Syria constitutional committee agrees to draft ‘code of conduct’ on deliberations of meetings

Heated exchanges between government and opposition led to formation of document

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
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Syria’s Constitutional Committee agreed to draft a “code of conduct” deal on Friday in hopes of charting a political settlement and negotiate an end to the war.

The committee comprised of government and opposition members as well as civil society, is a step forward in what the United Nations says will be a long road to political rapprochement.

Each side has 50 members.

“Not only did we agree on an agenda but also managed to agree via consensus on the code of conduct for the deliberations of the meetings and when I left, I said I was very impressed by the 150 members,” the UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, told reporters on Friday evening.

Mr Pederson described the progress of the last two days of meeting as “very good”.

“After eight and a half years of conflict there are deep differences and a lot of suspicion as well as a lack of trust between all sides,” he said.

But the fact “that a large number of Syrians are sitting together discussing the future of their country is quite impressive,” he said.

Yahya Al Aridi, opposition member delegation, told The National, that the agreement is based on "how to conduct and chair sessions".

The agreement, given to The National, stipulates that "all sides must negotiate in a respectful and dignified manner and in a hostile free environment."

“All sides must respect each other’s views and must avoid inflammatory hate speech and attacks on members of the committee.”

Reports of heated confrontations erupted on Thursday evening between members of the committee during its first official session.

Ahmad Kuzbari, the committee’s government co-chair, hit out at “terrorism” - a reference to the rebels- and hailed “the sacrifices and heroic deeds of our army” in his opening remarks on Wednesday.

His comments reportedly fanned discord during Thursday’s meeting.

"The regime delegation began to create chaos during Thursday's meeting and accused the opposition delegation of terrorism. Civil society members intervened and scored a point of order to end these provocations," an opposition member, who choose to remain anonymous, told The National.

The 150-member committee is designed to pave the way for political reform and free and fair, UN-supervised elections in Syria, where the war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee since March 2011.

It remains unclear when the talks will end.

But experts believe that there are very limited prospects for a negotiated agreement between the two sides.

"The government continues to cling to the argument that Syria has a modern constitution, which was created in 2012. The opposition continues to question the legitimacy of Assad's leadership and argues that the constitutional reform process will not change Syria," Samuel Ramani, a doctoral researcher in International Relations at the University of Oxford, told The National.

“It could create visible symbols of change, but will not seriously deal with Assad's executive power, promote pluralism or oversee security sector reform,” he said.

The opposition's goals of separation of powers are clear, Mr Ramani said, adding “the government's willingness to compromise is less certain and a continuation of this trend guarantees deadlock.”

The development came as members of the international community hailed the launch of the committee.

The US, UK, Germany, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement late Thursday that praised the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen for their efforts on Syria.

“We support efforts to create a safe and neutral environment that enables Syria to hold free and fair elections, under UN supervision,” the statement said.