APPROACHES AND INSTRUMENTS
Building and urban planning law
Building law regulates both public and private building activities, and defines rules, procedures and responsibilities for:
- building permits
- supervision and control of building activities
- technical and environmental standards
Urban planning law, in turn, is the collection of policies, laws, decisions, and practices that govern the management and development of the urban environment. Among other things, it regulates:
- development and land use planning
Applicable national law and regulations are generally translated into local law, typically in the form of master plans or land use plans, zoning ordinances or local building codes.
The responsibility for preparing local urban plans generally rests with local authorities. In large cities in particular, the municipal administration is the main planning body. National authorities primarily fulfil a regulatory and supervisory function. [What about Yemen?]
Even in pre-conflict situations, many countries in the Middle East rarely apply and enforce urban planning and building law consistently. Development on the fringes of urban centres often takes place informally, without planning or building permits. While suchdevelopment is less significant in historic city centres, small-scale building works, such as horizontal or vertical extensions, or modifications of floor plans, are fairly common. The extensive informality that prevails in the construction sector has nurtured corruption and extortion, and has been one of the root causes of conflict.
Housing, property and real estate law
Property and real estate law generally provides the regulatory framework for:
- real estate transactions
- property registration and documentation
- cadastral administration
- housing and tenancy
As in the construction segment, informality is a hallmark of record-keeping concerning tenure, property ownership and related matters, especially at the fringes of urban centres. Even in old city centres for which historical cadastral information is available, however, more recent property transactions and changes in ownership, e.g. by inheritance or the sub-division of properties among family members, can be inadequately documented or not officially registered.
This situation is often exacerbated by the destruction of property registers and other documents during armed fighting, or the falsification of documents by parties in the conflict. Moreover, many refugees and IDPs leave documentary evidence of their ownership and property rights behind when fleeing, or their papers are subsequently lost or confiscated.
Safeguarding the housing, land and property rights of refugees and IDPs can therefore represent a huge challenge in the context of post-conflict reconstruction. The rights of both returning and non-returning refugees and IDPs must be respected.
Law on antiquities and monuments
This body of law governs and regulates the protection, conservation and restoration of historic buildings and monuments, and archaeological sites.
Given the wealth of cultural heritage in the region, the relevant instruments have a fairly long history in most countries here. Some instruments date back to the early days of national independence – the Iraqi Antiquities Act of 1936 (updated by the Antiquities and Heritage Act of 2002), the Syrian Antiquities Law of 1963, and the Yemeni Act on Antiquities of 1955(updated by the Antiquities and Museums Act of 1970).
The main focus of these laws is on the:
- registration and listing of historic buildings as monuments with a special status as the basis for their protection and conservation
- maintenance, promotion and development of cultural heritage assets
- regulation and supervision of archaeological sites, and the issuing of excavation licences for archaeological research
- control of trafficking of artefacts
Many of the relevant laws have been supplemented or implemented by further decrees or regulations. As a general rule, they do not give consideration to the effects of armed conflict, and are therefore of only limited use to actors addressing the specific and often dynamic challenges of post-conflict reconstruction.