Renewed bid to start Syrian peace process begins in Geneva

Experts sceptical about the outcome of Geneva meeting

The United Nations building is pictured ahead of the meeting of the Astana group and the new Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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It has taken four mediators to push Syria’s warring sides to establish a constitutional committee to salvage a crumbling political process aimed at ending the devastating civil war.

On Wednesday, representatives from President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, the opposition and society are to meet in Geneva to lay out their vision for the country’s future.

The UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, the fourth man in the job, and his predecessor Staffan de Mistura led negotiations for nearly two years between all sides to “open a window of opportunity for wider political negotiations”.

But experts and officials believe recent events in Syria cast doubt on what the Geneva process could deliver.

US President Donald Trump announced a troop withdrawal from north-east Syria this month, which allowed Turkey to sweep across the border and push Kurdish militia out of the area.

The development followed a Russian-Turkish agreement for a buffer zone in north-east Syria.

Mr Pedersen said he hoped the talks would offer “a sign of hope for the long suffering Syrian people”.

“Obviously, a constitutional committee in itself will not change much,” he told the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva.

“But if handled correctly, and if there is political will, it could be a door-opener for a broader political process."

The talks, if successful, will establish under a UN Security Council mandate a nationwide ceasefire and elections.

Who are the participants?

The final committee is composed of 150 people from the government, the opposition and society who will discuss and adopt the constitutional proposals.

The UN assisted in drawing up the society list, which includes Syrians from a range of political, religious, ethnic and geographic backgrounds.

When all sides come to an agreement, 15 participants from each of the three represented groups will form a panel to draft the final document, while the larger body will be responsible for enforcing it.

This will pave the way for nationwide elections.

The constitutional review is a vital part of the UN’s efforts to end the conflict, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since erupting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

What can these talks achieve?

In many ways, the problem in Syria is less about the constitution than its implementation, Mona Yacoubian, senior adviser at the US Institute of Peace, told The National.

“Here the regime has proven time and again it is unwilling to respect the most basic human rights, let alone respect basic laws or decentralise authority to various regions,” Ms Yacoubian said.

Previous UN envoys have failed to negotiate a stop to Syria’s eight-year war.

The Geneva process continues to be overtaken by developments on the ground, Ms Yacoubian said.

“With the regime now poised to take back much of the north-east, there is little incentive for it to co-operate with the process.

“Under these circumstances, it is hard to envision how a constitutional draft will bring peace to Syria."

Opposition members believe the success of the committee will rely on the regime and its allies, Russia and Iran.

Moscow and Tehran remain the most influential external powers supporting the Assad regime.

"They have tried hard to tilt the agreement to their own needs and to the interest of the Assad regime," Yahya Al Aridi, opposition spokesman told The National.