Syrian Justice and Accountability Center; Seeking Justice for Property theft in Yarmouk

In this article, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center addressthe war crime of looting, which has been a commonpattern during the conflict in Syria, as power over a territory has transferred from one armed group to another. Whileseveral organizations have been focusing on restoring justice in relation to the ownership of land and houses, the looting of goods from homes and businesses must also be addressed as part of any comprehensive justice and reparations framework for Syria.

Looting is prohibitedunder customary international law and international humanitarian law. Nevertheless, providing restitution for this crime is inherently extremely difficult, due to the impossibility of tracking most stolen private property to its original owners. The problem is greatly exacerbated by the passage of time and the damage and loss of documents that might have proven ownership. Moreover, any restitution or compensation scheme would require that considerable resources be devoted to tracking down stolen goods and verifying individual claims.  Accordingly, justice and accountability for pillage does not seem to be a priority for future justice processes in Syria. Some Syrian refugees have considered that an amnesty for lesser crimes, such as theft, would be acceptable.

The Syrian Justice and Accountability Center nevertheless believes nevertheless that designing a comprehensive remedy for such losses could become urgent, given the devastating economic consequences of looting.

For this reason, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center advocatesfor the design of a comprehensivefinancial compensation scheme as aformof reparation to the victims of looting. The reparations program should award collective reparation, by covering specific neighborhoods that haveexperienced looting and destruction as a result of the fighting. Reparations should be incorporated into future reconstruction efforts for those neighborhoods. This remedy would, at the same time, confirm and support the right of return for the people dispossessed and displaced from those areas.