The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released a report entitled, ‘Preliminary Analysis of the Law on Managing and Investing Transferrable and Non-Transferrable Assets That Were Seized Pursuant to an Unappealable Judicial Ruling, as Promulgated by the People’s Assembly of Syria’, in which it noted that the People’s Assembly of Syria is not a legitimate body, but an instrument in the hands of the Syrian regime used to formalize laws that violate Syrians’ rights and used as grounds to seize their funds.

The report stresses that it is a common policy for the Syrian regime to legitimize its dictatorial and totalitarian nature and practices through introducing statutory texts and laws that contravene not only fundamental human rights, but the peremptory norms of international law. Through such actions, the state’s executive branch, manifested in the form of the regime’s security authorities, has completely absorbed the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, effectively giving it absolute control over the process of promulgating laws; the same applies to the High Judicial Council and the Supreme Constitutional Court. All of these bodies have become merely façades used as instruments to legitimize the criminal practices of the executive authority. It is clear, therefore, the People’s Assembly of Syria is, in reality, more of a council of war which exists to support the ruling regime than a genuine legislative authority. This is best evidenced by the fact that it has never voiced any criticism or imposed any accountability measures against the Syrian regime throughout all the years this regime has been in power, particularly since 2011. Not once has the People’s Assembly of Syria held a minister to account or discharged one, no matter how heinous their crimes. On the contrary, the People’s Assembly of Syria has always shown blind support for the Syrian regime’s government and the President of the Republic throughout all the transgressions, violations, and crimes they’ve perpetrated against the Syrian people, including the use of chemical weapons, the killing of thousands of citizens under torture, dropping barrel bombs on densely populated cities and neighborhoods, and numerous other iniquitous violations that amount to crimes against humanity. In effect, the People’s Assembly of Syria’s primary and sole purpose is to pass laws that complement the goals of the Syrian regime regardless of how much they violate the rights of the Syrian people.

As Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR Executive Director, says:

“This arbitrary and unjust law, which violates many human rights, comes after the Syrian regime already depleted the resources of the Syrian state to cling to power. Its forces have pillaged Syria’s cities and towns since regaining control, yet even that was not enough for the regime which needed to introduce additional laws to enable it to plunder citizens’ funds and assets. This law is part of a legal arsenal that serves this purpose, also including the laws used to seize lands and properties, or those used to extort the families of forcibly disappeared persons. This law must be exposed and condemned, and any procedures stemming from it must be rejected.”

The report reveals that, on Thursday, November 30, 2023, the People’s Assembly of Syria approved the draft law on ‘Managing and Investing Transferrable and Non-Transferrable Assets That Were Seized Pursuant to an Unappealable Judicial Ruling’, passing it into law. The report stresses that this law is the fruit of a deliberate and calculated policy which the regime has perpetuated and extended since March 2011, of seizing the transferrable and non-transferrable assets of a wide range of the Syrian people – most notably arbitrarily arrested detainee, forcibly disappeared persons in regime detention centers, and hundreds of thousands of fugitives among the forcibly displaced. In pursuit of this policy, the regime has issued large numbers of decisions authorizing the provisional and judicial seizure of property and assets, ultimately culminating in the regulation of these practices through promulgating the law which is the subject matter of this report.

Moreover, the report notes that the articles of this law, which will also apply retroactively, will apply to all unappealable judicial rulings on the seizure of transferrable and non-transferrable assets, regardless of whether these rulings have been issued prior to or since this law’s promulgation. It is clear, therefore, that the legislation contravenes the principle of non-retroactivity, which is not limited to identifying and naming certain acts as crimes and offenses, but also extends to the resulting imposition of penalties and ruling. The principle of non-retroactivity is usually further emphasized and particularly maintained in times of conflicts, as is the case in Syria. As such, this new law cannot legally be used as grounds to impose penalties, with the principle of non-retroactivity not only preventing the seizure of property and assets, but also prohibiting their disposal and any utilization of these items by the executive authority. Additionally, the report notes, this law was introduced to enable the management and investment of transferrable and non-transferrable assets seized pursuant to an unappealable judicial ruling. Through this legislation, ownership of the assets in question will automatically be transferred to the state. As such, this procedure violates all the laws that protect defendants’ right to ownership of their property under the Syrian constitution, domestic laws, and even international humanitarian law, customary international law, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As the report further reveals, there is a chance that provisional seizure decisions issued by the minister of finance will be treated as judicial rulings. Since the vast majority of people affected by the many provisional decisions issued in recent years were not able to go through the formal legal channels to have the seizure lifted within the specified appeal period of no more than eight days from the day of the decision’s issuance, those decisions will ultimately become unappealable judicial rulings. The report documents no fewer than 68 executive and judicial state bodies that have issued decisions on freezing transferrable and non-transferrable assets, executive seizure decisions, provisional seizure decisions, decisions prohibiting disposing of assets, and decisions on giving a notice for seizure and on stripping, and seizure of transferrable and non-transferable assets.

The report adds that about 135,974 Syrian citizens of those arrested between March 2011 and December 2023 are still imprisoned and/or forcibly disappeared in regime detention centers. A proportion of those detainees have been referred to exceptional courts and been subjected to seizures of their transferrable and non-transferrable assets. Most of those seizures were additional sentences added to their original punishment of imprisonment or death. The report adds that there are grounds to believe that the regime has issued secret sentences against the overwhelming majority, which leads us to believe that detainees and forcibly disappeared persons are likely to be the first group to be conclusively and monstrously stripped of their properties through this new law. In this context, the report provides a summary of the information and data available on the Counterterrorism Court and the disbanded Military Field Court on SNHR’s database.

The report concludes that the legislative process in Syria has been stripped of all standards regulating legislation, especially those related to conflicts. This process has also contravened constitutional and legal articles in many of the laws that have been promulgated. The legislative authority, i.e., the People’s Assembly of Syria, lacks any autonomy and is completely subservient to the executive branch in every way, from appointing its members to controlling the laws passed by it. The report adds that his law violates articles of local and international law, and simply gives the Syrian regime the power to strip and deprive victims of their property rights in an irreversible way. Furthermore, the report stresses that this law perpetuates the policy of collective punishment adopted by the regime against the people of Syria, plunging them further into impoverishment and intensifying their lack of all forms of legal protection.

The report calls on the UN Security Council and the UN to expedite the process of bringing about a political resolution in Syria in line with Geneva Communiqué 1, and Security Council resolutions 2118 and 2254, which will help to secure the release of political prisoners and end torture, and to end the operations of exceptional security courts. The report also calls on the UN Security Council and the UN to condemn the Syrian regime’s hegemony over the three branches of government, and expose its practices of promulgating laws through which it can seize the assets of internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, forcibly disappeared persons, and victims that have not been registered as dead.

Meanwhile, the report calls on the UN Human Rights Agency (UNHCHR) to issue a statement condemning the Syrian regime’s manipulation of the issue of political prisoners and their assets, and its continued detention of tens of thousands of Syrian citizens without any real trial or real evidence, in addition to making other recommendations.