This post covers a document issued by the Aleppo Sharia Commission. Jabhat al-Nusra, Liwa al-Tawhid, Suqur al-Sham, and Ahrar al-Sham established the Aleppo Sharia Commission in November 2012 as a judicial and governance body.
Update 2014/5/25: The ASC Facebook page has been taken down, removing the link to the document discussed here. I have posted a photo of it below.
In November 2013, the Aleppo Sharia Commission (ASC) issued a document in which it provided some details about how it wants its branches in the countryside to be structured. The document also details the tasks that some of the branch commission’s bureaus and offices are expected to accomplish.
The document shows that the ASC strives to be much more than a judicial authority where it operates; the document, as well as other self-produced ASC media, clearly states that the institution seeks to become a comprehensive governance structure that subsumes judicial, executive, and services functions, including education, health care, economic regulation, and policing (importantly, the ASC has no legislative body, as the factions that established it are publicly opposed to “man-made” laws).
Nonetheless, the document’s emphasis on the Judicial Bureau and its related functions make it clear that the heart of the ASC is its role as a judicial authority. Most of the ink here is devoted to the components of the ASC’s branches that form the “justice triangle,” that is the police, the judiciary, and corrections.
A notable component of the ASC’s branches’ work is the Conciliation Office within the Judicial Bureau. Based on my limited knowledge of how these sharia courts and commissions are functioning in some rebel-held areas of Syria, they deal with a number of cases that are beyond the ability of the religious scholars/local notables who work in them to adjudicate properly. This is compounded by a lack of trained lawyers and judges willing to work in sharia courts and commissions (in fact, no defected judges would even work in the Unified Judicial Council, the ASC’s main rival for a time, which was generally considered more independent of armed groups and relatively more committed to a codified law). In addition, these courts and commissions also deal with many minor issues. As such, there has been a shift toward conciliation: consultative and compromise-based solutions to disputes embedded in the ability of local social networks, families, tribes, and other extra-legal mechanisms to resolve an issue. The sharia courts and commissions have thus been playing a mediator role, serving as the avenue through which these “traditional” dispute resolution mechanisms can work, and thereby co-opting them in the process.
The document, however, does not give us a clear understanding of the actual policies and procedures that the ASC and its branches follow. Although this document hints at some – such as the statement that detainees cannot be held more than 24 hours without a charge and without permission from the head of the Judicial Bureau or the President of the Commission – it does not provide much. We still do not know, for example, how the ASC’s courts actually work: what schools of Islamic jurisprudence do their judges base their rulings on? Who are the judges and what are their qualifications? What kind of representation is allowed to defendants? How does the ASC handle and admit evidence? And the list goes on.
Finally, the lack of ASC branches’ independence from armed actors is clear in the document’s description of how the branch heads are appointed and in the centralized nature of the Judicial Bureau. The ASC Presidency rotates between the factions that established it: Jabhat al-Nusra, Liwa al-Tawhid, Suqur al-Sham, and Ahrar al-Sham, the latter three of which later formed the Islamic Front along with a number of other factions. The President of the ASC and the organization’s Consultative Council appoint the subordinate branch head and his deputy. Further, the document states that the Judicial Bureau works under the supervision of the Judicial Bureau in the main Commission headquartered in Aleppo City. These two features ensure that the Islamist, salafi, and jihadi fighting groups (the real nature of Liwa al-Tawhid and Suqur al-Sham is not as obvious as that of clearly hard-line actors such as Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham) listed above wield considerable influence on all parts of the ASC.
I’ll add that in practice, some of the ASC’s branches reportedly operate relatively independently of the main ASC body, with the strongest branches operating in the southern countryside. In the western countryside, where the ASC claims jurisdiction but where more moderate armed actors are strong, another sharia court network, the Sharia Court in the Western Countryside of Aleppo, seems to have more sway.
Translation and document below:
Structure of Branch Commissions in the Aleppo Countryside
A branch commission is comprised of the Office of the President of the Commission and his Deputy, who are both nominated by the president of the main Commission and the Consultative Council (majlis al-shura). The following bureaus stem from the Office of the President of the Commission:
- Administrative Bureau: includes the Finance Office, the Maintenance Office, the Human Resources Office, and the IT Office.
- Civil Bureau: includes the Endowments Office (maktab al-awqaf), the Services Office, the Education Office, the Medical Office, the Office of the Economy, the Aid Office, and the Civil Affairs Office.
- Judicial Bureau: includes the Office of Judges, the Conciliation Office, the Office of Investigations, the Registry, and the Office of Prisoners’ Property.
- Bureau of the Police: responsible for security installations (nuqat amniyya) and the detention facility.
The Administrative Bureau
The Administrative Bureau consists of the Administrative Bureau Head and several employees, according to the need. The Administrative Bureau has the following tasks:
- Follow up on staff attendance and their commitment to work. Request the employment of new staff from the main Commission when vacancies are available.
- Overcome obstacles that hinder the workflow and provide what is necessary in that regard.
- Document staff data and transfer staff to other departments when needed.
- Approve staff leave and issue penalties and instructions.
- Receive complaints from citizens against staff and address staff negligence.
- Establish new offices in the Commission to develop its capabilities (tatwir al-‘amal), in coordination with and by the approval of the main Commission.
- Communicate with the main Commission and follow its instructions.
- Coordinate with the main Commission and distribute monthly awards and staff wages. Coordinate the conformity of court and case fees with the main Commission.
- Prepare accounting books (revenue and expenses).
The Judicial Bureau
The Judicial Bureau consists of the Judicial Bureau Head and a number of judges. The office is to be under the supervision of the Judicial Bureau in the main Commission. The Judicial Bureau has the following tasks:
- Appoint and dismiss judges and manage their affairs.
- Consider lawsuits until they are out of cassation.
- Review cases that have been decided and send any of them to cassation if needed.
- Organize weekly shift schedules.
- Submit the work of judges to the head of the Judicial Bureau at the main Commission for an up-to-date review.
- Check on the work of the subordinate offices (Conciliation Office, Office of Investigations, Registry, Office of Prisoners’ Property).
The Conciliation Office
The mission of the Conciliation Office is to find solutions to disputes that satisfy all parties without referring such disputes to the judiciary. The tasks of the office are to be coordinated with the Conciliation Office at the main Commission and it shall follow the instructions thereof which are directly related to its work.
The Office of Investigations
The Office of Investigations consists of investigators and the Chief Investigator. The office is to be supervised by the Office of Investigations at the main Commission. The Office of Investigations has the following tasks:
- The Chief Investigator assigns cases to investigators randomly. An investigator may recuse himself if one of the parties involved in a case is a friend or relative.
- No person may be detained for more than 24 hours without a charge. The investigation period may not be extended for more than 15 days without permission from the Head of the Judicial Office or the President of the Commission.
The Registry consists of the the Head of the Registry and its staff. It has the following tasks:
- Receive detainees and persons referred by the police and security installations in order for their names to be registered. Refer detainees to the detention facility of the Commission.
- The Notification Officer executes case memorandums and notifies defendants or witnesses.
- Receive cases and record them in the main records. Refer cases to the Chief Investigator.
- Receive detainees and their belongings. Transfer detainees’ belongings to the Office of Prisoners’ Property.
Bureau of the Police
The Bureau of the Police consists of the Chief of Police and his Deputy. Security installations and the detention facility fall under its authority. It is responsible for the following tasks:
- Guard the building of the Commission round the clock.
- Organize the entry of visitors during official working hours.
- Execute warrants, subpoenas, summons and carry out raids.
- Establish checkpoints and security installations outside the premises of the Commission to guarantee security.
- Supervise the detention facility and care for the detainees.
- Coordinate with other Branch Commissions and the main Commission when there are large scale campaigns or raids.
The jurisdiction of the Sharia Commission branch is to be limited within the geographical area of the branch. Any expansion outside these limits needs permission from the main Commission.
No branch commission is allowed to issue general public announcements, notifications, or decisions without referring to the Presidency of the main Commission.