agricultural land seized by the Syrian regime in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its latest report, released today, that public auctions of forcibly displaced people’s lands are another Syrian regime method to seize its opponents’ property in a widespread and deliberate manner, noting that at least 440,000 dunums of agricultural land have been seized by the Syrian regime in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib.
The 20-page report notes that the Syrian regime has used various types of terrorism and repression against those who participated in the popular uprising against it, who wish to achieve a political transition toward freedom and democracy, in order to create a general atmosphere of terror that deters anyone considering dissent, with the Syrian regime perpetrating egregious violations in a widespread manner, foremost among which are extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, torture, summary executions, sieges, forced displacement, indiscriminate shelling, and widespread destruction of buildings and vital facilities.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime has also resorted to another form of persecution of its opponents by seizing their lands and properties as an additional form of punishment which also extends to their families, while at the same time enriching the regime and its accomplices through redistributing these stolen and looted assets among the regime’s security services and local militias as a form of ‘reward’ for their services in lieu of cash payment.
The report summarizes the most prominent of the laws and decrees enacted by the People’s Assembly in Syria which is affiliated with the state security services, upon which the Syrian regime relies in sanctioning its own theft and looting of the property of its opponents and of residents of the areas that participated in the popular uprising against it. The report adds that these articles of legislation target the majority of the Syrian people, constituting an additional form of collective punishment of those already dispossessed, being clearly discriminatory in nature and bearing a blatantly political and vengeful dimension.
The report focuses in particular on the Syrian regime’s newest forms of seizing control over the property of political opponents, with the regime’s forces seizing crops and agricultural lands through the introduction of a new method aimed at legitimizing this misappropriation and theft, with security committees announcing public auctions in all the areas of the suburbs of Hama governorate, and the southern and eastern suburbs of Idlib governorate, over which the Syrian regime and its allies regained control in 2019 and 2020.
The report relies on investigations and communication with a number of the owners of lands and crops seized by the Syrian regime through this auction process, providing extracts from five of the statements by these individuals in this report. The report reveals that some of the farmers told SNHR that their lands and crops had been seized without any compensation being provided, adding that this action had taken place prior to the announcement of the new initiative to seize land through sham public auctions whose real goal is further state theft of citizens’ property.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime has recently focused on a new strategy of seizing lands in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib, but, based on our experience with the mentality and approach of the Syrian regime, we at the Syrian Network for Human Rights believe that this approach will be extended to include other areas in the Eastern Ghouta, Daraya and Southern Syria, similar to the way in which the Syrian regime gradually increased the intensity of its use of weapons for bombardment and killing, with its gradual introduction and implementation of legislative texts through which it seizes thousands of its opponents’ properties, blatantly aided by the total inability and unwillingness of the UN Security Council, the international community and the world’s democratic and civilized states, to help the Syrian people.”
As the report reveals, 22 auction announcements have been recorded, which extended to the farmlands around nearly 134 villages and towns in Hama governorate, and 88 villages and towns in Idlib governorate, with the total area of these lands being approximately 400,000 dunums, including various agricultural lands that produce wheat, barley, potatoes and olives, as well as uncultivated lands and fish farms.
The report stresses that the strategy of seizing the property of hundreds of thousands of opponents of the Syrian regime intensifies the process of eviction and forced displacement, which is part of the regime’s attempt to engineer the demographic and social structure of the Syrian state that automatically constitutes a major obstacle to the return of refugees and IDPs. The public auctions announced by the Syrian regime recently are just a new method which it adopted in the areas that broke free of its control to expand the seizure process to include land and agricultural crops, and to distribute these to its supporters.
The report notes that most of the residents of these villages and towns which witnessed the confiscation of agricultural lands are farmers, with their land being their only source of livelihood, and the Syrian regime’s arbitrary control over it carries a political retaliatory dimension intended to terrorize and inflict further suffering on Syrian society, as well as being part of a deliberate strategy of impoverishment and plunder of the money and property of the Syrian people for the benefit of the ruling class.
The report warns that the Syrian regime’s policy of announcing public auctions will be expanded to include the other areas whose residents have been displaced by the regime, such as the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus and areas in areas in the Western Ghouta and Homs suburbs, with the vast majority of those displaced unable to return, due to the intrinsic threat to them from the Syrian regime through arbitrary arrests and persecution that may end in enforced disappearance and death due to torture, as well as due to the regime’s forced conscription of young men among them to fight against those who may have been besieged or protesting alongside them.
The report affirms that the public auctions announced by the Syrian regime through its security committees constitute a flagrant violation of the property rights stipulated in the Syrian constitution itself, including Article 768 and Article 770 of Syrian Civil Law.
The report further notes that putting agricultural lands up for public auction in this manner constitutes a violation of Article 15 of the Syrian constitution. This, as the report states, proves once again that under a dictatorial regime operating via a security state, there is no meaning to any constitutional texts.
As the report also notes, customary international law prohibits pillage under Rule 52 and Rule 111, and international criminal law, and amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
The report stresses that after the UN Security Council’s complete failure to protect civilians and secure security and stability in Syria, this mission has clearly been transferred to those countries that care to prevent war crimes being committed in accordance with their obligations under the Geneva Conventions and in particular with the common Article 1 therein, according to which they must ensure that states respect the Geneva Conventions, with the Syrian regime considered to be one of the most egregious violators of the Geneva Conventions and international law in the modern age.
The report calls on the international community to expose the Syrian regime’s tactics which show its intention to seize as much of its political opponents’ property and land as possible in order to use this stolen property as a bargaining chip in the negotiation process, by returning part of it and releasing some of the detainees in exchange for re-legitimizing the regime and accepting the continuation of its rule.
The report also provides similar recommendations to both the Independent International Commission of Inquiry and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
View full Report
Image: Map showing locations of the most-prominent areas in the Governorates of Hama and Idlib where the government announced public auctions of the abandoned agricultural lands. Source: Syrian Network for Human Rights.