‘Potential for common ground’ between Syria's rival factions in upcoming talks, says UN envoy

Geir Pedersen, UN special envoy for Syria in Geneva in August, 2020. (KEYSTONE/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

The UN special envoy for Syria has said he sees “some potential for common ground” between opposing delegations in upcoming talks to revise the war-torn country’s constitution.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the first meeting of delegates from Syria’s government, opposition and civil society in Geneva on Monday, Geir Pedersen said he hoped to “make progress” and that parties would “be able to move forward” in the latest round of talks.

This will be the fifth time that the small body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee meets since it was established by the UN in September 2019, with the aim to support reconciliation efforts in the country by amending the constitution.

Reiterating comments delivered to the UN Security Council briefing on Wednesday, Pedersen said now’s the time for the Constitutional Committee to ensure  “more effective and operational working methods” and to move to the actual drafting of the constitution.

“We need to ensure that the committee begins to move from preparing their constitutional reform into actually drafting one,” he said, stressing the need for the meetings to be “more organised and focused” and for parties to exhibit “more urgency into delivering progress in this process.”

“I believe that these are reasonable goals, but I cannot assure the council that they will be met this time,” he said.

The US and other countries have accused Syria’s President Bashar Assad of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to waste time until the presidential elections scheduled later this year in an attempt to avoid UN-supervised voting, which has been called for by the Security Council.

The constitutional committee is part of a road map to a peace process set out in Geneva in 2012 and later endorsed by a Security Council resolution adopted unanimously in 2015. The plan calls for a ceasefire and a parallel Syrian-led political process, leading to free and fair elections following the adoption of a new constitution.

Since 2011, the civil war in Syria has led to over 500,000 deaths, 6.2 million internally displaced and 5.6 million refugees that have fled mostly to neighbouring countries.

The UN envoy stressed the dire situation that millions were still facing. “Today, millions inside the country and the millions of refugees outside are grappling with deep trauma, grinding poverty, personal insecurity, and a lack of hope for the future,” he said.

Pedersen, who has also been meeting with members of civil society, said that they felt that the political process was not “yet delivering real changes in Syrians’ lives nor a real vision for the future” and that steps to ensure full access to humanitarian aid were not being taken.

He highlighted the need for a cooperative international diplomacy between the different parties involved, including foreign states.

“We need real cooperation. If that political will is lacking it will be very difficult to move this process forward,” he said.

“If you leave this to the UN alone, we will not succeed,” he added.