Transcript of Remarks by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Ahead of the Fifth Session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee

22 Jan 2021

Transcript of Remarks by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Ahead of the Fifth Session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee

Let me start by thanking you all for joining us today, even though most of you are joining us virtually. And let me thank you all for cooperating with the COVID-19 restrictions that are in place. It goes without saying that obviously I hope to be able to be in touch with you on a more regular basis when the COVID-19 situation is more under control.  

 But today it is all about the meetings we are going to have next week, as you know on Monday, it will be the Fifth Session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body, that will convene here in Geneva. We will be ensuring the strictest health and safety protocols, and that they are followed – and let me also thank the Swiss authorities for their support, it is highly appreciated.

Let me remind you about the agenda for the meeting, as it has been agreed upon, that in line with the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure, to discuss constitutional principles/basic principles of the constitution. I have been engaging with the two Co-Chairs on regular basis, and I have also met virtually with the Middle Third civil society group, before we convene the meetings here in Geneva.  

 I briefed the Security Council on Wednesday, and I told the Council that I do believe that the upcoming meeting starting on Monday is a very important one. For more than a year, many subjects have been discussed and after the last session I indicated that I saw some potential for some common ground. I hope to see more of this during the next session.

 I also told the Council that the time has come for the Co-Chairs to establish what I called “more effective and operational working methods” so that the meetings can be better organised and more focused. We need to ensure that the Committee begins to move from preparing a constitutional reform into actually drafting one – as I believe I also mentioned during my last encounter with you here after the end of the last session.  

 There are several ways of doing this, of course, but what I have been proposing is that they can do this by considering specific constitutional issues, and draft provisions. I also hope that the Co-Chairs will reach an agreement on workplans for future meetings with clear agendas and topics. There needs to be more urgency into delivering progress in this process.

 Today, I also had the pleasure of engaging virtually with the Women’s Advisory Board and I will also be engaging with them sometime next week. It is priority for all of us to make sure that we have full participation of Syrian women in the political process and that promoting their core constitutional rights is, of course, central for me as the facilitator of the work of the Constitutional Committee.  

 I also have been engaging with the Civil Society Support Room. I really appreciate their support. I salute their work and the work of all the Syrians who do what they can to improve the situation on the ground and to support a political process.

On Wednesday, to the Security Council, I emphasised that the Syrian people have experienced a decade of conflict and that one cannot overstate the deep trauma that they have experienced. Millions inside the country and the millions of refugees outside are now grappling with extreme economic challenges, and on top of it the challenge of COVID-19. For many Syrians, the daily struggle just to survive crowds out most other issues.  

 The political process, so far, is not yet delivering real changes in Syrians’ lives, nor a real vision for the future. As I emphasised many times, it is now clear that no one actor or group of actors can impose their will on Syria or settle the conflict alone, they must work together. I have called for a more serious and cooperative international diplomacy, and indeed that is needed. It is not only needed, I strongly believe that it should also be possible. After all, despite the differences, key States are continuing to reaffirm their commitment to resolution 2254 – as you would also have seen if you followed the Security Council meeting on Wednesday.  

 I will continue to engage with the Syrian parties and also with all international actors and also, of course, with the new incoming US Administration.

 I look forward to also briefing you after the end of the session next week.

 Thank you.

 Question: I would like you to elaborate a bit more on what you have just said about “a more cooperative diplomacy”? Can you please elaborate a bit on that? Thank you Sir.

 Mr. Pedersen: I have highlighted many times that we now see that there are, what I call, five armies operating in Syria. We have seen violations of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, going on for years. We have seen economic hardship as a consequence of 10 years of conflict, and internal factors but also external factors, and we have seen of course, relative calm since March, when we had the agreement between Russia and Turkey for the northwest. But as I emphasised, this is a fragile calm. All of these issues cannot be sorted out by the Syrians alone, it needs an international cooperation, and what I said we need real negotiations and for the different parties to sit down and have a real exchange of views on how to more this process forward.  And if that political will is lacking, it would be very, very difficult to move this process forward. As I said we need the Syrian parties, but we can’t rely on the Syrians alone, and as I told the Security Council, if you leave this to the UN alone, we will not be able to succeed. All of us need to work together.

 Question: I was wondering about your plans for large-scale prisoners swaps, I know that was something you were aiming for at one stage, is there any update as to where you are with this? And if not, what is holding it up, and might it be part of the discussions in Geneva next week?

 Mr. Pedersen: No, this will not be part of the discussions in Geneva next week, but this is always part of my agenda when I meet with the parties, when I am in Damascus, and when my Deputy Khawla Matar is there, this is one of the key issues we are discussing. And also, as you know, we have a working group with Turkey, Iran and Russia, where this is also on top of the agenda. I am afraid that so far it has been disappointing, in my opinion we have not seen any real progress, but it does not mean that we should not continue, it means actually that we should work even harder to be able to see progress on this. This is a file that really has an impact on nearly every Syrian family, and it needs to be addressed and we need to start to see progress, and I have appealed that we could see more information on the missing, that we need to see the early release of women, children, the elderly and the sick, and I think there should be really nothing that should stop that from happening.  

 Question: At the beginning of your statement to the Security Council, you said that you just received some new inputs by the Co-Chair that was appointed by the SNC. So, I was wondering what kind of inputs did you receive in that drafting mood that you are calling for? Do you feel that the parties are ready to move toward that behavior in that round, or let’s say in the short-term perspective? And then briefly, what do you expect from the new US Administration?

 Mr. Pedersen: As you rightly pointed out, I have just received a written proposal from the SNC Co-Chair, I have shared that with Dr. Kuzbari, and I am going to have a round of discussions later today, with both Co-Chairs, and I will have a new round on Sunday, so it is a little bit early for me to go into detail on those discussions, but it is good that we have something to start discussing, and hopefully based on the ideas I have mentioned to the Security Council we will be able to move forward, as I said, and make progress on the different issues that I have mentioned.  

 It is too early for me to tell what I expect to be the outcome of my dialogue with the American Administration, as you know they have been sworn in on Wednesday and so far I have not been in touch with them. But I am very much looking forward to having, hopefully, an intensive and good dialogue also with the new American Administration.  

 Question: I just wanted to ask about when specifically the delegates are arriving, or if they already arrived, and also you mentioned the need for real negotiations, and I am just wondering if you received any indications from anywhere that this may be possible? Or if that is for now a pipe dream?

 Mr. Pedersen: All members hopefully will be arriving tomorrow. Then as I said I will have consultations with the Co-Chairs and with the Middle Third on Sunday and then we will start the meeting on Monday morning. I am obviously hopeful that the contacts I will have with the two Co-Chairs will result in some progress so that we can, when we start the meeting, start it with a better understanding on how to make this week more effective, more forward looking – so that we can make some real progress. But as I said I am in the midst of the discussions with the two Co-Chairs, so it is a bit too early to say how this is going to develop.

Question: (Arabic) In your briefing to the Security Council you said that the political process has not achieved much progress, what do you propose? Political negotiations in addition to the Geneva meetings? Do you think that the continued meetings between the Syrians in Geneva is a success for the United Nations?

 Mr. Pedersen: I am not sure I heard the full question, or all the questions you asked. But let me try to respond to at least the part I heard. You asked whether this round of negotiations will be a success for the United Nations, I really do not think this is the question, the question, of course, is whether it is a success for the Syrian people and the aspirations of the Syrian people. And as I said many times, my hope has been that the Constitutional Committee, if it is handled in the correct manner, that it could start to build trust and that it could be a door-opener for a broader political process. But the Constitutional Committee cannot work in isolation from other factors, we need political will from the different parties to be able to move forward. And of course, we also need to see progress on the other files that are mentioned in Security Council resolution 2254. The Constitutional Committee is just one aspect, and it is not the one aspect that will solve the Syrian crisis. If we are to see changes in the situation on the ground, there are other factors that need to be discussed and I have alluded to that in my previous answers today.

 Thank you.