Syria’s Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983 stipulates that a property can only be expropriated by a decree issued on the recommendation of the relevant government minister. This decree must declare the public benefit of seizing that property – that is, public entities can only expropriate properties after such a decree is issued. However, Law No. 20 permits public entities to expropriate properties in two specific circumstances without or before the issuance of such a decree.
In the first case, a public entity can implement what is known as “marking the property,” i.e. marking the property’s Land Record for expropriation based on the detailed zoning plan for the area and, initially at least, following an expropriation decree. Marking the property on the zoning plan prevents the owner from disposing of it. Expropriation Law 20 No. 1983 does not specify a time limit for issuing an expropriation decree after marking the property.
According to The Syria Report’s HLP legal consultant, this represents a constitutional violation as it infringes on property rights without obliging the expropriating public entity to issue the expropriation decree within a specific period.
The Supreme Administrative Court’s Decision No. 15 regarding Appeal No. 25 of 1980 clarified that merely marking the property on a plan, indicating its designation as a government building, is insufficient to prevent the owner from disposing of it. A formal expropriation decree is necessary, as anything less would strip the owner of their rights using an illegal method and an unauthorized authority, making the expropriation mark unlawful and subject to cancellation, according to the HLP legal consultant.
However, the Supreme Administrative Court’s Decision No. 84 regarding Appeal No. 1204 of 2004 reversed Decision No. 15 of 1980. The court justified its decision by stating that zoning plans cannot be challenged before the Council of State. These plans are deemed general zoning decisions. Those affected by the plan can object within the timeframe specified in the Urban Planning Law No. 5 of 1982.
Article 5 of Law No. 5 of 1982 explains that objections to proposed zoning plans must be made within 30 days before a technical committee that the governor forms. However, this committee is merely administrative and has no judicial authority. This deprives the rights holder of seeking redress before the competent administrative court, which violates the principles of justice. The decision to mark property for expropriation based on a zoning plan is an administrative decision restricting the owner’s right to dispose of their property. Such decisions should be challengeable before the competent court, according to the HLP legal consultant.
In the second case, Law 20 No. 1983 allows a public entity to seize a property before the expropriation decree is issued, provided the property is undeveloped, such as agricultural land. Developed properties cannot be seized before the decree is issued and the property’s value is estimated.
Therefore, if the entity seizes a property before issuing an expropriation decree, they are obliged to compensate the property owner according to the principles of tort liability as stipulated in the Syrian Civil Code and subject to regular judicial jurisdiction. This approach was adopted by the Court of Cassation in Decision No. 857 with Base No. 984 of 2022, stating that if the entity’s expropriation of a property is proven illegal, it constitutes material extortion requiring compensation, with jurisdiction vested in the regular judiciary.