Syrian government, opposition to start drafting constitution

A long-awaited agreement was reached in the UN-mandated talks between the two sides in Switzerland.

United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen announced the deal at a brief news conference on Sunday [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Beirut, Lebanon – The Syrian government and opposition groups have agreed to start drafting new constitutional provisions during renewed United Nations-mandated negotiations in Geneva this week.

“The two co-chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting the constitutional reform,” UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said at a brief news conference on Sunday.

The drafting committee is comprised of 45 members from the Syrian government, opposition, and civil society. They have not met since last January.

“We concluded that we were not making sufficient progress, and that we could not continue the way we have been working,” Pedersen said. “Since then, close to nine months, I’ve been negotiating between the parties, trying to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward.”

The delegations arrived in Geneva and held preliminary discussions with Pedersen before a series of talks over the week that starts on Monday morning.

A new constitution?

In January 2018 at the Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in Sochi, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution until September 2019, equally represented by the Syrian government, political opposition, and civil society.

A smaller committee of 45 individuals of that same proportion is tasked with negotiating and drafting the new constitutional provisions.

Syria’s war has killed about 500,000 people over the past 10 years, which started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. It later turned into a complex battlefield involving foreign armies, local militias, and foreign fighters.

Pedersen said Syria continues to face compounding crises, and called for the international community to address the “other aspects” of the situation.

“We daily have civilians being killed and injured,” Pedersen said. “There are more than 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, and close to 90 percent are living below the poverty line.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected for a fourth time in May with 95.1 percent of the vote in government-held areas. Western countries and opposition groups say the elections were not free and fair.

Source: Al Jazeera