Challenges of Civil Documentation Makes Christians Further Invisible Within the Syrian Conflict

ICC Note:

Civil documentation allows citizens to receive birth and marriage certificates, as well as national ID cards, ensuring that citizens are recognized before the law. Without these documents, citizens are invisible before the law. In Syria, the presence of multiple conflict actors over a period of seven years has made it difficult for citizens to identify which group they should obtain documentation from, if at all. Instead, the UN has recommended that citizens keep apolitical documentation from non-affiliated local actors such as religious figures. This advice, however, can be difficult for Christians to follow as their religious leaders are often targeted by extremists. Furthermore, such documentation can create problems of discrimination for Christians struggling to survive in Syria.

 01/16/2018 Syria (Syria Direct) – Syrians living in rebel-held territory lack access to state-issued civil documentation securing their familial and property rights, as international aid officials express concern that holding opposition-distributed documents may be taken as antagonistic political acts by the Syrian state.

Bashar al-Assad’s government is the only entity inside Syria that can issue internationally recognized civil documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, property deeds and other notarized evidence of major life events.

Government-operated civil affairs offices closed years ago in territories captured by rebels. Syrians living in opposition areas with no access to government offices have no means to obtain government documents that establish legal rights over their children and property. For Syrians in rebel territory, a potential trip to the closest government civil affairs office could mean crossing active frontlines or facing detainment by the government.

Some opposition actors such as the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) operate their own civil registries in areas where they maintain a presence. But opposition-issued documents are not recognized internationally, and the current trajectory of the war in favor of the government casts doubt on their long-term value.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is “concerned” that possession of documents issued by opposition authorities and even extremist groups could be “perceived negatively by the state and may place individuals at risk,” Syria-based UNHCR spokeswoman Maya Ameratunga told Syria Direct in a recent interview.

“We highlight the importance of obtaining neutral documentary evidence of life events,” Ameratunga said, “rather than documents which may put them at risk of harm and be perceived as political.”

Last fall, the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) began issuing family ledgers bearing their logo to Syrians residing in opposition-held southern Syria. The ledgers are one of the most recent attempts by the opposition to provide documents parallel to those issued by the Syrian government.

The risk of alternative documents to state-issued paperwork “outweighs the benefits,” one Jordan-based United Nations (UN) official working on civil documentation told Syria Direct, asking not to be named.

“The UN wants to find a way to get people documentation,” the official said, but in a way that “does no harm.”

The most viable option to register life events, UN officials tell Syria Direct, seems to be for civilians to keep a collection of apolitical documentation from non-affiliated local actors such as religious figures, doctors, judges and community leaders that can later be used by the Syrian government to issue official paperwork.

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