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The New Arab Staff

Syrian regime 'stealing' opponents' land, HRW warns

The confiscated land constituted a primary source of income for the Syrian refugees [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 April, 2021

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HRW interviewed people who reported having had their land seized by the Syrian regime in Idlib or Hama provinces without notice or compensation between March and November 2020.

The Syrian regime is unlawfully confiscating the homes and lands of those who fled regime and Russian military attacks in Idlib and Hama provinces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday.

The watchdog found a pro-regime militia and the regime-controlled “Peasants’ Unions” to be responsible for seizing and auctioning these lands to regime supporters.

“Peasants’ Unions are supposed to help protect farmers’ rights but have become one more tool in the Syrian government’s systematic repression of its own people,” Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Aid organizations should ensure that Peasants’ Unions are not providing assistance for farming on stolen land,” she added.

HRW interviewed people who reported having had their land seized by Assad regime authorities in Idlib or Hama governorates without notice or compensation between March and November 2020.

The confiscations took place after they had fled a bloody 10-month-long offensive by the regime and Russia on rebel-held north-western Syria in 2019.

In most cases, the confiscated property constituted the primary source of income for the family and included cultivated lands used for planting pistachios, wheat, olive trees, and other types of crops.

Those interviewed said that a few months after the regime takeover, they began to receive news from relatives and on social media that lists were circulating for public auctions of lands they owned.

HRW’s report echoes the findings of a separate one, published in February by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). The SNHR said that the Assad regime seized 440,000 dunums (440 square kilometres) of agricultural land in Hama and southern Idlib provinces and announced public auctions to sell the land.

No compensation was offered to the owners of the property. Southern Idlib province and parts of Hama province were held by opposition forces until 2019 and SNHR characterized the land seizures as a form of “collective punishment” of those “already dispossessed”.

Read also: Russian rights groups slam Moscow's abuses in Syria

SNHR said in its report that the regime had used a number of laws and legislative decrees to seize the land, including Legislative Decree 63 of 2012, which permits the confiscation of land belonging to “terrorists”.

It added that it had recorded 22 announcements of land auctions, covering farmland around 134 towns and villages in Hama province and 88 towns and villages in Idlib province.

The SNHR’s chairman, Fadel Abdul Ghany, warned that the Assad regime’s land seizures could be extended to other areas of Syria formerly held by opposition forces.

“The Syrian regime has recently focused on a new strategy of seizing lands in… Hama and Idlib, but, based on our experience with the mentality and approach of the Syrian regime, we at the Syrian Network for Human Rights believe that this approach will be extended to include other areas in the Eastern Ghouta, Daraya and Southern Syria”, he said.

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