8628th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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30-Sep-2019 02:40:49
Special Envoy hails formation of constitutional committee as ‘sign of hope for long-suffering Syrians’ in briefing to Security Council at 8628th meeting.

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Sketching out the contours of a newly agreed Constitutional Committee for Syria today, the senior United Nations official in that country urged all parties there, as well as Security Council members, to seize that new development as a “sign of hope for the long-suffering Syrian people”.

Geir O. Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the 15-member Council on the Constitutional Committee’s Rules of Procedure and Terms of Reference, noting that Secretary-General António Guterres first announced the agreement on 23 September. Stating his intention to convene the Committee for the first time on 30 October, he said that acceptance of the Terms of Reference by both the Government of Syria and opposition leaders is the first concrete political agreement between the two sides. In addition, it implies a clear acceptance of each other as interlocutors.

Describing the arrangement as a “door-opener to a wider political process”, he said the Committee’s structure is clear, balanced and workable. It will be led by two equal co-chairs representing the Government and the opposition, with a small group of 45 people — 15 Government nominees, 15 opposition nominees and 15 from civil society — preparing and drafting proposals. A larger body comprising three sets of 50 nominees will then discuss and adopt them, he explained. Meanwhile, a decision-making threshold of 75 per cent will mean that no single bloc can dictate the Committee’s outcomes.

Outlining the composition of the so-called “middle third” — namely, the Committee members representing civil society and affiliated with neither the Government nor opposition parties — he said they hail from a range of different religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds. Emphasizing that they must never be subjected to threat or harassment, he pledged that the United Nations will jealously safeguard the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led nature of the process. “Syrians, not outsiders, will draft their constitution,” he stressed.

As Council members took the floor, many applauded the new agreement and welcomed plans to convene the Constitutional Committee as early as possible. However, several speakers expressed concern over the possibility of attempts to influence the Committee’s work either by internal or foreign actors. Some called attention to the presence of foreign forces inside Syria, warning that they are already working to divide the country and change its demographic makeup.

Sergey Vasilyevich Vershinin, the Russian Federation’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Council President for September, described the establishment of the Constitutional Committee as the beginning of a long road. Pledging his delegation’s support under the auspices of the Astana framework, he said the people of Syria will find their own solutions, emphasizing that it is unacceptable for external actors to interfere with the ongoing Syrian dialogue or to call for artificial timelines or concessions. There can be no truce with terrorism and international efforts must be bound by the quest for peace, not individual agendas, he stressed.

Gholamhossein Dehghani, Iran’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, International and Legal Issues, reinforced those points, saying that any assistance to the Committee — even form the United Nations — must be extended only upon the request by the Committee itself and with full respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. All foreign actors whose presence is not permitted by the Government must leave the country, he emphasized, citing the presence of United States forces and aggressions by Israel as constituting violations of sovereignty that further complicate the situation. He went on to warn against politicizing or impeding the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, or Syria’s reconstruction efforts.

China’s representative also spotlighted the crucial principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, emphasizing that the Committee must maintain its independence and freedom from foreign interference. He went on to point out that rampant terrorism remains a major challenge to Syria’s broader political process, while warning that humanitarian issues must never be used as a bargaining chip in order to exert external pressure on the Government.

Other speakers, including the United Kingdom’s representative, noted that constitutional challenges are not the only ones facing Syrians. In fact, “the problems in Syria were not caused by flaws in its constitution” but by failure to implement it on the part the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, he said. Against that backdrop, the Constitutional Committee’s work must be accompanied by measures to build trust and confidence while implementing all elements of Council resolution 2254 (2015) in tandem, he stressed.

Germany’s representative said the Committee’s efforts must result in a working constitution, with all parties fully committed to a process free from threats and intimidation. He also reiterated calls for the release of arbitrarily detained persons.

Sedat Önal, Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister, described the Constitutional Committee’s formation as an important first step, emphasizing: “We have an obligation not to fail to deliver this time.” The Committee’s work is the beginning of a formidable task, he said, urging the international community — the Security Council first and foremost — to continue to support it. Recognizing the need to address the presence of radical elements inside Syria, he nevertheless rejected any targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, emphasizing that there can be no military solution to the conflict.

Syria’s representative highlighted the active role played by Damascus in the talks to establish the Constitutional Committee, stressing that it must represent the wishes of Syrians without artificial timetables and foreign interference. While expressing the Government’s readiness to engage further in that process, he expressed concern about potential foreign intervention and violations of the United Nations Charter being committed in his country. Unfortunately, some States continue to use the Council as a platform to defame the Syrian Government and to prevent refugees and displaced people from returning home, he said.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Kuwait, France, Dominican Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Poland, South Africa, Belgium, Peru, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:51 p.m.

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