Transcript of Press Conference at the Conclusion of the First Week of Working Sessions of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen

8 Nov 2019

Transcript of Press Conference at the Conclusion of the First Week of Working Sessions of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen

We have just concluded what I believe has been two weeks of successful discussions.  As you remember, we opened with a formal launch last Wednesday that went very well, then the large body of 150 continued discussions about constitutional ideas and principles and how that could help to create a new constitutional arrangement for Syria.

This week we have had intensive discussions among the 45 members of the drafting body, 15 members nominated by the government, 15 members nominated by the opposition and 15 members from the civil society.

I think we have had very substantial and very good discussions.  The discussions were guided by the code of conduct that we managed to agree on during the first week of discussions.  And let me at the very beginning commend the two co-chairs for leading the discussions in a very professional manner, Mr. Kuzbari from the government side and co-chair Mr. Al-Bahra from the opposition.  I think they have steered the discussions very pragmatically, and they have managed, I think, to help to guide the discussions in what, of course, is a very diverse and frankly also often a very polarized group, which is to be expected.

But I would also like to commend the 45 members of the committee, I think they have, you know all this takes a little while, but they have started to listen to each other very seriously.  These are sometimes very painful discussions, and it takes courage to sit and listen to the other side presenting its views on these issues, but I think we have begun to address both difficult and painful issues, and I think it is fair to say that the discussions have been very professional.

I think also the initial round of discussions have begun the process of building some initial, what I would call, mutual trust and confidence.  And frankly I believe that it has gone much better than most people would have expected. 

So what will be the next step?

The members of the committee nominated by the government and the members nominated by the opposition will now reflect on the discussions that we have had, they will go back and consult, and I assume they will also be consulting with the 35 other members of their delegation and we will then hopefully be able to come up with a work plan for the next meetings.  The civil society group will also be consulting with the other members, the 35 members, and they have also expressed very positive evaluation of the discussions that we have had so far.

The two Co-Chairs have agreed to meet here in Geneva again in 14 days, so the next round of discussions will start on November 25th. 

I said from the very beginning that I was hopeful that the Constitutional Committee’s work will be guided by the seriousness of the challenge that is that it should meet the aspirations of the Syrian people, and I think that this has been indeed a very good beginning. 

But I also emphasize that of course the Constitutional Committee in itself is not a solution to the conflict.  And of course, you are all reminded about that every day when you see the developments on the ground.  So, I will of course continue to work of course on the other issues that I am mandated to work on in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254.

And I think while we are doing that we will continue to prepare also for the next rounds of discussions that we know will continue to be challenging but if it is done in the same spirit as we managed to conduct the discussions this week, I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress.  Thank you.

Question: Mr. Pedersen, what are the difficulties that might face you and are there any external interferences and pressures on the United Nations or on you personally?

Mr. Pedersen: No, I think the only pressure on me is from the Syrian people, and they should continue to put pressure on me, I think that is their task.  I believe there are many, many challenges, of course when after eight and a half years of conflict you sit down to discuss, the first challenge is actually to be able to sit down and to listen to each other.  I think the committee has faced up to that challenge brilliantly.  You know I must say I really admire the way it has been going this week of the discussions.  I must also say, I think, all my interlocutors understand that this is for the Syrians themselves, for the members of the committee, to start a serious work, and I am hopeful that whatever support will come, that international supporters will keep a little bit of distance and they will allow the committee to continue to do its work and they will ask for my advice, for my facilitation, whenever it is needed, so far we are working very well together.

Question: Mr. Pedersen your role as a facilitator, doesn’t that require from you to reconsider the imperatives upon which you are working? The Sochi conference and matters related to combating terrorism, the paper on combating terrorism has been rejected, don’t you think that it is of paramount importance that this part be discussed?

Mr. Pedersen: Listen, my role as facilitator is to bring the parties together, and I will continue to do that job very, very seriously, I can assure you.  There are, of course, at this stage of discussions many, many issues they disagree on, but you should ask, I think after me, you should have the opportunity to meet with both co-chairs, first the co-chair nominated by the government and after that the co-chair nominated by the opposition.  So, ask them, but I think if you had been in the room you would actually have been surprised also on how much they actually agree on.  There are many issues that the 45 already agree on when we got down to the details.  That’s not for me to do today, but there are many commonalities that I think we will be able to build upon during the next round of discussions.

Question: Just to be clear, have you actually gotten into discussion on articles within the constitution, has it been decided yet if you are writing a new text or if this is a revisions of the existing text, and finally you mentioned “painful issues” what specific issues have been the most painful in these discussions?

Mr. Pedersen:  As I said it has been a very good week, all the issues related to the conflict in Syria and of relevance to developing a new constitution have been addressed, and as I said there has been a process where all the members have, I think, learned to listen to each other.  Let me not sort of go into the details of the discussion, the discussion in itself will be confidential, it is up to the parties themselves on what they would like to tell you about what they have been discussing, I think if you have been listening to some of members of the committee they have would have told you already what they have been discussing.  So obviously, no secret, that they have been discussing issues related to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, they have obviously been discussing issues related to terrorism, they have been discussing issues related to the importance of state institutions, they have been discussing issues related to the rule of law, the importance of that, the separation of powers, all issues you could imagine which is of relevance to developing a constitution.  I said also from day number one that let’s not start focusing on whether this will be about amending the constitution or adopting a new constitution, let’s focus on the substance, and then we will hopefully be able to see that the Syrians themselves will conclude on whether that is an amendment or a new constitution.

Question: Mr. Pedersen would you be kind enough to give us certain details, we heard that the government group were the first one to submit a paper, and then there were other papers, could you give us more details? Also, what are your feelings about the differences within the civil society group?

Mr. Pedersen: I will not go into any more details on the discussions, I think what we are seeing within the civil society group, as I mentioned at the opening ceremony, this is a group that represents a broad respected specter of the Syrian society.  They don’t belong to one political group, they represent different political leanings, different communities, the whole idea is that they represent a broad variety of the Syrian society, the Syrian community.  So, it is not fair to say that they can talk as one, they are representing, as I said, different communities and they will continue to discuss how they can work together and how they will also connect to the other 35 others that are also part of that group.

Question: Mr. Pedersen tens of thousands of detainees and forcibly displaced people in Syria, was there any progress in this meeting on this issue? are you satisfied with the Syrian government side and opposition on this issue?

Mr. Pedersen: These are issues that I am discussing obviously outside of this room, so as I said before I am using two tracks on this, one is the work that we are doing together with Turkey, Iran and Russia and we also have the help and the assistance of the ICRC.  And then there is a separate track where I am discussing directly with the parties on how we can move forward to what I call substantial releases especially on women, children and the elderly.  And I will continue to put pressure to be able to achieve that.

Question: Thank you for this briefing Mr. Pedersen.  I have two points, or declarations, you spoke about the pressure of the Syrian people upon you and what you have discussed with Mr. Guterres when he said that it is time to put an end to this game about Syria.  In other words, will the meetings of this committee bring to an end to this game, the price of which is paid by the Syrian people, and as far as the pressures by the Syrian people, what will be your role on lifting the coercive unilateral sanctions against these great and suffering people?

Mr. Pedersen:  Let’s be precise.  As I said, maybe not to you but I said many times, my hope is that the meetings of the Constitutional Committee can be a door-opener to the broader political process, it is also my hope that within the Constitutional Committee we can start to build some trust and confidence that could have a positive spill-over on the broader political process and then it is my hope that this broader political process again will have a positive spill-over effect into the work of the Constitutional Committee.

Question: Mr. Pedersen you mentioned earlier that the constitutional committee is not the solution and we have to work under the provision of Resolution 2254.  What are the other issues under this resolution? And does the mandate of the committee allow it to discuss any other matters in addition to the constitutional matters?

Mr. Pedersen: To put it like this: there are enough matters for the Constitutional Committee to discuss as it is, and we have agreed that we will try to protect the Constitutional Committee, so that it can concentrate on its work.  So, you know obviously the Resolution 2254 has many a different aspects that are of relevance for finding a political solution to the crisis.  It is even mentioned in the code of conduct (Terms of Reference), that we have agreed upon between the government and the opposition, that when hopefully we move forward on the new constitution, there will also be  then elections coming, that will be supervised by the United Nations, the resolution is also mentioning the need for a nation-wide ceasefire, and we continue to call for that, that we could see ceasefires in the northwest and in the northeast.  Resolution also calls for confidence-building measures and there are many things I can mention here, but one issue in particular, I already have addressed, is the issue about abductees, detainees and missing persons, so it is a broad agenda. 

Question: Mr. Pedersen, while you hold this meeting there is a vicious attack by Turkey, there is wiping of total villages and towns and there is murder of hundreds of people, have you condemned in this meeting this heinous aggression, and before you someone has said that the percentage of Kurds will be 5 percent  what we see now is that the Kurds are represented by less than 2 percent, what do you say about that?

Mr. Pedersen: I say that we have heard clear voices also from the Kurdish community in the committee and as I said already we appeal strongly and you will have heard statements from the Secretary-General, myself and also from my Humanitarian Adviser on the situation in the northeast, and on the situation in the northwest and as we said we call for an immediate ceasefire and for a respect for that ceasefire.

Question: Mr. Pedersen, the discussions taking place are they technical discussions on the constitution or are they technical political discussions aiming to register some progress? and can you give us a percentage, what do you think the percentage of progress achieved during the last two weeks?

Mr. Pedersen: That’s a clever one, so if I start adding percentages you will tell me in the end that it doesn’t add up.  I think there are many different levels you could measure success of this first meeting, and I said that for me, the important thing has been that they have come together, they have been listening to each other, have been treating each other with respect, they have been able to work professionally and they have been able to discuss what I call “painful issues”, substantial issues related to the constitutional work of the committee and I believe that has been a very good beginning.  Percentage wise not necessarily, but in my opinion, it has been a very good start and a very good beginning and my hope, as I said, is that we can continue in that spirit in the further negotiations that we will have here in Geneva.

Thank you very much.

Geneva, 8 November 2019