What does Syrian Constitutional Committee need to move forward with its works?
Enab Baladi – Ali Darwish
The Syrian regime has undertaken many tactics to deal with the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s (SCC) stages of formation and sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. These tactics included procrastination, delving into specifics, raising problems and obstacles, statements downsizing the (SCC) works, and sometimes torpedoing its role, not to mention the repeated withdrawal from the committee’s meetings.
The agreement to form the SCC was in contrast to what Syrian regime president, Bashar al-Assad, wanted when the idea to form the committee was initially put forward at the Russian-sponsored the “Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue” in its Black Sea resort of Sochi in November 2018.
At the “Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue”, it was agreed upon forming a constitutional committee, composed of the regime’s government delegation and a broadly representative opposition delegation, to draft a constitutional reform that would contribute to an UN-sponsored political settlement under Security Council resolution No. “2254.”
With the first meetings of the constitutional committee on 30 October 2019, the three delegations (opposition, the Syrian regime, and civil society) were supposed to discuss the mechanism for drafting a new constitution for Syria under UN resolution “2254,” that proposed to form a transitional governing body and to organize new elections.
A year later… the fourth round of talks still suspended
The special envoy of the United Nations’ (UN) secretary-general for Syria, Geir Pedersen, did not set a date for completing the next rounds of the committee’s meetings during a briefing to the UN Security Council on 27 October. In the briefing, Pedersen spoke of the political and military developments in Syria, and the outcome of his discussions with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and the head of the “Negotiating Body,” Anas al-Abda.
Pedersen linked the resumption of the committee’s rounds to the possibility of reaching positive results during these talks, expecting that the next round of talks will be held in November.
Pedersen announced that he did not reach an agreement with any side of the constitutional committee.
He added that his talks with the committee’s delegations focused on the political solution’s success, “after the decrease in military operations tempo in Syria,” following the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement last March.
Pedersen mentioned that a fourth session for the SCC was not possible last October “because the regime did not accept a political compromise agenda which the opposition agreed to.”
UN Security Council resolution No. “2254” of 2015 expressed support for a Syrian-led political process, facilitated by the United Nations, which would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months.
The resolution sets out a schedule and a process for the drafting of a new constitution and expresses its support for free and fair elections to be held, pursuant to the new constitution, within 18 months administrated under United Nations supervision.
Multiple stages… most difficult of which is lifting the Russian auspices
The spokesperson of the “Negotiating Body,” Dr. Yahya al-Areidi, said to Enab Baladi that the most difficult stage that the SCC has gone through since the agreement on its formation until the third round of its talks on 24 of last August, and the preparation for the fourth unscheduled round, was to limit the constitutional committee under the auspices of the United Nations because Russia sought to place the committee under its control.
Al-Areidi talked about other difficulties that faced the SCC, such as the over a year attempts to hold the committee’s first round of talks, followed by the issue of forming the delegations, and the difficulty of agreeing on its mandate and rules of procedure. He also mentioned the complexities of the SCC’s sessions, and the regime’s continuing tactics of manipulation, evading, and obstructing the agenda and the “open time” issue, according to al-Areidi.
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.
Constitutional committee… for the benefit of the regime or the opposition?
Al-Areidi clarified that the constitutional committee’s usefulness is a relative matter according to its sides’ current political action.
The “Syrian Negotiating Body” represented in the SCC’s opposition delegation is attempting to “establish the Syrian right and comply with and pursue international resolutions for the internationalization of the Syrian case towards the entrenchment of this right,” according to al-Areidi’s expression.
On the other side, the regime and its supporters seek to escape the political process as a whole and stick to and insist on the military solution to end the conflict in Syria, according to al-Areidi.
The United States and several Western allies have accused Bashar al-Assad of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution “to waste time until presidential elections in 2021.
They also denounced al-Assad’s refusal of UN-supervised voting, amid a European rejection of the coming Syrian presidential elections.
The US Associated Press news agency said that US deputy ambassador Richard Mills urged the Security Council in its meeting on 27 October “to do everything in its power” to prevent al-Assad from blocking agreement on a new constitution in 2020.
Mills confirmed that “Syria is wholly unprepared to carry out elections in a free, fair, and transparent manner that would include the participation of the Syrian diaspora.” He also called on the UN to accelerate its planning to ensure Syria’s upcoming elections are credible within the framework of the constitutional committee’s work.”
The Security Council’s German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen called al-Assad’s “delaying and obstruction tactics” on the constitutional committee’s work as “detestable.”
“The elections will not be recognized if they are held under the present circumstances,” Heusgen said.
Heusgen asked Russia to use its influence by cutting military aid and stopping its support, for instance, so that “the Syrian regime finally plays ball”.
French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere also criticized al-Assad’s “refusal to engage in good faith in the political process” and called for preparations to begin the UN-supervised elections.
De Riviere said that France would not recognize results that do not comply with these provisions.
“We will not be fooled by the regime’s attempts to legitimize itself,” De Riviere added.
Meetings results are expected… A hope for public and international support
The Syrian regime was expected to procrastinate regarding the committee’s work, but not as this much, especially that it is included in the committee’s political process against its will, according to the member of the mini-constitutional committee emanating from the civil society list, Raghda Zaidan.
Zaidan added, the global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and other related circumstances have prolonged the committee’s work.
Al-Areidi justified that the committee meetings’ results came opposite to the opposition expectations because the opposition knew in advance that the regime did not want a political process or to enter the constitutional committee in the first place and that it followed the military approach from the beginning.
According to al-Areidi, the regime continued with the SCC’s work “to pull the wool over the eyes” and deceive the international community supported by Russia, which has taken a position in line with the regime’s narrative.
Al-Areidi considered that from a practical point of view and under the Syrian issue’s internationalization, “this is what is available to keep the Syrian case alive”.
He added the regime wishes to close this door and the political process as a whole, but “the committee members are relying on international resolutions regarding Syrians to restore a free and honorable homeland.”
Meanwhile, Zaidan hopes that in future meetings, the committee could actually start a serious process to draft a constitution for Syria in the future and fulfill some of its tasks, which citizens are still waiting for.
Zaidan also looks forward to discussions involving all segments of the Syrian community about how the idea of the SCC will be invested for the benefit of the Syrian case, whether by reaching out to the international community, opening up areas or gaps to enter into other solutions or by stimulating the second stalled tracks of resolution “2245.”
Zaidan considered that Syrians are not fans of the constitutional committee and that it is their right”, as they were aware of attempts to hinder and procrastinate the committee’s work.
Al-Areidi also did not place great hopes because of the regime and its supporters’ approach, who want the committee’s outcomes to fit their standards.
Syrian Constitutional Committee needs Russian congruence and genuine international will
In practice, the constitutional committee needs a Russian congruence between tactics and strategy, as Russians have so far been in line with the regime’s tactics and approach of wasting time, al-Areidi said.
Nevertheless, day after day, the Russians prove their utter failure because they did not get any political gains, despite their military advance, continuous lie, and protection of the regime’s crimes in the Security Council, according to al-Areidi.
As for Zaidan, the constitutional committee firstly needs the international will for a political solution and to put pressure on the regime to engage in this process seriously.
Zaidan added that the committee needs popular support, and this support must reflect what it needs from its future constitution.
Consequences of not ending the committee’s works before presidential elections
Al-Areidi pointed out that the constitutional committee would be useless if it did not end its meetings before the coming elections, as the international decision says that there is only a political solution to the situation in Syria, according to Geneva’s statement and resolution “2245.”
Zaidan, on the other hand, does not believe that the committee in its current situation can deliver any constitution before the coming elections, as the difficult procedures for holding physical meetings of the committee under the coronavirus outbreak will disrupt the matter.
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