Legal experts have criticised amendments to Law 10, a controversial land-acquisition legislation, as not going far enough to safeguard property rights. The amendments, which were passed by the Syrian parliament last week, allow citizens one year – rather than one month – to prove land ownership before its seizure by the government.
Syria’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment, Hussein Makhlouf, told official media sources the amendments aim to give citizens “ample chance to submit claims of property ownership.” He added that parliament’s decision guarantees the constitutional rights of Syrians in protecting their properties, especially with many property owners currently reside abroad.
However, critics of the legislation maintain that even with the new amendments, Law 10 remains a front for legitimising forced land seizures and adversely impacts internally displaced people and refugees.
Ayman al-Dasouki, a researcher at the Turkey-based Omran Strategic Studies Centre claims the regime will remain able to carry out its plans unhindered. “The regime can set a number of bureaucratic, legal, and security hurdles in front of property owners, in order to seize their properties eventually, helped by the limited availability of consulates and offices that manage applications for those residing abroad,” says Dasouki.
“Construction projects managed by Arabian Gulf companies are already underway in Damascus and Rif Damascus”, the researcher added. “The regime intends to use reconstruction deals as bargaining chips towards lifting international restrictions and sanctions, as well as providing opportunities for businessmen close to the regime, and implement demographic changes in the country.”
Husam al-Sarhan, a lawyer and member of the Syrian Layers’ Collective, an opposition body, explained that Syrians living in Germany and Sweden are unable to return to Syria in order to claim their properties. He added, “Syrians will also not appeal to the legal system as long as it is fully controlled by the regime.”
Former Syrian judge and legal consultant, Mustafa al-Qasim, agrees. “Refugees will still not be able to return to their homes as long as the law is on the books. As soon as an area is slated for rezoning, all properties within it are immediately frozen, and owners are prevented from trading or developing them entirely.”
“The regime is choosing to freeze people’s [property] interests, making them wait before ultimately denying them their rights to return to their homes and their country.”
So what prompted the decision to amend Law 10?
“Turkey, Germany, and more than 40 states filed complaints against Law 10 with the UN and the Security Council,” said al-Qasim. “They expressed concerns that the law strips refugees from properties back home, paving the way for their permanent residence in host countries.” These nations have “threatened to pull out of potential reconstruction contracts, which are highly lucrative for the regime,” stated al-Qasim.
While mitigating international pressure may have been one factor, al-Qasi and Dasouki agree that pressure from Moscow was decisive.
“Russia is clearly pushing the regime to adopt laws that align with its vision” said Dasouki. “This extends not only to the new amnesty laws for desertion but also lifting restrictions on Syrian Army reserves.”