Friday, 20 December 2019

Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen’s Briefing to the Security Council 20 December 2019

 December 20, 2019
Geir O. Pedersen
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria
20 December 2019
Madame President,
1. One year ago, many believed that the Syrian conflict was winding down. Yet the past 12 months have seen a steady stream of violence, punctuated by escalations, that continue to this day, across many areas of Syria – such as the northwest, the northeast and the south. Proscribed terrorist groups have also not been defeated and continue to pose a major security threat. All of this serves as a constant, grim reminder that the need for a comprehensive political process, as mandated by this Council in resolution 2254, is more pressing than ever.
2. Today, let me start by updating you on one aspect of that process – the Constitutional Committee.
3. On 25 November, the Small Body of the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee convened for its second session. Before arriving in Geneva, I had asked each Co-Chair to put forward proposals for an agenda for the second session, in line with the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure.
4. On 21 November, the Co-Chair designated by the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, sent me a proposed workplan with 10 constitutional headings and an agenda focusing on the preamble to the Constitution and basic principles of the Constitution. On 25 November, the Co-Chair designated by the Syrian Government, proposed an agenda discussing “national pillars”, or national pillars of concern to the Syrian people.
5. At the same time, the Co-Chair designated by the Government insisted that constitutional issues could not be discussed until these “national pillars” were discussed. For its part, the SNC Co-Chair stated that “national pillars” could be discussed, provided this occurs within the context of the agreed Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure or within an agenda of basic constitutional principles.
6. From 25 through 29 November I sought, in line with my mandate, and consistent with the Syrian leadership and ownership of the process, to facilitate consensus between the Co-Chairs and bring their viewpoints closer together. We had serious discussions in this regard. Different formulas were put forward that might have enabled both sides to table and discuss the issues of interest to them within the scope of the Constitutional Committee’s mandate. By the end of the week, however, it was clear that consensus would not be reached and that a meeting of the Small Body was not possible.
7. During this recess, I remain focused on facilitating agreement on an agenda for the next session of the Small Body. I hope that I will soon be able to consult with the Syrian Government directly in Damascus to this end, as well as the Syrian Negotiations Commission. My team also remains in contact with the “Middle Third” civil society delegation and I stand ready to support them, along the lines I outlined in my last briefing.
8. I have also met with international stakeholders, on this and all other aspects of the process. This past month, I met with the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Turkey, as well as those of Italy, Jordan, Algeria, and senior officials from the US, France, Iran, and Germany, who all expressed support for my mediation efforts.
9. I hope agreement can be reached promptly on an agenda that falls in line with the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure of the Constitutional Committee. As things stand and absent an agreed agenda, I see no reason to convene another session of the Small Body.
Madame President,
10. When I last briefed this Council, we had just concluded a successful opening session of the Constitutional Committee. This second session was obviously very different, in both substance and tone. But disagreement on the agenda is typical for any political process.
11. I do, however, believe there are several lessons we can draw from the experience of the second round.
12. First, the Constitutional Committee is and will remain fragile. Progress depends on the two sides, whose agreement made its creation possible – the Syrian Government and the Syrian Negotiations Commission – allowing their members to work professionally on the constitutional issues, and without disassociating themselves from the work of those they nominated. The Constitutional Committee needs to be nurtured, and genuinely supported if it is to succeed. This is the responsibility of the Syrian parties. International stakeholders, too, have a supporting role to play. I know I can count on the support of this Council in that regard.
13. Second, any proposed agenda must comply with the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure, agreed between the Government and opposition. This means that all issues are open for discussion within the Committee – without preconditions, and without making consideration of one issue dependent on resolution of another. And it also means that issues should be framed and fall under a constitutional heading. The Constitutional Committee is mandated by agreement to prepare and draft a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement. If the Constitutional Committee is to deliver on this, it must focus on its constitutional mandate.
14. Third, the second round only underscores the need for a broader and comprehensive political process. The Government and Opposition reaffirmed this when they agreed, in the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure, on the need for a ‘broader political process moving forward to build trust and confidence and implement Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).’ Indeed, I believe that, while a Constitutional Committee cannot solve the crisis, it can help foster the trust and confidence between the parties, that can open the door to a broader process– and, equally, such a broader process can feed positively into the work on the constitutional issues.
Madame President,
15. I believe a meaningful, wider political process would be one that delivers tangible actions, such as progress on the release of detainees/abductees and the clarification of the fate of missing persons. It remains a matter of great frustration for me that there has not been meaningful movement on this issue. My Deputy and I will continue engaging with the Syrian parties directly as well as with other relevant actors. We also remain committed to actively contribute to the efforts of the Working Group that was set up to deal with this issue. In this context, I met with senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran in Nur-Sultan last week and, along with discussion on other issues, I  stressed the need to move beyond the “one-for-one” exchanges, and to see releases, at a meaningful scale, of children, women and the sick.
16. De-escalating violence and a nationwide ceasefire should underpin a wider political process. Northwest Syria has seen a deeply troubling escalation of violence in recent days. ASG Muller briefed this Council in detail yesterday on the terrible suffering of civilians there. The devastating humanitarian cost of a full-scale military offensive for the 3 million people living in northwest Syria is a price we simply cannot afford to pay. All sides must de-escalate urgently. Civilians also continue to suffer in northeast Syria, where the security situation remains volatile, even if it is calmer relative to the days and weeks after Turkey first launched its intervention. It is crucial that the various ceasefire understandings negotiated between actors there are respected and lead to a sustained de-escalation in violence. The security situation in southern Syria also remains turbulent and should be addressed.
17. Countering Security Council-listed terrorist groups is imperative too – through an approach that is cooperative, that ensures the protection of civilians, respects international humanitarian and human rights law.
18. And as always, while the security situation is the most devastating threat, Syrians also face increasing economic hardship, including as a result of commodity shortages and entrenched poverty. A broader process must ultimately address this too.
19. A broader process should respect and ultimately restore Syria’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and independence.
20. Such a process should achieve a long-lasting, real and genuine reconciliation.
Madame President,
21. A broader process must also be inclusive. We continue to consult with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board on the concerns and priorities of diverse Syrian women and their perspectives on a sustainable and inclusive political solution.
22. Syrian civil society should be fully included in any broader process.
23. Ultimately, the process should help develop a safe, calm and neutral environment – an environment that sees safe, voluntary and dignified refugee returns, to their places of origin or of their choosing; an environment in which a new Constitution, adopted by popular approval, can be genuinely reflected in institutions and in practice; an environment in which inclusive, free and fair elections can take place, which include the diaspora and which are administered under the supervision of the United Nations in line with resolution 2254.
24. Many of these issues touch upon constitution-making and some could be discussed under a constitutional rubric. But a constitution-making process itself is not likely to resolve them in a way that meets the urgent and legitimate concerns of the Syrian people. I remain convinced that a “steps for steps” model could help unlock practical progress – steps that build trust and confidence among Syrians, and between Syrians and the international community, undertaken in a reciprocal fashion.
25. I continue to press on this in all of my engagements, with the Syrian parties and international stakeholders. I continue to offer my good offices in this regard. And I continue to support the convening of a new international format, to bring together the will of the key players.
Madame President,
26. This is my last briefing of my first year as Special Envoy. When I first briefed you, I said my priorities were a sustained dialogue with the Syrian Government and the opposition, the launch of the Constitutional Committee as a door opener, a wider dialogue with civil society, action on detainees, abductees and missing, and international discussions in support of a political solution.
27. These remain my priorities. But it is time now to update them. The Committee is launched – but needs to work expeditiously and continuously, producing results and continued progress. I appreciate my open and direct dialogue with both Syrian parties – but if we are to take it to the next level, we need to address the full array of issues. We must enable de-escalation leading towards a nationwide ceasefire, as well as a cooperative, lawful approach to countering proscribed terrorist groups. As part of this dialogue, we must generate concrete action on detainees, abductees and missing persons. I think all of this could take shape for the benefit of all Syrians, like through a “steps for steps” approach. And I think a key part of this is for international discussions to deepen and for a new international format to take shape, to underpin the process. We know that none of this will be easy, and I will continue to count on the full engagement of the Syrian parties and the full support of this Council.
Thank you, Madame President.

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