January 30, 2014

V. Demolitions in Barzeh neighborhood, Damascus

Dates of demolitions: October 2012; February-July, 2013 (approximate)[41]

Estimated area demolished: 5.3 hectares

August 4, 2012

November 29, 2012

In the Barzeh neighborhood in northern Damascus, government forces demolished a total of 5.3 hectares of buildings in two waves: in October 2012 and at some point between February and late July 2013.[42]

According to Bassam, whose house was demolished, government officials justified the demolitions by referring to a decades-old 1960s decree authorizing the widening of the street as part of an urban planning effort.[43] “Everybody knew about this decree,” he told Human Rights Watch. “So when my brother and I decided to buy a piece of land in that area, we made sure that the property was located more than 20 meters from the street in case the government would decide to implement it.”[44] Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain a copy of the decree.

But according to Bassam, when government forces demolished houses along the Tishreen Hospital Street during two weeks in October 2012, they also demolished his house, which he claimed was located more than 20 meters from the road.[45] Satellite imagery confirming both waves of demolition, shows that all houses within approximately 45 meters on either side of the road, and not 20 meters as the decree allegedly authorizes, were demolished.[46]

Bassam told Human Rights Watch that he tried to complain to the authorities, but that it had been useless:

My cousin and I went to the governor’s office in Damascus and asked for compensation. Of course, they said no. They told us that the demolition was ordered by this decree and we should have known about this before we bought the land. When we explained that our house is not within the 20 meter zone they told us to leave.[47]

Bassam told Human Rights Watch that he had both a document confirming his ownership of the land and a construction permit for his house.[48] Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify this claim.

However, the location and context of the demolitions in the Barzeh neighborhood indicate that the demolitions were related to the ongoing conflict. Both the demolished areas were located in the immediate vicinity of the Tishreen Military Hospital, one of the main hospitals receiving and treating wounded government soldiers.[49] The area is also located at the very edge of Damascus and opposition fighters regularly used the road to move from fields outside the city where they hid, to the area around the Abu Barzeh mosque, where they staged protests, according to Bassam.

The October demolitions removed all buildings within 45 meters of the road to the south of the hospital. The second stage of demolitions destroyed more than 50 buildings just to the south and east of the hospital compound.

Media reports indicate that government and opposition forces clashed several times in the area in the weeks leading up to the demolitions. Media also reported several attacks on and explosions at government checkpoints and police-stations.

One international journalist who visited the hospital noted in an article in December 2012 that buildings on both sides of the road for 90 meters (100 yards) had been flattened by bulldozers to make sniping and ambushes more difficult and cited the director of the hospital saying that six doctor and four ambulance drivers had been killed in a year, possibly when trying to get to the hospital, although this is not specified in the article.[50]

According to Bassam, snipers appeared on top of several buildings including the Tishreen Hospital and the public education center after the demolitions. Because of the demolitions, the snipers were able to monitor a significant area along the road. Bassam told Human Rights Watch that the opposition fighters moved to another area in Barzeh after the demolitions and the protests stopped because the snipers made it too dangerous for protesters to gather.[51]

While there are some reports of clashes in the area at the time of the demolitions, a video posted on YouTube on October 6 shows an excavator tearing down a house while people in civilian clothes are standing in the street and what appear to be civilian cars passing by.[52]

While opposition attacks on the hospital or medical personnel might have justified protective measures by the authorities, the demolition of dozens of houses appears disproportionate. The authorities do not appear to have offered any compensation to owners, according to the one owner that Human Rights Watch interviewed.

[41] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[42]Satellite imagery dates analyzed by Human Rights Watch: September 22, October 3, and November 29, 2012, and February 4 and July 1, 2013; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.

[43] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013. Some media articles about the demolition in Barzeh refer to decree 2190 from 1975. “قالت إنها ستؤمن منازل للمستحقين في برزة

محافظة دمشق: تم توجيه 155 إنذاراً لشاغلي عقارات مشروع طريق السلمية,” It [government] said it will provide houses to the beneficiaries in Barzeh Damascus Governorate: 155 warnings was directed to the occupants of the real estate project of al-Selmia road”

, Syria Steps, January 22, 2011, http://www.syriasteps.com/?d=207&id=62019 (accessed January 9, 2014); “الاستملاك مرسوم تتوارثه الأجيال دون تنفيذ!!,”(Expropriationdecreeinherited by generations without impelmentation!!!”) ,Jouhina, May 5,2007,

http://alsmu.com/jouhina.com/archive_article.php?id=1716 (accessed January 9, 2014).

[44] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[45] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[46] Satellite imagery recorded on September 22, October 3, and November 29, 2012; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.

[47] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[48] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[49] Deborah Amos, “At Syrian Military Hospital, The Casualties Mount,” NPR, June 12, 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/06/12/154858481/at-syrian-military-hospital-the-casualties-mount (accessed January 9, 2014); Jonathan Steele, “Fear follows the ‘martyrs’ on the roads to Damascus,” The Guardian, August 10, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/10/damascus-syrian-military-hospital; Patrick Cockburn, “Fear and loathing of Syria’s fallen soldiers,” The Independent, December 11, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/fear-and-loathing-of-syrias-fallen-soldiers-8406496.html (accessed January 9, 2014).

[50] Ibid.

[51] Human Rights Watch phone interview, July 4, 2013.

[52]هدم منازل ومحلات المدنيين على طريق مشفى تشرين 6/10/2012,” (“The demolition ofhouses andshopson Teshreen hospital roadOctober6/10/2012"”), October 6, 2012, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/afUt8ERBRSo (accessed January 9, 2014).