NEW YORK: Parties to the conflict in Syria will return to the negotiating table in October to discuss a new constitution, Geir Pederson, UN special envoy for the country, said on Tuesday.
However, UN Security Council members have warned that obstacles remain to a political resolution to the conflict.
Pederson said Syria’s Constitutional Committee, formed two years ago after intensive negotiations, had agreed on a methodology for moving forward and would meet for the first time in eight months in October.
Up to now, he added, the committee had “not yet begun to make steady progress on its mandate,” which is to draft a new constitution as part of the Syrian peace process initiated in 2015.
The talks, scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, will be the sixth round that the committee has conducted. Parties will deliver their drafts of constitutional texts in the meeting.
“We should all now expect the Constitutional Committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting — not just preparing — a constitutional reform,” Pederson said.
“If it does that, then we’ll have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that if we’re to build a modicum of trust.”
And trust, he said, is a commodity in desperately short supply in Syria. Ten years of war have claimed the lives of 350,000 people — at the very least — and displaced over 12 million.
“It’s clear from all our engagements that trust is low, but it’s also clear that common interests do exist, that things aren’t static, and that there’s every reason to try now to build a more effective political effort,” Pederson added.
Despite the tentative progress, UNSC members continue to express their dissatisfaction with the pace and trajectory of the political process in Syria.
Barbara Woodward, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, said she welcomes the October meeting but warned that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not yet participated in the talks in good faith.
“The next meeting needs to be different to those that have gone before,” she added. “It’s time for the regime to end its artificial delays of the process, and for substantive progress to be made on a new constitution, as envisaged in (UN) Resolution 2254.”
That resolution, agreed in 2015, mandates the UN to facilitate a Syrian-led political process to end the war, including the creation of a new constitution.
In 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the resolution, if effectively implemented by all parties, was “the beginning of the political path out of the tragedy” that has afflicted Syria since the popular uprising began in 2011.
Despite the diplomatic agreement, though, the reality on the ground in Syria has meant a political resolution to the conflict has long remained out of reach.
External involvement in the war has complicated the path toward peace as external players have prioritized their interests in the country over that of the Syrian people.
While active fighting has declined in the past two years, the conflict has become frozen — as has the path to a lasting solution.
“Until progress is made on the political process, and until there’s a nationwide ceasefire, the suffering of the Syrian people will continue, and the millions displaced will be unable to return,” said Woodward.
Russia’s UN delegate accused Turkey and Israel of destabilizing the peace process in Syria through their interventions in the country.
Moscow intervened on behalf of the Assad regime in 2015 and turned the tide of the war against the rebels.
Richard Mills, deputy representative of the US to the UN, called on the Assad regime to “unilaterally and immediately release the tens of thousands of arbitrarily detained men, women and children in its custody.”
This, he said, could serve as a “confidence-building” measure that would build trust and “bolster the political process.”
But, echoing the British position, he added: “We haven’t yet seen meaningful efforts from the Syria regime.”