Explained: Private Property is Protected by the Constitution — with Exceptions

The Syrian constitution considers private property to be inviolable. However, there are two ways permitted to compel property owners to forfeit their property: expropriation, and what is called “private confiscation”. The latest constitution, adopted in 2012, gives certain parties the right to remove property through these two means, in accordance with specific rules and measures.

Article 15 of the constitution states that private property, whether collectively or individually owned, is protected — that is, it is forbidden to compel owners to forfeit this property except in cases of so-called "public benefit." This is defined as expropriation. The Syrian Civil Code defines expropriation as forfeiting for the public benefit through administrative procedures and in exchange for monetary compensation. Expropriations must be completed through a decree issued following the proposal of an authorised administrative body, according to Expropriations Law No. 20 of 1983. Expropriation is considered a privilege granted to administrative bodies to achieve public benefit.

Article 15 of the constitution also prohibits public confiscation, although it allows private confiscation by judicial order for the needs brought on by war and disasters. Private confiscation is forcible removal of assets or real estate from an owner, and adding those properties to state ownership without compensation. Private confiscation via judicial order is considered a form of legal punishment for certain crimes.

The most notable recent example of private property confiscations were those carried out under Anti-Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2012. Article 12 of the law states that "in all crimes stipulated, the court shall rule, by conviction, for confiscation of movable and immovable assets, as well as their proceeds, and all materials used or intended to be used for carrying out the crime". The law also provides for dissolution of the terrorist organisation, if it exists.

However, expropriations are limited to real estate, although private confiscations of movable assets are permitted. Administrative bodies are granted the right to expropriate, while the judiciary is in charge of private confiscations.

The procedures for cancelling such confiscations differ from those of cancelling expropriations. Under Syrian law, it is extremely difficult to cancel an expropriation, even if the concept of "public benefit" is no longer applicable to the property. Private confiscations, meanwhile, must be cancelled by the same body that issued the confiscation decree. They can also be cancelled by appealing the original court ruling.