Syria constitutional talks begin in Geneva in bid to end war

Meeting between 150 Syrians expected to negotiate and format political settlement

Members of the civil society delegation attend the first meeting of the new Syrian Constitutional Committee at the United Nations in Geneva on October 30, 2019. Syria's government may be on board for the UN-brokered review of its constitution, but it will sink the Geneva talks opening on October 30, 2019, before agreeing anything that compromises its authority, experts have said. / AFP / POOL / DENIS BALIBOUSE
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Members of the Syrian Constitution Committee met for the first time in Geneva on Wednesday, in a historic bid to start negotiations towards ending the devastating eight-year conflict.

UN Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, along with the Constitutional Committee co-chairs, Ahmad Kuzbari from the Syrian regime and Hadi Al Bahra from the opposition, launched the start of the committee’s work in an opening ceremony.

The ceremony, attended by 150 nominees from the government, opposition and civil society, was the first time members of the government and opposition have been in the same room since the war began in 2011. Nearly 30 per cent of the delegates are women.

"This is an historic moment," Mr Pedersen said. The meetings will be the first step on what will be a long road to political reconciliation, he added.

The committee was established to share a “promise to the Syrian people to try in earnest to agree on new constitutional arrangements for Syria’s future - a new social contract to help repair a broken, devastated country,” Mr Pedersen said.

"The parties are committed to work expeditiously and continuously to achieve progress and produce real results," he added.

The aim of the meeting is to get all Syrian sides to agree to a new constitution for Syria, but it still remains unclear if the delegations will redraft the existing constitution, written in 2012, or start from scratch.

The opposition is insisting a new document must be created for the political process to move forward.

Mr Pedersen advised the committee to be patient and persistent as the road ahead remains “challenging”.

The UN envoy said he understood it was “not simple for all of you to be collectively in this room”, but that it would be a powerful sign of hope for Syrians almost everywhere.

No deadline has been set for the talks, but opposition members are hopeful an agreement can be made within the next few months.

"We are hopeful so far, we are came to work alongside the members of the committee in a collective and positive manner," Ibrahim Al Jubouri, a member of the opposition, told The National.

“The duration of the talks depends on how the next few days will pan out,” Mr Al Jubouri said.

Mr Al Bahra conveyed a powerful message in his address to the committee.

“If we want to be healed we must find peace together based on a comprehensive justice,” he said.

There cannot be any viable solution to the Syrian conflict expect through a “just political solution that leads to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.”

The resolution, adopted in 2015, laid out a road map for a peace process in Syria that would establish "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance".

Mr Al Bahra stressed that all Syrians must change their views about the conflict for things to start moving forward.

“We must go beyond our wounds, pains and suffering and start listening to each other to understand our fears and identify our difference in hope of solving them,” he said.

The opposition is aware of the difficulties of what this path will be, he stressed.

“Today could be the beginning of something new, this will be led by you, together we can make this come through, tomorrow the hard work begins,” he said.