Forty-eight hours before a 150-member Constitutional Committee for Syria meets for the first time in Geneva to try to agree on a new foundational text for the war-ravaged country, UN Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen on Monday repeated his call for a nationwide ceasefire and the release of prisoners to build trust between belligerents.
“We are strongly appealing for, you know, for the ceasefires to be respected and that we have also been appealing for a nationwide ceasefire to come into effect,” the Special Envoy said, his comments coming two weeks after a Turkish military incursion into north-east Syria that followed the withdrawal of U.S. troops there.
Speaking to journalists in the Swiss city, Mr. Pedersen underscored the significance of the fact that the upcoming meeting marks the first time that representatives from the Government of Syria and opposition groups had “ownership” of a political process that could end more than eight years of brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions inside the country and abroad.
No-one apart from Syrians and the UN would be present for Wednesday’s meeting, he said, before expressing hope of seeing “tangible progress” from the open-ended process.
“The two parties have agreed to work expeditiously and continuously,” he said, referring to Government and opposition delegations that are made up of 50 members each.
A third group of 50 is also slated take part, representing Syrian civil society, with a smaller, 45-person body consisting of 15 Government, 15 opposition and 15 civil society members due to meet subsequently, in order to prepare and draft proposals in line with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions, Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
The Special Envoy added that while it was “impossible to say how long it will take for them to conclude its work”, as long as it was done “with serious intentions and we see progress - and as you know I will be reporting to the Security Council - I’m optimistic that we will within the not-too-distant future, that we see a tangible progress in the discussions”.
Such progress should include the release of tens of thousands of Syrians who remain “detained, abducted or missing”, Mr. Pedersen maintained, adding that he had made a special appeal for the early release of women and children.
“I believe that if this would happen, it would send a very powerful signal that we are indeed serious about making a new beginning for Syria,” he insisted.
Describing the Constitutional Committee as “remarkably representative” of Syrian society, Mr. Pedersen confirmed that while there was Kurdish representation, there were no SDF representatives on the Committee, in reference to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that have agreed to pull back from the north-east Syria-Turkey border.
And while the UN negotiator reiterated his belief that the “Constitutional Committee alone cannot and will not resolve the Syrian conflict”, he highlighted widespread international support for a UN-led political solution to end it.
“I think actually this is the first time since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2254 in December 2015 that we have all the key international actors agreeing on an important step forward within the Syrian crisis,” he said. “That goes both for the so-called Astana Three (Iran, Russia, Turkey) it goes for the so-called Small Group (Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UK and U.S.) and of course, as you will have noticed, the Security Council unanimously expressed its support to this process.”
Asked to assess the challenges the Committee faced, given the requirement under the rules of procedure that decisions should be based on consensus or by a 75 per cent majority, Mr. Pedersen explained that he hoped all sides would “try to understand the other side of the argument and then move forward. Hopefully it will take time before it will be necessary to have voting in the process.”.