Image source: Pel report
Image source: Pel report

Syria: A research report highlights property rights violations and forced displacement

The “PEL – Civil Waves” organization issued a research report on HLP rights violations. They published it on 30th March 2024, entitled: “Theft of property as one of the tools of forced displacement in the Afrin, Tal Abyad, and Sere Kaniye/Ras al-Ain (Northern Syria)”.

The report addressed HLP rights violations in both the Afrin region since March 2018 and the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain/Serêkaniyê regions since October 2019 after their occupation by Turkish forces and the Syrian National Army. The report indicated that the Syrian National Army aimed to displace the indigenous population and change the demographic composition through forced deportation and displacement operations that occurred through a number of types of HLP rights violations, including:

  • Destruction of real estate
  • Razing trees and looting agricultural crops
  • Seizing real estate and turning them into military headquarters and bases.
  • Seizing real estate and housing others in them
  • Stealing and damaging indigenous people’s home furnishings and plundering their livelihoods
  • Imposing royalties on agricultural crops
  • Threatening the owners with dire consequences if they return to their homes.

The report’s methodology was based on 164 testimonies from victims of forced displacement, in a direct physical manner, and the issue of “The theft of property as one of the methods of forced displacement” was chosen as the content of the report, which was prepared after analyzing the testimonies that demonstrated the purpose of displacing the indigenous population and pushing them into displacement and not thinking about returning through theft their property and destroy them.

The legal description of the report stated that the Turkish presence in those areas is considered as an “Occupation” according to what was stipulated in Article 42 of the “Hague Convention” of 1907 and Article 8 of the “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

The report explained forced displacement from a legal perspective, which includes two concepts that make up the term, which are both the term “Displacement,” means removing a person from his homeland or the place in which he is located outside that place or country. The term “Coercion,” means enforce and the occurrence of displacement is outside the will of the displaced person. Forced displacement from the perspective of international law is considered a violation of the text of 13th Article of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948, and the text of Article 12 of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” of 1966.

It is stated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement that every human being has the right to be protected from being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or habitual residence, and falls under prohibition when it is based on policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, or other practices aimed at or leading to changing the composition of ethnic, religious or racial of the affected population. These principles also stipulate that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of his property or money and that protection must be provided.

The “Fourth Geneva Convention” in 1949 stipulated the prohibition of the collective or individual transfer of protected persons or their deportation from the occupied territories. The Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 also prohibited the forced transfer of civilian populations for reasons related to the conflict and forcing them to do so, considering this a crime, according to the report, under Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions.

On the other hand, the Syrian Penal Code considers seizing others’ real estate without legal document a crime of usurping real estate based on Article 723, with a penalty of six months.

The violations in which parties involved was identified amounted to 148 cases. Al-Hamzat faction had the largest number in terms of violations of property rights, which amounted to 33 cases, followed by the Ahrar Al-Sharqiya faction with 16 violation cases, then the Sultan Murad faction with 13 violation cases, followed by the Al-Mu’tasim Brigade with 12 violations, the Al-Jabha Al-Shamia 7 violations, the Military Police 4 violations, Sultan Suleiman Shah 3 cases, as well as Ahrar al-Sham 3 cases, and each of the Faylaq Al-Sham, the Shaitat Battalion, the Suqour Al-Shamal Brigade, and the Al-Mawali Battalion was assigned two violations, and one violation each for the Suwar Hama Brigade, the Qadisiyah Battalion, and the Durh Al-Furat.

While the number of violations attributed to the Syrian National Army without specifically specifying the name of the brigade or faction reached 20 violation cases, and 26 violation cases were documented by the Turkish army.

The report revealed the most important effects of forced displacement, which included the effects of forced displacement on the rights and basic freedoms of the displaced, the effect of forced displacement on the political solution in Syria, and the effects of forced displacement on changing the demographic composition, in detail for each one separately.

The report cited a number of victims’ testimonies about the various types of HLP rights violations they were exposed to, including the testimony of a woman named Umm Nidal (a pseudonym) from the Bulbul town in the Afrin region, in which she said: “The house that was under construction, consisting of two rooms and utilities with a spacious area, was destroyed as a result of the Turkish bombing of the town on 27th January 2018, it became uninhabitable.”

The report also mentioned some testimonies about the bulldozing of trees and the looting of agricultural crops. Mrs. K. D from Jenderes, where 90 olive trees belonging to her were cut down and bulldozed. She said: “My neighbor told me that a group of people believed to be from the Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction entered my house and looted all its contents… and they sold those items in the village of Yalanquoz.  As for the small items remaining in the house, they threw them outside and burned them afterward.”

Regarding the conversion of indigenous lands into military bases, the report mentioned the testimony of Mr. “Abu Sarhad” (a pseudonym), a resident of the Maabatli district of the Afrin region, saying: “Turkish intelligence seized our house in Afrin for about two years, and then it became under the control of one of the factions.. Armed forces also seized agricultural lands, which included about five hundred olive trees.”

Regarding housing displaced civilians in indigenous homes and seizing them, the report published the testimony of the victim (E.M.) from Afrin, saying:

“..I heard from my neighbor that the door of my house was taken down by one of the military factions. I believe it was from the Sultan Murad faction….  About a week later, a family from the Aleppo countryside was housed in the house and my brother’s house, adjacent to my house, was seized.”

According to the report, seizing the properties of civilian residents was not the only means of displacing them. Rather, the violators worked to steal and destroy their movable property located in homes and shops. The report mentioned the testimony of Mr. “Abu Abdullah” (a pseudonym for the witness) from the people of the town of Rajo in Afrin, saying:

“The Turkish-backed armed groups entered our village and seized the houses and confiscated their contents, including the contents of my house. They also seized my agricultural land, which is lined with 800 olive trees, and confiscated my agricultural tractor, two PART motorcycles, and 100 cans of olive oil.”

The report presented several recommendations with the aim of addressing the catastrophic effects of forced displacement to the international and local bodies concerned with the regions of Afrin, Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê and Tal Abyad, including: the USA and the EU, the United Nations and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, the Syrian government (current or future), The Syrian opposition (Coalition and Interim government), Kurdish National Council (ENKS), Autonomous Administration, civil society organizations.

It called on them to assume their responsibilities regarding the violations occurring in those areas and to work quickly to find a political solution for Syria and create a safe environment to promote the voluntary and dignified return of the displaced to their homes and to issue a UN Security Council resolution to refer the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court.

At the end, the report explains in detail the most important effects of forced displacement on the rights and basic freedoms of the displaced on the political solution for Syria, on changing the demographic structure in Syria in general, and on the residents of the “Olive Branch” and “Peace Spring” operations areas in particular, which are even more horrific and disastrous when these policies are practiced on an ethnic or national basis to erase the identity of an entire Syrian component.

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