Fri 27 Nov 2020

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Date and agenda… two new rounds of talks for Syrian Constitutional Committee

Of the work of the third round of talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC) - 24 August 2020 Getty Images)

Of the work of the third round of talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC) - 24 August 2020 Getty Images)

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Enab Baladi – Louay Rhebani

The United Nations (UN) has set a date for the fourth and fifth rounds of talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC), which will discuss the national principles and the principles of the constitution, according to the Joint Head of the SCC of the opposition delegation, Hadi al-Bahra.

Al-Bahra told Enab Baladi on 14 November that the fourth round of the committee’s meetings will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 30 November and will end on 4 December. Meanwhile, the fifth round of talks will be held in January 2021, al-Bahra said.

The committee’s agenda

Al-Bahra revealed that the fourth round of talks would follow up on the third round of the SCC agenda, which discussed national basis and principles, “based on the committee’s mandate, benchmarks, and key elements of the SCC’s rules of procedure.

Al-Bahra added that the work of the fifth round of the mini-constitutional committee’s meetings would “be in line with the SCC’s mandate, benchmarks, and the basic elements of the committee’s rules of procedure.”

He pointed out that the mini-committee would discuss “the fundamental principles of the constitution,” according to his expression.

Al-Bahra indicated that, within the efforts of the UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, to reach an agreement on future meetings of the SCC, the two joint heads (Hadi al-Bahra of the opposition delegation, and Ahmed al-Kuzbari of the Syrian regime’s government delegation) had agreed on the two work agendas of the fourth and fifth rounds of talks.

What do the committee’s mandate and benchmark mean?

The committee’s mandate and benchmark concepts are defined by the principles, rules, and regulations of the UN’s rules of procedure in agreement with the constitutional committee’s parties (the delegations of the opposition negotiating body and the Syrian regime).

Through these compatible controls, national principles and foundations that form the foundation stone of constitution-building are discussed.

According to Pederson, the mandate of the members of the SCC, within the framework of the “Geneva” track facilitated by the UN, is as follows:

“Prepare and formulate a constitutional reform that will be submitted for public approval, as a contribution to Syria’s political settlement, and to the implementation of Security Council resolution “2254”. The constitutional reform embodies, among other things, the 12 Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles developed with extensive input in the Syrian Constitution and Syrian constitutional practices. The constitutional committee may review the 2012 constitution, including the context of other Syrian constitutional experiments, amend the current constitution, or draft a new constitution.”

Obstacles leading to resolution “2254”

The situation in Syria has become intertwined with regional and international files, especially as the countries participating militarily in the Syrian field have not reached a full achievement of a comprehensive cease-fire in the country so far, which would disrupt the committee’s work in its successive rounds.

Al-Bahra added the constitutional committee is one of the four primary axes within the Security Council resolution No. 2254 of 2015, and the importance of its work, whether fruitful or not due to obstruction or lack of serious and positive engagement on the other side of the committee, will inevitably lead to activating the political process to implement Security Council resolution “2254.”

The regime’s position

The Syrian regime has attempted several times to disrupt the constitutional committee’s work on more than one occasion.

The Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, said in an interview with the Russian Defense Ministry’s “Zvezda” TV channel at the beginning of last October that Turkey and its supporting countries, including the United States and its allies, are not interested in the constitutional committee’s work in a constructive way. Al-Assad added that these countries’ demands aim at weakening the Syrian state and fragmenting it.

Al-Assad stated that he refuses to negotiate on issues related to Syria’s stability and security.

Al-Assad described the SCC’s talks in Geneva as a “political game,” and that they are not what the Syrians are focusing on, in his interview with Russia’s Sputnik news agency on 8 October.

According to al-Assad, the Syrian people do not think about the constitution, and no one speaks about it.

He said Syrians are concerned about the reforms that should be implemented and the policies that need to be changed to meet the Syrian people’s needs.

This position was preceded by another similar one, when al-Assad said that “it will only be in their dreams,” to deliver a message to his opponents of him rejecting any future political process, in a speech before Syria’s People’s Council at the presidential palace, days before the meetings of the SCC in Geneva on 24 of last August.

Back then, al-Assad’s talk came as a rejection of any future step or political solution in Syria that excludes him or does not agree with his views or maintains his rule.

Three faltering rounds

The first-round of talks of the SCC started on 30 October 2019 with the participation of all its 150 members amid international welcome and support after going through long negotiations before being organized with the United Nations’ efforts (UN).

Less than a month later, on 25 November 2019, a second-round was held, limited to the mini-committee of 45 members. It was described as lacking seriousness, especially by the Syrian regime’s delegation, which tried to question the “patriotism” of the opposition delegation by discussing what it called “national principles”, to be judged to fail.

The third round of the SCC meetings started on 24 of last August, nine months after the second round.

It ended in a disagreement between the participating delegations (the regime, the opposition, and the civil society) over the committee’s agenda and ended on 29 of the same month.

The committee’s previous three rounds did not lead to any tangible progress, amid accusations against the regime of obstruction and procrastination.

The committee parties

The constitutional committee consists of two groups, the extended and mini committee. The groups are headed by two presidents representing the negotiating parties (the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime) under the United Nations’ auspices.

  • The extended group

The constitutional committee’s expanded group consists of three parties; each has 50 members. The first party is nominated directly by the Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and the second one is directly chosen by the “High Negotiations Committee” of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.

While the third party includes figures from the Syrian civil society, and the UN determines its members based on their diverse religious and geographical backgrounds, with about half of them being women.

The committee is headed by two coequal joint heads, one from the Syrian government and the other from the Syrian opposition. The UN envoy acts as a mediator between these sides within the UN’s framework efforts in Syria.

  • The mini-group

The committee’s mini-group is a smaller version of the extended committee, similar to a parliamentary committee. It includes 15 members from each group of the extended groups.

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