Explained: How Does the New Civil Status Law Impact HLP Rights?

On March 1, 2021, the People’s Assembly approved a new draft law on civil status in Syria, to replace Civil Status Law No. 26 of 2007 and its amendments.

The new law includes 79 articles with provisions related to civil registration and entries, such as births, marriage, divorce, deaths, the correction of civil status restrictions, personal and family ID cards, as well as fees, fines and penalties related to the delay in registering changes to civil status. The full law has not yet been published and will only take effect once ratified by  the president within a one-month period, unless  he chooses to return it to the People’s Assembly  as allowed under the Syrian constitution.

Executive instructions for the new civil status law are also expected to be issued to clarify some of its ambiguities.

Political reasons?

The main purpose of the new law may be political, as the government prepares for this year’s upcoming presidential election and draws up an electoral registry of Syrians who are entitled to vote. This point is clarified in Articles 6 and 7 of the civil status law, which stipulate that the data contained in the civil registry have the weight of legal evidence and serve as a source of national statistics in various forms. Through this new law, the Syrian government may be attempting to control who is entitled to vote, and to restrict them as much as possible within the areas of the country under regime control.

On the other hand, article 10 says that if either paper or electronic civil records are lost or destroyed, or their entries are cancelled for any reason--whether procedural or technical--then the last backup copy shall be returned under the minister’s approval. The lost data will then be re-recorded. Article 28 of Elections Law No. 5 of 2014 gave the Ministry of Interior the duty of preparing a general electoral registry in coordination with the Ministries of Justice and Local Administration, as well as the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Article 10 of the new law may be used to obstruct recognition of civil documents for a large number of people forcibly displaced to Idlib and surrounding areas, from areas retaken by Syrian regime forces in recent years. In such cases, it is possible to rely on records made by the Idlib governorate prior to 2011, as well as current records in areas recaptured by the regime. This means a large portion of those who were forcibly displaced  may essentially fall through a gap between two different sets of civil records. The issue is potentially dangerous, as approximately three million people were displaced to Idlib from other parts of Syria. Similar steps may also be taken in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES).

Housing, land and property rights

The impact of the new civil status law may extend beyond political concerns, to indirectly affect people’s rights to dispose of their properties, as well as inheritance issues. These effects would disproportionately affect residents of areas outside the authority of the Syrian regime, as well as forcibly displaced people, detainees, and people married to foreigners.

Under the new law, the land registry may ask parties involved in some transactions such as buying and selling to present their new ID cards, which are to be issued under the latest law. A date has not yet been set for issuance of the cards.

In addition, major complications may follow failure to recognise civil procedures such as marriages, births and deaths in areas outside regime control, as well as procedures that occurred in formerly opposition-held areas that were recaptured by the regime.

Those impacted by this lack of recognition will have to re-register changes to their civil status. However, Article 44 of the new law prohibits any amendment or correction to civil status entries except by a final court ruling. This measure excludes low-income and marginalised Syrians, due to the costs involved and the need for a lawyer.

Among the dangers of the new civil status law, as well as the previous one from 2007, is the complexity of establishing inheritance rights in the case of people forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime, whom it refuses to recognise are being held in its prisons; or people killed under torture for whom death certificates have yet to be issued. Articles 37 and 38 of the new law link recording deaths in prisons, quarries and hospitals to the testimony given by the directors of these institutions or their representatives, provided they keep records of deaths. Failure to obtain a death certificate, or a change of date, complicates inheritance and makes it difficult for the victim’s family to dispose of their properties.