Syrian opposition sceptical but hopeful about new constitutional committee

Confidence building measures must be established before peace prevails in Syria, opposition member says

Yahya Aridi spokesman of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) arrives for a meeting during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva, Switzerland December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Syria’s opposition says it is sceptical about the launch of an inclusive committee to establish a new constitution and bring peace to the war-torn country, but sees it as an “opening” towards finding a lasting solution.

It took nearly two years of negotiations led by United Nations envoy to Syria Geir Pederson and his predecessor Staffan de Mistura to establish the committee as the government of President Bashar Al Assad rejected many of the proposed outlines.

It is expected to meet for the first time in Geneva on October 30.

"We are not that optimistic because we know that the regime is skillful in creating obstacles to building peace," Yahya Al Aridi, spokesperson for the opposition told The National.

He said that the success of the upcoming meetings will be reliant on the regime and its allies, Russia and Iran.

Moscow and Tehran remain the most influential external powers supporting the Assad regime, both militarily, economically and politically.

“They have tried hard to tilt the agreement to their own needs and to the interest of the Assad regime,” Mr Al Aridi said.

“We expect them to continue to create obstacles and hinder the work of the committee."

The final committee is composed of 50 individuals from the government, the opposition and civil society who will discuss and adopt constitutional proposals.

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

“We know that it is not the end goal, it cannot solve the Syrian problem. It is one the issues raised in resolution 2254,” Mr Al Aridi said.

The resolution calls for a new constitution, as well as UN-supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance.

An essential confidence building measure in any peace process is the release of detained or abducted individuals. Human rights activist as well as the opposition say that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have disappeared in the Syrian prison system since the uprising against Mr Al Assad's rule, and they suspect that many of those have been tortured to death or secretly killed.

"We are calling for the release of Syrian prisoners, who are living in Mr Al Assad’s jails as if they are living in a grave, under torture,” Mr Al Aridi said, adding that this is a sensitive and important issue for the opposition.

They are also calling for the UN to "establish a committee to investigate the fate of the missing detainees and prisoners”.

“It is essential for us, these people must be released,” he said.

Nine rounds of UN peace talks between the warring sides have made little progress towards ending a civil war in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and over 10 million — a majority of the Syrian population — driven from their homes.

Previous rounds of talks have been held sporadically in Geneva, with a mandate to discuss new elections, reformed governance, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.

“We don’t want any outside interference but at the same time knowing the regime, its stubbornness and its capability of obstructing this process, a facilitator is needed,” Mr Al Aridi said.

Having gained the upper hand on the battlefield after nearly nine years of conflict, Mr Al Assad appeared to be unwilling to negotiate until recently, let alone step down as part of any peaceful solution, as demanded by the opposition.