Syria: Latest round of talks on constitution begins in Geneva

UN-backed talks aimed at revising the constitution involve delegations from Syrian gov’t, opposition and civil society.

Former UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura meets with foreign ministers from Russia, Sergey Lavrov; Turkey, Mevlut Cavusoglu; and Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on forming a constitutional committee in Syria [File: Denis Balibou/EPA]

Delegates from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society have started a new round of meetings that are aimed at revising the constitution of the war-torn country.

The launch of the fifth round of the so-called Constitutional Committee on Monday came days after United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that many subjects have been discussed for more than a year and it’s now time for the committee to ensure that “the meetings are better organised and more focused”.

The latest talks also come nearly 10 years after Syrians followed their neighbours and joined the Arab Spring, a wave of protests that spread across the Arab world, starting from Tunisia and Egypt.

But what started as peaceful anti-government demonstrations in March 2011 quickly turned into a bloody years-long war.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced half the country’s prewar 23 million population, including more than five million refugees mostly in nearby countries.

“I believe that we need to ensure that the committee begins to move from ‘preparing’ a constitutional reform to `drafting’ one, as it is mandated to do,” Pedersen said last week.

The US and several Western allies have accused Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad – who has been in power since 2000 – of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to waste time until presidential elections are held this year and avoid UN-supervised voting as called for by the UN Security Council.

According to Syria’s elections law, presidential elections are scheduled to take place between April 16 and May 16, at least 90 days before al-Assad’s seven-year term expires.

At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution, which took until September 2019.

A 45-member committee, known as the “Small Body”, started its meetings in Geneva on Monday with 15 people representing each side.

The High Negotiations Committee – which represents the Syrian opposition – said on its Twitter page that members will be discussing the “basic principles of the constitution … and the core rules of procedure” of the constitutional committee.

Meanwhile, leading opposition representative Hadi al-Bahra told DPA news agency that talks need a clear timeline “which cannot exceed several months”.

“Putting an end to the human tragedy in Syria is our duty,” al-Bahra said in a written message. He demanded results “in the shortest possible time, which cannot exceed several months under any circumstances”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies