The ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have caused immense suffering and destruction. The wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya have displaced millions of people, both inside their countries and across the border. Many of those displaced, especially in Syria, hail from informal housing in urban areas and often do not possess reliable legal proof for their ownership of the properties they had built and used to occupy. During the conflicts, informal housing was mostly located in rebel-held areas, significantly increasing the prospect of destruction and damage. This uneven distribution of the burden of HLP (housing, land and property) rights violations and destructions, as shown in many of the contributions in this book, turns HLP very directly into a question of social justice.
HLP rights violations can take different forms in times of conflict: they can be thecause, tool and/or outcome of the war and still bear vast importance for the post-war reconstruction of both physical, legal and state infrastructure. While overlooking the issue carries the risk of reigniting conflict, a successful and just settlement of HLP issues can contribute to a sustainable peace. Violations of HLP rights have historical, legal and social layers, as shown in the chapters. Initial violations and displacement from the time of post-independence nation-building or neo-liberal authoritarian upgrading have caused long-simmering preconflict tensions. Additionally, the current armed conflicts and its ensuing displacements and expropriations are adding further violations.
Given the current political and military realities in all three countries addressed in this publication – Syria, Libya and Iraq – and the accumulated layers of violations, dispossession and secondary occupation, a solution that addresses all grievances and achieves full restitution or compensation seems impossible. The focus, therefore, should lie on finding a feasible solution that brings justice for as many as possible and, most importantly, without creating new conflicts.
While this publication aims to give insights into the dynamics of HLP in three countries in the region, other countries are left out due to numerous constraints. Mainly these are Yemen, where HLP violations are rampant but research is unfortunately still scarce, and Palestine, where the issue unfolds in a very different way than in the rest of the region. Every project has its limitations, and for reasons of feasibility and comparability Syria, Iraq and Libya emerged as case studies. We sincerely hope that this publication might help raise awareness on the relevance of HLP grievances for building sustainable peace and improve the understanding of HLP dynamics in the region among international donors and decision-makers