Syrian regime, opposition resume talks in Geneva

Meeting “currently on hold” after three members tested positive for COVID-19, a UN statement said.
Monday 24/08/2020
Syrian MP Ahmad Al-Kuzbari (4th R) arrives with the Syrian government delegation for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations (UN) Office in Geneva on August 24, 2020. (AFP)
Syrian MP Ahmad Al-Kuzbari (4th R) arrives with the Syrian government delegation for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations (UN) Office in Geneva on August 24, 2020. (AFP)

GENEVA – The Syrian Constitutional Committee, which opened its first session in nine months in Geneva on Monday, is “currently on hold” after three members tested positive for COVID-19, a UN statement said.

The office of UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen did not identify which three of the 45 members of the so-called small body of the Constitutional Committee were infected.

“Following a constructive first meeting, the Third Session of the Constitutional Committee is currently on hold. The Office of the Special Envoy will make a further announcement in due course,” it said, adding that Swiss authorities had been informed and contact-tracing was under way.

Syrian government, opposition and civil society delegations resumed meetings Monday to discuss a possible new constitution — a step seen by the UN mediator as a prospective “door-opener” to a final resolution of the country’s devastating nine-year civil war.

With a fragile cease-fire largely holding in the rebel-held region of Idlib, Pedersen said last week he was hoping to build “trust and confidence” in a UN-led process that has produced few concrete results so far.

The Syrian war broke out in 2011, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the exile of millions from their homes.

Opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission head Hadi Al-Bahra arrives for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations (UN) Office in Geneva on August 24, 2020. (AFP)
Opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission head Hadi Al-Bahra arrives for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations (UN) Office in Geneva on August 24, 2020. (AFP)

The opposition wants a new constitution drafted, while the government says the current charter should be amended.

The meeting was the first of its kind in nine months, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of one planned in March.

US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, who is in Geneva, noted this month a “shift at least in tone” from Syrian President Bashar Assad by acknowledging the UN-backed process in ways that he had not previously.

Jeffrey said the United States will keep watch on whether the government had changed “at least tactically” its approach in the talks.

A larger group of 150 delegates is also part of the process, but is not meeting this week.

In January 2018, an agreement was reached at a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.

This was a key step toward elections and a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 400,000 people.

There was an early agreement on 50-member lists from the Syrian government and the opposition.

But it took nearly 20 months until September 2019 to agree on the list the United Nations was authorised to put together representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women, mainly because of objections from the Syrian government.

The 150-member committee agreed on the 45-member drafting committee with 15 members from each list in late October 2019.

Resolution 2254 adopted by the Security Council in 2015 endorsed a road map to peace for Syria, including drafting a new constitution and UN-supervised elections.