Many complexities surround the Syrian government’s refusal to recognise civil events, such as marriages, births, and deaths, in areas currently outside its control or those occurring during the opposition’s control of areas later recaptured by the regime forces.
For instance, per the official Syrian civil records, Manal is still listed as single despite having been married for three years and giving birth to a child, who is now one and a half years old and undocumented. Manal resides in the city of Maarat Al-Numan in the Idlib countryside, under the Syrian Salvation Government’s (SSG) control. She cannot register these events with any Civil Status Departments affiliated with the Syrian government’s Ministry of Interior. Consequently, due to her marriage and childbirth, her newly acquired rights to housing, land, and property are now at risk.
The Civil Status Law No. 13 of 2021, an amendment to the old Law No. 26 of 2007, does not recognise documents not registered in the Syrian state’s official records. It states that in a civil event involving a citizen in Syria, the relevant documents should be submitted directly to any civil registry centre responsible for its documentation. Thus, personal status events not registered in the Civil Status Centres of the Damascus government’s Ministry of Interior are not acknowledged. Owners of such undocumented incidents must, instead, go through the process of re-establishing them.
Residents of opposition areas must return to regime-controlled zones to confirm their marriages and register births or appoint relatives or lawyers to do so on their behalf. Many residents fear detainment by security agencies if they return to the regime’s areas of control.
Najwa was forcibly displaced from Darayya with her husband during the forced evacuation of residents and the opposition forces in the summer of 2016. They eventually settled in Idlib. However, her husband passed away in 2018. None of Najwa’s relatives have returned to Daraya, and the possibility of her returning is not under consideration.
Najwa could not sell her share of a licensed building once owned by her deceased husband in Darayya, Rural Damascus, because she isn’t recorded as a married woman in the official registries. She would first need to return to regime-controlled areas or assign one of her relatives to register her marriage at the Civil Status Department, followed by her husband’s death. Only after that can she initiate the legal inheritance procedure for her late husband’s properties.
Sara was displaced from Wadi Barada in Rural Damascus to Idlib with her husband and child at the end of 2016. She faced a significant issue after her divorce. Sara married in 2013 and could not register her marriage at the time because the area was out of regime control. Similarly, she couldn’t register the birth of her child. Consequently, Sara cannot legally document her divorce either. Currently, Sara lives with her son in the Aleppo countryside and holds a family card issued by the SSG in 2017. Her ex-husband now lives in Idlib and has remarried. Documents issued by the SSG or the opposition-run Syrian Interim Government (SIG) are not officially recognised in areas under regime control.
Sara’s father still resides in Wadi Barada and has tried to document her marriage, childbirth, and divorce on her behalf. However, he returned fearing arrest because the regime had issued a warrant for his daughter’s ex-husband for security reasons. Thus, Sara is still officially single, and her son doesn’t exist in official records, which might later hinder him from inheriting from his father.
Umm Omar was displaced from Douma in the Damascus countryside to the Aleppo countryside. Security reasons also prevented her from registering many family-related events. Her husband, Abu Omar, was killed in regime prisons. However, his family managed to get his death certificate before their displacement from Douma in mid-2018. The late husband owned a house in a zoned area in Douma and had businesses. Omar, Umm Omar’s son, was killed by a rocket shell on the Afrin front in the western Aleppo countryside in 2020. Omar had recently married, and his son was born two months after his death. Umm Omar can occasionally return to Douma, but her lawyer advised her against registering her son’s marriage, death, and the birth of her grandson, as her son is also wanted for security reasons.
Umm Omar tried to process the inheritance of her deceased husband in 2019. He used powers of attorney for her children residing in opposition areas. However, government employees were apprehensive about accepting these powers of attorney. Even if Umm Omar manages to process her deceased husband’s inheritance, documenting her son’s marriage and death remains highly challenging. Therefore, it seems that her late grandson and his widow might be unable to claim their inheritance rights in the foreseeable future.
In all the mentioned cases, it is essential to highlight a significant obstacle in Law No. 13 of 2021. Article 44 of this law prohibits any modification or correction of civil status records unless based on a final judicial ruling. This means that to adjust or correct civil status records, one must go through the judicial process, which effectively excludes the poorest and most marginalised due to its costs and the need for a lawyer.