Four principles and three disappointments in the eighth round of Syrian Constitutional Committee’s talks

Hadi al-Bahra, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation to the constitutional committee talks (UN)

Hadi al-Bahra, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation to the constitutional committee talks (UN)

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Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima

The Syrian Constitutional Committee completed the eighth round of its work in Geneva, in which the three parties’ delegations from the regime, the opposition, and civil society reviewed four constitutional principles.

The UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, said in a briefing after the end of the talks on 3 June that the delegations spent one day discussing the draft constitutional texts for each principle presented by each delegation. On the fifth day, delegations had submitted “revisions” to the texts in the light of the week’s discussions, which were discussed.

He added, “In some cases, differences have remained significant. In other places, there were points that could be common”, expressing “appreciation for the substantive tone and nature of the dialogue in the room.”

The meeting discussed each of the following principles:

  • Coercive measures from a constitutional side, introduced by the civil society delegation.
  • Preservation and strengthening of state institutions, submitted by the Syrian regime’s delegation.
  • The sovereignty of the Constitution and the hierarchy of international conventions, submitted by the delegation of the Syrian Negotiating Body.
  • International treaties and transitional justice, submitted by the delegation of civil society.

Calm but no progress

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Dima Moussa, a member of the General Authority of the Syrian National Coalition and the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee, said that the discussion that took place during the session was exceptionally calmer and technical, pointing to some common points that could be agreed upon, but all this is the formal aspect of the discussion, which does not change much of its essence.

Moussa explained that the essence of the issue is the absence of political will on the other side (the delegation of the Syrian regime) to reach consensus, and it has become clear that the methodology used helps the process of obstruction and facilitates the failure to reach real outcomes.

“Coercive measures from a constitutional side”

The principle of “coercive measures from a constitutional side” was presented by eight members of the civil society delegation through four paragraphs, and its presenters addressed the international measures taken against the Syrian regime.

The regime’s delegation tried to link these measures with the return of the refugees, and a section of the civil society delegation made clear interventions to refute this principle, during which they explained that “the issue is a political issue in the first place. It comes after the political agreement and the implementation of resolution 2254 of 2015 when the reasons that prompted countries to put these measures and impose sanctions will be removed.”

Regarding what was suggested about linking this file to the refugee file, a member of the Constitutional Committee, Tariq al-Kurdi, said, “We talked at length about this file because of its importance and necessity, and because it concerns the depth of the lives of millions of Syrians displaced and refugees.”

Al-Kurdi explained that this file should be given attention in several places in the future Constitution, and the prospective Constitution should guarantee all refugees and displaced persons, at home and abroad, a safe and dignified return to their homes and areas from which they were displaced.

For his part, Hassan al-Hariri, a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Committee, said, “There have been many discussions about this principle. The proponents of this principle focused on the economic sanctions imposed by countries such as the United States and Europe on Syria,” the principle was strongly supported by the delegation that represents the regime.

Al-Hariri explained the concept of these measures and how “the Security Council can impose sanctions on countries and regimes in the event that human rights are violated, or crimes against humanity are committed, and countries can unilaterally impose sanctions on other countries because their internal laws and constitutions allow them to take these measures in the event of human rights violations, as happened in Syria.”

“Preserving and strengthening state institutions”: the army in the foreground

This principle was put forward by the delegation of the Syrian regime, a copy of which was published in the pro-regime newspaper al-Watan on 1 June. It says, “State institutions shall implement the general policy of the State and shall operate within the limits of the powers conferred upon them by the Constitution and national laws of the Syrian Arab Republic. The preservation and strengthening of existing institutions and the development of their role is a national duty. Any internal or external threat aimed at undermining or disrupting the functioning of State institutions is a violation of the Constitution for which there is legal accountability.”

The principle also reads that “the Syrian Arab Army and the Armed Forces are national institutions that enjoy the support of the people, and are responsible for defending the integrity, security, and sovereignty of the homeland, from all forms of terrorism, occupation, interference and external attacks, and preserving and strengthening them by all available means is a national duty.”

For his part, the Constitutional Committee’s co-chair, Hadi al-Bahra, said that “more than one intervention was presented in the direction of criticizing the paper, its details, and its shortcomings. The delegation of the Syrian Negotiating Committee made several reservations to the paper submitted by the regime’s delegation, including the state institutions and army’s failure to comply with human rights, neglecting the neutrality of the army and armed forces in political life, and not addressing the organization of the army’s structure,” according to what was published by the Syrian Negotiating Committee.

“Supremacy of the Constitution and hierarchy of international conventions”

The principle of “the supremacy of the constitution and the hierarchy of international agreements” presented by the delegation of the Syrian Negotiating Committee affirmed that the Constitution must be the supreme law of the State and that no law or administrative instructions contrary to it can be issued.

The principle also stressed that international treaties create obligations for the State and create rights for Syrian citizens, including international human rights conventions.

“Transitional Justice”

The principle presented by seven members of the civil society delegation stipulated that the State should commit itself to adopting a comprehensive approach to transitional justice based on the principle of non-impunity and that crimes do not fall over time or on a previous amnesty. Victims and their families have a central place, especially women and children, and this approach should include a range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including knowledge of the fate of missing and forcibly absent persons, accountability and questioning, reparation programs, institutional reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration initiatives, and others.

Lawyer Tariq al-Kurdi said, “This clause is supposed not to be problematic, and that all Syrians are with justice and truth, ensuring justice for all victims and for all those against whom violations were committed.

He added: “There is no sustainable peace in Syria without transitional justice, which is a fundamental and main pillar. Political and societal peace cannot be achieved and maintained without justice for all Syrians against whom massive violations have been committed.”

Transitional justice involves individuals coming together to address the legacy of horrendous atrocities, or end recurring episodes of violent conflict, by developing a range of different responses.

Al-Kurdi said that these responses may include introducing reforms to the legal and political systems and institutions that govern society, in addition to mechanisms aimed at revealing the truth about what happened and its causes and determining the fate of detainees or those forcibly disappeared.

Positive discussions that do not reflect on the constitutional content

The committee did not reach a consensus on any of the four principles that were put forward in the eighth round, al-Kurdi explained.

It is clear that the party that has obstructed the political process since 2014 and has prevented the Constitutional Committee from making any progress since the start of its work has so far remained in the same mindset and with the same decision.

He considered that formal positivity and entering into technical, scientific, constitutional, and legal discussions is a good thing, but if this positivity is not reflected in the form on the positivity of the content, and leads to the writing of the constitutional contents or constitutional articles of the new Constitution, the outcome will remain zero.

Al-Kurdi pointed out that the members of the committee come to Geneva because they carry the concern of the Syrian people inside and abroad from the detainees and their families, the refugees, and displaced persons. They seek to make the constitutional committee an entry point for achieving a comprehensive political solution in Syria, but regrettably, this spirit does not exist in all parties to the constitutional committee.

Maintaining the “status quo”

Samira Moubayed, a member of the Constitutional Committee, believes that the current discussions are taking place in vicious circles because they are not within a constitutional framework that seeks change but rather within the framework of the parties’ efforts to preserve the gains of the conflict.

From this standpoint, we cannot judge the existence of common points that serve as future constitutional principles because the goal of the debates itself is incompatible with the needs of Syrians today, according to Moubayed.

Although they were discussions that did not go beyond general concepts, the interlocutors did not reach any agreement within them, and they will not reach, according to the political and academic researcher, because the continuation of the conflict represented by these parties is present in the corridors of this committee, a struggle that led to the destruction of the country and the killing and displacement of millions, while what must be worked on is the Constitution for building the modern Syrian State, and they are far from this path.

Three delegations… Three disappointments

The regime seeks to maintain its continuity, a continuity based on a specific structure of symbols, institutions, and other tools that it cannot overturn because it thus undermines its structure, so it offers constitutional guarantees of its continuity, Moubayed told Enab Baladi.

On the other hand, the opposition has established a model similar to the structure of the regime in the areas it controls, especially with regard to the repressive and authoritarian situation. Therefore, the discussions of the two parties seemed far from the reality of their lack of capacity and credibility to show and implement a governance model far from the frameworks of the totalitarian system, corruption, oppression, and dependency associated with it.

Moubayed added that the civil society bloc was supposed to be the driving party for Syrians’ interests away from sharing the gains of conflict between ideological currents. But this bloc “has been dominated by both the regime and the opposition and divided between them, and has become an accessory and a subsidiary of each of the two blocs, and therein lies a major deviation that cannot be overlooked, and requires correction because the voice of those affected from the majority of the Syrian people is absent from the influence on this path.”

Moubayed concluded that the committee in its current form cannot lead to change in Syria, as it reflects the frameworks of the old system in all its dimensions, and the most it can reach is power-sharing.

At the end of the eighth round of the Constitutional Committee’s meetings, Pedersen announced that the two co-chairs had agreed to hold the ninth session in Geneva from 25-29 July.

 

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