New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (R) met with UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen in the capital Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2019

New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

  • Pedersen is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict
  • Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011

DAMASCUS: The new UN envoy to Syria ended his first visit to the war-torn country Thursday, stressing the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the eight-year conflict.
Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, concluded his three-day visit and headed to the Lebanese capital Beirut, a UN source told AFP.
The new envoy on Twitter late Wednesday said he had a "constructive meeting" with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during his stay in Damascus.
During it, he stressed the need for a "Syrian-led and -owned political solution facilitated by the UN", he added.
Pedersen, who started his new job last week, is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict, after endless rounds of failed UN-brokered peace talks.
In recent years, UN-led efforts have been overshadowed by separate negotiations led by regime allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel backer Turkey.
After Damascus, Pederson said he was off to meet the Syrian Negotiations Committee, Syria's main opposition group.
But he "agreed to come back to Damascus on a regular basis to discuss commonalities and progress on points of disagreement", he added.
On Tuesday, Muallem expressed Syria's "readiness to cooperate with him... in his mission to facilitate Syrian-Syrian dialogue with the objective of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis", a foreign ministry statement said.
Pederson takes over from Staffan de Mistura, a Swiss-Italian diplomat who stepped down at the end of last year over "personal reasons".
Officials in the government of President Bashar al-Assad had set the tone for the new envoy's tenure shortly after his appointment was announced in October.
"Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad said.
De Mistura ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.
Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
With key military backing from Russia, Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and extremists, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.
A drive to bring the Syrian regime back into the Arab fold also seems underway, with the UAE reopening their embassy in Damascus last month.


Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

Updated 8 sec ago

Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

  • The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • EU: Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014
ISTANBUL: Dozens of Turkish bar associations are threatening to boycott President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s planned ceremony to open the judicial year at the presidential palace, saying it would be another violation of the judiciary’s independence.
The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Erdogan, who has faced increasing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights activists over media freedoms and interference in the courts.
The European Union says Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014 and that judges and prosecutors have come under increasing political pressure.
At least 42 bar associations including those for Istanbul and the capital Ankara said they would not attend the event on September 2 because they believe the ceremony should take place at the Supreme Court building, not the presidential palace.
“These past years have seen judicial independence being seriously undermined... The judiciary is under pressure from the executive,” Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul bar association, said on Sunday.
“Under these circumstances, we would expect the ceremony for the opening of the judicial year to take place at a venue that represents the separation of powers, rather than a political location.”
Erdogan’s supporters dismiss criticism he has undermined Turkish democracy, saying his government faces domestic threats especially since a failed 2016 coup against him.
For many of his more conservative backers, he has brought prosperity and defended Turkey’s interests in his decade and a half in power.
The opening ceremony for the new judicial year was first held at the presidential palace in 2016 after the failed coup.
Since then authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people for alleged ties to the coup plotters, in what rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown.
Erdogan has dismissed criticism over the ceremony, describing the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara as “the place of the people.”
“The ceremony taking place in the place of the people would only strengthen judicial independence,” the Turkish leader has said.
But for attorneys, the boycott decision represents a “reaction against violation of freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence,” said Dogus Aygun, another lawyer from the Istanbul bar association.
Critics say Turkey’s courts have bowed to pressure, often making rulings that favor authorities since massive purges in the judiciary following a corruption scandal in 2013 and the 2016 coup bid.
Durakoglu said the bar associations would keep up with their campaign for more judicial independence in Turkey even “at the expense of paying a heavy price.”
“We have no fear nor hesitation,” he said. “We see no solution other than keep on fighting.”