UN Special Envoy for Syria Ruffles Dead Water of the Constitutional Committee

The UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on a visit to Homs – March 19, 2019 (The envoy’s Twitter account)

The UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on a visit to Homs – March 19, 2019 (The envoy’s Twitter account)


Many visits have been made, and many to be made, by Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, since his official appointment early in December 2018, all conducted in the frame of pushing forward the stuck affair of the political solution and during which he met the two sides to the Syrian conflict, as well as several foreign bodies, concerned with the very same solution.

Pedersen is trying to bridge the gap between the perspectives of the conflicting parties, as to reach a consensus about a political solution that would satisfy all; after which, he will lay the ground for the reconstruction phase.

Within the parameters of this affair, Pedersen allocates much care to the foundation of the Constitutional Committee, supposed to work on a new constitution for the country, given that the coining of this Committee is being met with several obstacles, including the disagreement on the civil society list of representatives and the regime’s demands that the Committee be supervised by it, not by the United Nations. However, recent talks show some sort of a relief in relation to this affair, for prominent sources from the European Union have declared the shrinking dispute between the regime and the opposition concerning the formation of the Constitutional Committee.


Agreement on Contentious Names

Quoting diplomatic sources on Friday, April 12, TRT World reported that Pedersen managed to convince the head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad of the names of four members of the Constitutional Committee, whose inclusion caused a dispute, which in turn hindered the formation of the Committee.

The regime could not protest the list representing the opposition, but it crippled the efforts of the UN envoy, which aimed at forming the list speaking for the civil society, until it approved all, except four of the listed names.

A diplomatic source said that the UN envoy has visited Riyadh to discuss the status of the four names, while another source said that five days earlier, they were told that all the names were approved except for four.

Shuttle Diplomacy

Pedersen started his mission in December 2018 with a visit to Damascus, on which he met officials of the Syrian regime, and then he met with the members of the opposition “Negotiation Committee” in Riyadh, in addition to several Russian officials, as to discuss the Syrian affair.

Russia and Turkey have lately spoken of the near completion of the formation of the Committee concerned with writing Syria a new constitution.

“The President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and I, in coordination with the Syrian government, the opposition and the United Nations, have agreed to contribute to help the Constitutional Committee start working as soon as possible,” the Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

The Turkish president, for his part, told journalists that a summit on Syria might soon be held, bringing together Russia, Turkey, France and Germany to continue the discussion they started in a former meeting on October 27, 2018.

Since last January, the United Nations has been working on the formation of the committee, supposed to write a new constitution for Syria.


Pedersen to Meet the Regime and Opposition Again

Yahia al-Aridi, the official spokesperson of the “Negotiations Committee”, informed Enab Baladi of the progress of the Constitutional Committee’s formation process.

He pointed out that the UN envoy is, in the present time, adding the final touches to his futuristic project, relating to putting the international Resolution No. 2254 into force, focusing on its vocal points, believing that the “Constitutional Committee” is the gate to them.

He added that after visiting all the actors in the Syrian affair, Russia, the U.S., Iran, and Turkey, and meeting with the Syrian regime and the opposition, represented by the “Syrian Committee for Negotiations”, Pedersen’s last station in creating this committee is meeting the regime in Damascus and the opposition in Geneva.

He declared that the Negotiations Committee, headed by Nasr al-Hariri, is to meet with the UN envoy in Geneva on Thursday, April 18.

Concerning the agreement on the controversial names, al-Aridi said that he thinks that this problem has been solved, but still there are matters that are of a greater importance and weight than this point, represented by the mechanisms of this Committee’s work, who is to supervise it, how it will conduct elections and who is to be the president, in addition to the future of its production, whether it will undergo a popular vote or not, would the committee be the side to control it, or there would be referential bodies. A consensus would be reached concerning these matters, he believes.

Concerning the Negotiations Committee’s preparations and what they are going to offer the envoy on their upcoming meeting, al-Aridi pointed out that the Committee is committed to the points of focus of resolution 2254, and none of its points would be agreed upon before a consensus is reached concerning the resolution as a whole, which at the end will provide Syrians with their demand, aka a political transition.

Al-Aridi stressed that no authority is meant to stay forever, Sudan and Algeria are a living example and it is the Syrian people that triggered other nations to oppose oppression and to opt for their rights.


Pedersen’s Steps of a Solution

Pederson has defined the steps that can be followed as to reach an overall political solution in Syria according to Resolution No. 2254, in an interview with the Asharq al-Awsat, published last March.

He said that the first of these steps is “building trust and deepening his relationship with both the opposition and the government alike,” and defining the matters they agree on and those they are disputing over.

The second step is “a serious involvement in the Syrian civil society, in addition to the third step, which is working on the cause of the detainees, the missing and abductees,” saying that this is an essential and important cause for him.

Concerning the political affairs, Pedersen spoke of “deepening the discussion with the government and the opposition and working on the Constitutional Committee he inherited from the former envoy, Staffan de Mistura”.


What Is the Constitutional Committee?

On December 20, 2018, the guarantor states of the “Astana” talks, Russia, Turkey and Iran, agreed to form a Constitutional Committee to prepare a draft of a new constitution for Syria, this declaration followed Russia and the United Nations reaching  a solution for the problem of the names that Russia suggested to include.

The United Nations has worked on the formation of the Constitutional Committee, with the following structure: It is to consist of 150 persons; 50 chosen by the regime, 50 chosen by the opposition and other 50 persons chosen by the United Nations, including experts and civil society representatives.

While Staffan de Mistura, the former UN envoy for Syria, was still on duty, there were talks about difficulties hindering the formation of the Constitutional Committee, amidst of which the opposition accused the regime and its allies of procrastination in relation to founding the Committee.

Two issues challenged the formation of the Constitutional Committee: The first is the regime and its allies’ refusal of the civil society list, since it consists of independent figures and will demand democracy, fair representation and the alternation of power, which means that the Committee being formed of these two thirds would cause critical changes that are equal to the regime’s removal, in addition to de Mistura’s refusal of the list suggested by Russia.


The second matter relates to the Committee’s work methods, for de Mistura was holding on to the idea that it be supervised by the UN, at a time when Russia was seeking to be in control of the committee alongside the regime, which violates the agreement.

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