A popular backlash has pushed the Kurdish-led administration of northeast Syria to repeal a law regulating the management of properties owned by “absentees” just one week after authorities issued the text. Officials said they halted the implementation of the law following “misunderstandings and different interpretations of its articles.”
Thetext, called a “law” by the administration, hadraised very strong objections from the population but also frompolitical opponents who believe that it could be used to legalise confiscating displaced people’s properties.
The law was enacted last week by the General Council of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), which serves as a legislative body in areas of northeastern Syria under the control of Kurdish-led authorities. The council has 70 unelected members who are appointed by the AANES.
Law No. 7 for the Protection of Absentees’ Property, as the text is called, appears to go against the basic principles of the AANES founding charter, which says that the right of property is protected for all individuals.
According to Article 1, to dispose of absentees’ assets, the AANES Executive Council will form a committee tasked with the inventory and management of absentees’ properties. The Executive Council is the executive arm of AANES.
The law stipulates that the committee will be composed of 11 people from all sects of society in northeastern Syria and will be supervised by two trustees appointed by the Executive Council who will monitor administrative and financial matters, as well as follow legal cases and complaints about the properties impacted.
The committee has the right to invest in and rent the absentees’ property as long as the individual has no remaining close relatives inside Syria. Any proceeds from the properties will go towards “community development” until the owners return. The committee has the power to seize any profits from an absentee’s property if, within a year, the original owner does not return and reside permanently in Syria. This procedure does not affect the ownership of the property itself.
The new text defines an absentee as any Syrian who has permanent residency outside of Syria, and no longer has any first- or second-degree relatives in Syria. Relatives are categorized as follows: the first degree includes an individual’s father, mother, children and grandfather. The second includes the grandmother, brother, sister and grandchildren. The third includes both paternal and maternal aunts and uncles, as well as nieces and nephews. The fourth includes paternal and maternal cousins. According to Law No. 7, an absentee who has no first- or second-degree relatives inside Syria must appear in person to prove ownership of their property.
Radwan Seidou, a Kurdish opposition lawyer and rights activist, toldThe Syria Report that the new law’s definition of an absentee contradicts other related Syrian property laws, which expand their definitions to include relatives in the third and fourth degrees. Seidou is a member of the legal committee on the Kurdish National Council (KNC), a coalition that includes parties opposed to the AANES. He said that the AANES’s newly introduced law violates property rights that had ensured absentees could dispose of their assets and choose whomever they see fit as their attorney.
Even before Law No. 7 was issued last week, the AANES’s judicial institution did not recognise attorneys of expatriate property owners, instead forcing them to appear in person to conduct their legal affairs. Law No. 7 also ignores other definitions of representation and recognises only a partial legal representation by relatives within the first and second degrees.
Article 19 of the law singles out Armenian and Assyrian Christians, granting them the right to form special committees to manage the properties of absentees from their communities. This is a form of legal discrimination that goes against the principles mapped out in the AANES’s founding charter. The law’s stipulation of a special committee for Christians may be related to widespread complaints from Christians against a similar text issued by the AANES’s Al-Jazirah Council in 2015. Opponents to that law feared it could impact Christians more than other groups due to widespread emigration within the Christian community.