Transcript of Media Briefing by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Upon Conclusion of the Fourth Convening of the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee
Good afternoon, good to see you, I hope you are doing well. As Jenifer just said, we have concluded the fourth session of the drafting body of the Constitutional Committee. During the week, we have, or they have rather more precisely, discussed a wide range of topics. There was as always, many clear statements of positions, there were submissions of specific positions, and of formulae and of language on several aspects. Of course, there were many differences and let me emphasise that the reason why we are here, of course, is to listen to the differences. There are very strong different narratives, there a lot, of course, of emotions, after nearly 10 years of conflict, and in the room, there are tense moments. This is to be expected. But I think, perhaps more importantly, what we experienced through this week was, I think more and more, that people were listening attentively to each other, they were listening with respect, and there was also an exchange, that they were addressing each other.
I and my team when we sit and we follow the discussions, I think we see also very clearly that there are some common ground, there are some positions that we think that hopefully when we meet again will be possible to build upon, and that that could create something that would be of importance when we actually, hopefully, and not in too distanced future, when our Syrian friends start to draft proposals for constitutional reform.
So, as I said I believe it has been a useful exercise, and we can see if there are elements here that we can use when we hopefully move forward. And these elements need to be discussed obviously further.
I am very pleased to be able to inform you that the Small Body, that we have now agreed, and I think this is actually the first time we have managed to do that, we have agreed on both an agenda for the next meeting and we agreed on the time for the next meeting. So, the next meeting will be starting on the 25th of January, COVID-19 situation allowing, and what we will be discussing is then: Constitutional principles or basic principles of the Constitution, that is the agreed agenda.
I mentioned this at the very beginning of this week, at the press conference last Sunday, that this Committee is indeed important, it can build trust and confidence and it can start to address some key issues in the conflict, and it can be a door-opener, but I also added, that it cannot alone resolve the conflict. And I think that after 10 years of conflict it is not surprising that this is perhaps slow going and a difficult process. And this past year has been unusual, we lost many months due to COVID-19 and had not met with the regularity we expected, but now we managed to meet twice, despite the pandemic, and as I just said, we have another meeting coming up, and frankly speaking I think that is more than many people expected.
I have also said that we need to see faster progress, not only in the Committee but also on the ground, and also in the international cooperation. I said, and I like to repeat that, that we need a constructive and supportive international diplomacy on Syria and a process on all the wider aspects of resolution 2254, with mutually reinforcing and reciprocal actions. The conflict has lasted far too long, and the Syrian people are suffering and suffering deeply. They need to see the political process move forward in 2021.
Question: Next month, there will be the fifth round as you said, you will be focusing on Constitutional principles or basic principles of the Constitution. You said now there are strong differences between the parties, you said the same thing in last round in August, so what are your expectations? How will you compromise these differences between the parties next meeting?
Mr. Pedersen: We are obviously meeting with the expectations as I said, that it will be possible to narrow the differences, and as I said, the Committee’s mandate is to prepare and draft for a constitutional reform and our hope that with the next few rounds of discussions it will be possible to start that drafting process. That will also require a lot of work, it will be challenging and it may not happen as quickly as we could hope but as I said, after listening to the three different delegations this week, I do still believe that there are many areas, with the right political will, that we should be able to move forward, but in the end, it requires political will and the willingness to compromise. And as you know, this Committee is established with a voting threshold of 75 percent, so meaning that one side cannot dictate to the others what needs to happen. So, they either need to develop a consensus or they need to move across to the other side and to get more people on board for their ideas. So, this should hopefully serve as an incentive to move towards consensus.
Question: You mentioned the role that the international community can play, could you elaborate on that and say what they can do to facilitate the process?
Mr. Pedersen: Well as I said last Sunday when we met, I said that we have been visiting Damascus, and then we went to Ankara, to Cairo, and after that Moscow, Tehran and Riyadh. And of course, I have also been in touch with our American friends and European interlocutors. And I am sensing a strong support for the work that we are doing when it comes to the Constitutional Committee, so I believe there is an international consensus on that. But what we need to see is that there is also developed consensus on how to implement Security Council resolution 2254. As you know this was adopted with a consensus in December 2015, but we need now to see that this is developed further. And we are hoping that with the relative calm on the ground in Syria and hopefully with the small steps we are making now, that it would be possible to take a stock of where we are after nearly 10 years of conflict, five years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2254, and that this could also serve as a reminder to the international community to re-engage and to focus with more unity on how to move forward on the Syrian file.
Question: I like to come back to the common grounds that you mentioned, to give us a sense of the pace that discussions are moving, could you elaborate on these common grounds?
Mr. Pedersen: As I said, I think I see areas where we could move forwards towards, hopefully, what could be a common ground. I think it would be too much to say that we are there already, but this is really up to the two parties to decide themselves. But obviously there are areas, as I see it, and it would be interesting to see how these discussions are developing, it would not be surprise for you to learn that there were a lot of discussions on Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, I believe that is an obvious area where there should be hopefully a ground possible to find also common language. There have been extensive discussions on the issue on national identity, it will be interesting to see if that could also move towards something more that they could agree on. When I listen to them, I sense some areas where they could build upon. And then, also obviously when it comes to Syrian refugees and their right to return, I think there are many areas there as well where you can look and hopefully find something. And then, there is an issue that I had mentioned to you several times, the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons. There is a long list and many topics that were discussed, but, of course, it is also easy to identify that when we discuss these areas there are also disagreements, but the challenge will be then to see if it is possible to develop, in the future, areas of agreement in all of these different areas that we have discussed.
Question: Here in New York, speaking to members of the various delegations on the Security Council there are a lot who are skeptical of your process, you yourself said that 2254 was five years ago, and nothing seems to be going anywhere very fast. You can point to elements of common ground and tone you say, but don’t you need to make specific progress and how much longer you are going to give this?
Mr. Pedersen: We are all eager to make more progress than what we have experienced so far, but perhaps the more important thing is not that we are eager to search for this, it is, of course, the Syrian people themselves. We all share disappointment that it hasn’t been possible to move this process forward in a manner that would have changed the lives of the millions of Syrians who deserve a better life. But James, you have been following this conflict from the very beginning, you know the reasons why it has not been possible to move this process forward, there is a deep distrust between the parties, there has been a deep distrust between international parties and there has been a lack of willingness to engage in steps that could build trust between the parties. So what we are doing here in the Constitutional Committee, I never try to over sell it, but I am seeing it as a step in the right direction. But as I said, what is also important is to see that we make progress on the ground, that we make progress within the international format, that we encourage the new American administration and Russia in particular to sit down and to discuss, to see if there are step-by-step, reciprocal steps that could be taken and then hopefully that we can also see that through this progress we are making here in the Constitutional Committee, that we build trust that could make it possible to move forward on the file of detainees, abductees and missing persons, and on issues that would change the life and realities for the people living in Syria and of course for the millions of refugees and displaced people. That’s the challenge. This is a challenge that I will not be able to report progress to you within the next few weeks, but we are working steadily, and we are in close touch with the government of Syria, with the opposition of Syria and with all the international actors. And if you have any piece of advice James, I will be more than willing to listen to you.
Question: (Arabic) Is the date of the next session final? Or you need more discussions and meetings on the agenda, and whether what happened today during the session, we learned that the Syrian government delegation withdrew from the session in protest, will this affect the next session? What happened during the final session?
Mr. Pedersen: To start with your last question, it ended with me summarising what I believe we had achieved during the last week, and we agreed that we have, as I said, we have agreed on an agenda for the next meeting, I can repeat, constitutional principles, or basic principles of the Constitution and we have an agreement with all the members of the Committee that we will meet again, the meeting will start on the 25th of January, no more discussions on that, and that hopefully the delegations will be able to arrive here on the 23rd of January. Of course, we will have to see how the COVID-19 situation develops, but we are hopeful, despite the fact that we have had a serious outbreak in Geneva, we have managed to organise two meetings here in Geneva, one in late August, and now this here, already in December.