In the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs (GDCA), the Central Land Registry Department and the Information Department are responsible for preserving and archiving various real estate documents to organise tasks and prepare for emergencies. Those documents include papers, photographs and electronic files. The aim is to protect the documents to prevent damage and loss of rights.
The mechanisms in place for documentation and archiving ensure the preservation of real estate documents, even if paper files are damaged. Previously, the general directorate would periodically photograph and store real estate documents stored at various sub-directorates in the governorates using digital cameras and microfilm, according to an undated study called Syrian Real Estate Legislation: Prospects and Challenges. The current general director of the GDCA and the director of the real estate legalisation prepared the report. There are subsidiary storage facilities in the governorates and a central facility in Damascus dedicated to storing these copies.
Another set of copies of the microfilm images is also stored at the Central Bank of Syria, according to a statement by the cadastral affairs general director in September 2022.
If true, this means there is a vast archive of real estate documents in Syria’s governorates.
However, the general directorate appears to have not fully lived up to its tasks. For example, a project that began in the 1990s to digitise the Land Registry, which was part of a larger strategic digital governance project, did not meet much success.
Only around 11 percent of Land Records in Syria have so far been digitised, which includes transferring these records from paper documents into electronic files. In 2014, the then-director of cadastral affairs stated that the digitisation project had reached a stumbling block, despite having direct impacts on real estate rights and the exchange of individuals’ and the state’s fixed assets. This was due, he said, to a lack of realistic and systematic planning and a failure to develop new work tools or update outdated technical concepts.
On the other hand, if the general directorate was fully meeting its duties, there would be no need, for example, to issue new laws such as Law No. 33 of 2017, which regulates the restoration of lost or damaged real estate documents. The law defines restoration as a set of administrative and judicial procedures ending in issuing an approved replacement for a real estate document or completing a missing or damaged portion.
There are two paths for document restoration under Law No. 33, administrative and judicial. Administrative restoration is when the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs or another government entity has sufficient documents to restore their lost ones. Judicial restoration is applied if pictures of copies of those documents are not available or if there are insufficient documents. In such cases, a judge appointed by the Minister of Justice issues a decision specifying the nature of the damaged land records and any other components needing restoration. The concerned parties then have six months to provide documents supporting the real estate rights recorded on those land records.
If the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs had a complete backup copy of those real estate registries, as officials claim, then there would be no need for judicial restoration. Indeed, despite this claim, the directorate acknowledges that its central archive is incomplete or outdated and that it must restore certain documents.