Syria constitutional committee schedules discussions for new charter, says UN envoy

Hopes are low for delegates to make serious progress on a new charter for the turbulent country

UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. Photo: AP
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UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on Tuesday announced plans for a sixth meeting of a 45-person committee responsible for drafting a new constitution for the war-torn country.

No progress has been made in its previous five meetings, which began in October 2019, as the government of President Bashar Al Assad consolidated its grip over the country.

Addressing the UN Security Council, Mr Pedersen said the grouping of Syrian government, opposition and civil society representatives would meet in Geneva starting October 18, with an aim to end the country’s decade-long conflict.

“We should all now expect the constitutional committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting – not just preparing – a constitutional reform,” Mr Pedersen said before the UN General Assembly.

“If it does that, then we will have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that, if we are to build a modicum of trust.”

The co-chair envoys from the government and opposition sides will meet for the first time with Mr Pedersen the day before the Geneva talks to prepare the session, he told the 15-nation council.

The planned meeting is the result of eight months of talks over the “methodology” for this round, including the rules for procedure and the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles”, he said.

Mr Pedersen is in charge of shepherding the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which comprises representatives from Mr Al Assad’s government, opposition and civil society and has the mandate to draw up a new constitution leading to UN-supervised elections.

The war’s front lines are largely unchanging and Mr Al Assad’s forces, with foreign support, have recaptured most of the country, giving the president little reason to negotiate with opponents.

Syria’s nearly 10-year conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war 23 million population, including more than five million refugees mostly in neighbouring countries.

A UN report this month confirmed the full names and details of the deaths of 350,209 civilians and combatants in Syria’s conflict, but researchers said this was likely a significant “undercount” of the actual death toll.

“To this horrific death toll, we may add other measures of deep suffering from more than a decade of conflict,” Mr Pedersen told the council.

“Tens of thousands remain detained, abducted or missing. Poverty levels are approaching 90 per cent after a decade of conflict, mismanagement and corruption, and now the impact of the Lebanese economic collapse, Covid and sanctions.”

Updated: September 28, 2021, 6:31 PM