Syria’s civil war has been marked by brutal chemical and air attacks on civilians, widespread human rights violations, and urbicidal attacks—those intended to destroy both the built environment of urban centers and their distinctive ideological and cultural features. As open conflict in Syria draws to a halting close, human rights activists must pay urgent attention to the methods of reconstruction and property restitution contemplated and initiated in the postwar period, given the widespread destruction of Syria’s cities and the expropriation of civilian property.
Drawing upon case studies from Bosnia and Beirut, this Note argues that traditional property restitution mechanisms are unsuited to facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their pre-war homes in the aftermath of urbicidal wars. By focusing on administratively adjudicating the status and retitling of property, such mechanisms fail to recognize the linkages between methods of destruction and possibilities of future conflict. Prior property restitution efforts have failed to account for the organizing logic underlying urbicidal wars. As a result, such mechanisms have ushered in opportunities for the deployment of neoliberal financing and urban planning practices that are themselves urbicidal in purpose and effect.
This Note cautions that, in Syria, private foreign and regime interest-holders are likely to erect new modes of authoritarian control through the forcible imposition of new urban arrangements throughout the country. Postwar reconstruction in Syria will not be the solution to urban destruction, but rather the continuation of urbicidal violence. Without rapid intervention, the result will be continued potential for conflict and long-term destabilization in the region.
Title: Place Annihilation and Property under Assad: Examining Reconstruction and Neoliberal Authoritarianism in a ‘Postwar’ Syria
Editor: Emma DiNapoli
Published by: Columbia Human Rights Law Review; Columbia University, Law School, Students
Date: June 19, 2019