THE UNITED NATIONS –
The UN Special Envoy for Syria announced on Tuesday that he had sent invitations to the Syrian government and opposition for an eighth round of talks starting in late May, aimed at overhauling the conflict-torn country’s constitution.
Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that agreement on a revised constitution could contribute to a political solution to the 11-year-old conflict.
He said the seventh session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee ended on March 25, with delegations proposing “at least some revisions to some of the texts presented”.
Pedersen said Deputy Special Envoy Khawla Matar then traveled to Damascus and Istanbul for further discussions with the committee’s co-chairs and issued invitations for the eighth session from Tuesday, May 28 to June 3 in Geneva.
He stressed that the drafting process will only move forward if the committee’s work is “governed by a sense of compromise and a constructive engagement aimed at achieving general agreement among its members”.
A 2012 UN roadmap for peace in Syria, endorsed by representatives of the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Turkey and the five permanent members of the Security Council, calls for the drafting of a new constitution. It culminates in UN-supervised elections in which all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, can participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed the roadmap.
At a Syrian peace conference hosted by Russia in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. A smaller body of 45 members would do the actual drafting, including 15 members each from government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for the committee to be formed and little progress has been made so far.
Pedersen stressed to the council in a video briefing that “Syria is a hot conflict, not a frozen conflict.”
He said airstrikes had increased in the northwest, there had been intensified clashes around Afrin and the northeast, and continued exchanges of rocket fire and shelling on all lines of defense. front as well as improvised explosive devices, car bombs and other security incidents.
Pedersen urged the council to focus on Syria.
“The current strategic stalemate on the ground and Syria’s absence from the headlines should not mislead anyone into thinking that the conflict requires less attention or fewer resources, or that a political settlement does not is not urgent,” he said. “Indeed, a conflict of this magnitude requires a comprehensive solution” according to the 2012 roadmap.
As the war in Ukraine quickly catches up, Pedersen said “Syria remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world” with 6.8 million refugees and 6.2 million internally displaced – “the half of the pre-war population”.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya also warned that as the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming another forgotten crisis.”
“Yet millions of Syrians struggle every month to survive, feed their families and provide a future for their children,” she said. “For many, their situation has never been more dire since violence erupted in 2011.”
Msuya said a “staggering 4.1 million people” in rebel-held northwest Syria need humanitarian assistance, with nearly a million people, mostly women and children, living in tents, “half of which have exceeded their normal lifespan”.
In early July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have maintained two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid from northwest Syria to Idlib. A few days later, the council authorized the delivery of aid through only one of these crossing points, Bab al-Hawa. This one-year term was extended for one year on July 9, 2021.
Msuya told the council that last year the UN sent some 800 cross-border aid trucks to the northwest each month, “routinely reaching 2.4 million people”.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said aid should be controlled by the Syrian government, its ally, and channeled across conflict lines.
Msuya said three cross-border convoys have been sent to the northwest, but they cannot replace cross-border aid deliveries at this stage.
Nebenzia called this “a simple refusal to solve the problem of humanitarian deliveries from Damascus to Idlib”.
“Let me be frank, in such circumstances we see little reason for cross-border resolution to be renewed again,” he said.