posted on Thu 21 Nov 2019 5:34 PM
Syria Political Briefing

Tomorrow (22 November), Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen will brief on the political track in Syria. Sabah al-Hallak, a Syrian women’s rights activist, is also expected to brief. Members are expected to make statements following the briefings. Consultations are currently scheduled to follow the open session.

Pedersen is likely to discuss the launch in Geneva on 30 October of the Constitutional Committee, which consists of 150 participants, with 50 each from the government, the opposition, and civil society. He may reiterate that this is a Syrian owned and led process that has the potential to lead to a better future for the country’s people. He may further note that the Committee has agreed on the 45 participants who will make up the “Small Group”, the constitution drafting body, and inform the Council that this body has begun its work. On 8 November, Pedersen held a press conference in which he noted that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, its state institutions, the rule of law, and terrorism, among other issues, were discussed by the Small Group during its first week of deliberations. Members may be interested in the next steps in the Committee’s work; in this respect, the Small Group is expected to reconvene on 25 November.

Council members agree that the formation of the Constitutional Committee is a positive development, although some members have clearly emphasised that this is only the first step in a broader political process that should lead to free and fair elections under UN supervision. These members further maintain that other measures need to take place to advance the political process, such as a nation-wide ceasefire, the release of detained and abducted individuals, and an environment free from fear and intimidation. A number of members have said that they will not finance reconstruction in Syria absent a legitimate political solution to the conflict; France and the UK reiterated this position at the 14 November Council briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Some members may express concern that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad distanced his government from the Constitutional Committee in a 31 October television interview, stating that while the pro-government group of the constitutional committee “represents the viewpoint of the Syrian government…the Syrian government is not part of these negotiations nor of these discussions”. Members might be interested in Pedersen’s views on this issue.

There may also be discussion of the fragility of the security and humanitarian situation in northern Syria and the potential for the ongoing instability in the north to have a negative impact on the political process. In the north-east, OCHA reports that 74,000 people remain displaced following Turkey’s military offensive in October. In north-western Syria, recent weeks have seen an uptick in fighting. In this connection, in his 14 November briefing to the Council, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock reported that “an increase in airstrikes and ground-based strikes” there had “caused a high number of civilian casualties” and described the plight of civilians in areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. Some members may refer to the spike in violence in north-western Syria as further evidence of the need for a permanent ceasefire. In this connection, there may be references to yesterday’s reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 16 people were killed by a Syrian missile attack on an IDP camp in Kah and that six people died in a Russian aerial attack on Maraat al-Nu’man.

Tomorrow’s meeting is the last scheduled meeting in the Council on Syria this month. In the coming weeks, the Council will be negotiating a resolution to renew the authorisation for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access in Syria.