Since its founding in 2014 under the name “Democratic Federation of Rojava – Northern Syria”, the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES) has clashed with Damascus-run authorities, which continued to function in the so-called “security squares” held by the regime in various cities of northeastern Syria. The AANES judiciary also has seen competition and dispute with the Damascus government, affecting matters related to housing, land and property rights.
As AANES took control of prisons in the area in 2014, it established a judicial structure headed by the Social Justice Council to act as ministry of justice, and affiliated diwan departments to act as courts. These diwans have two levels: first are the Social Justice Diwans, which oversee various cases except for terrorism-related suits. Second are the Discrimination Authority Diwans, which act as appeals courts. This system has seen significant difficulties and challenges, including continued operation of Damascus-run courts, which operate in the regime-run security squares.
These regime-run courts have continued their duties at all levels of litigation: reconciliation, first instance, appeals and cassation. However, the authority of the judicial police charged with executing the court’s decisions are limited only to the security square areas. If the judicial officer is asked to send a subpoena or other notification to someone outside of the security square, then the phrase “outside of authority” is written on the request.
Meanwhile, the AANES recognises rulings made by the Damascus-run courts, including those affirming sales contracts, leases, termination of common ownership, settlement and more. In real estate cases, there is an additional problem, however: an absence of official Land Registry records under the AANES amid continued reliance on records made by local departments of the central Directorate of Cadastral Affairs in Damascus. Those local departments have also continued their duties inside the security squares.
To resolve part of this problem, the AANES Social Justice Council issued Decree No. 6 in 2021, which prevented Justice Diwans from accepting real estate in-kind lawsuits related to the original property rights for rural properties located outside of zoning plans. The decree required a return to pre-2013 status for rural properties and state-owned properties, i.e., before the announcement of the formation of the Democratic Federation of Rojava – Northern Syria. It also obligated Justice Diwans not to consider lawsuits related to the origin of the real estate rights, which had previously been considered and ruled on by a final judicial decision, regardless of the issuing entity. The Council said this decree was meant to preserve the rights of citizens, avert any potential future disputes, maintain public interest and safeguard property rights. One of the reasons for issuing the decree was the AANES’ desire to stop judicial overlap in the areas it controls.
Decree No. 6 could mean some risks to HLP rights, such as freezing the hearing of some real estate dispute cases, resulting in time lost. For example, a man named Ahmad in Qamishli told The Syria Report that an AANES court refused to consider his lawsuit to reclaim a property before the government’s Civil Court of First Instance in the city decided on a lawsuit over the origin of the property right between him and his opponent. Only once Ahmad obtains a ruling from the Damascus-run court confirming his ownership can he proceed to implementation through the regime-affiliated judicial officer in Qamishli. However, if this implementation is not done properly because the property is “outside of control”, it is then Ahmad’s right to file a lawsuit for property extortion before the AANES’ courts, which resort to Asayish forces for implementation.
Fakhri is another resident who has been impacted by judicial overlap. He was young when his father died in 2001, before the implementation of a judicial ruling to recover a property from occupants who refused to hand it over. In 2019, Fakhri requested implementation of the 2001 decision through the implementation department of the Damascus-affiliated judicial officer in Qamishli. The judicial officer refused because the neighbourhood where the property is located is “outside of security control.”
Fakhri filed a lawsuit in 2022 before an AANES court for handover of the extorted property. The court refused to consider the lawsuit and returned it based on Decree No. 6, after the property occupant highlighted a judicial decision issued in 2013 by the Damascus-run Civil Conciliation Court in Qamishli, confirming his ownership of the same property. Thus, the dispute over the origin of the real estate right, which had previously been considered and ruled on by a final judicial decision from a court affiliated with Damascus, was upheld.
AANES courts do consider property extortion cases, according to Decree No. 6. Extortion is taking someone else’s property without their consent, or doing so without a legal document of ownership or a legitimate reason. The law does not require coercion as a condition for extortion; seizure without a legal justification suffices. The penalty for extortion, according to the AANES Penal Code, is up to two years in prison, and it is one of the most common complaints received by the public prosecutor in AANES areas.
Upon his return from Germany in 2022, Nabil found that his partner in an industrial shop in Qamishli had sold his share without consulting him. The shop was not divided between the old partners. According to the new sales contract, the buyer’s share of the shop was not determined. Nabil filed an objection to the sale, claiming that he should have been prioritised to buy his partner’s share, as the shop was communally owned. The People’s Court in Qamishli dismissed Nabil’s lawsuit, referring to Decree No. 6, due to the existence of an allotment document issued by the Qamishli Municipal Council indicating the share of each partner, which Nabil rejected. He resorted to filing an objection lawsuit before the regime’s courts in Qamishli for the same case.