8674th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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22-Nov-2019 01:52:03
Special Envoy calls launch of Constitutional Committee for Syria ‘historic moment’, but warns Security Council conditions on ground must improve at 8674th meeting.

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Calling the launch of a Constitutional Committee for Syria a potentially historic moment, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria warned the Security Council today that conditions on the ground must improve to give the talks a chance for success in ending the years-long conflict.

Geir Pedersen, briefing the 15-nation Council, said: “This launch was a sign of hope for the Syrian people and a chance for the Syrian parties to begin a direct dialogue they lead and own on the future of a broken country.” It was critical that the Syrian parties, who are leading and owning this process, seize the opportunity that the launch of the Committee offers. Beginning its work on 30 October, the Committee consists of 150 participants, with 50 each from the Government, the opposition, and civil society. The Committee has so far agreed on the 45 participants who will make up the Constitution drafting group, 15 from each component.

The drafting group, in their initial discussions, held engaged talks on a range of topics, despite some expressions of anger and mistrust, he continued, adding that it is expected to reconvene on 25 November. Members of the so-called “middle third”, comprised of society activists and experts and other independents from inside and outside Syria, had no formal affiliation with each other and differing experiences but were able to work together. Women made up 30 per cent of the Committee members and gender equality appeared to be a potential area for common ground.

He also said that, as confidence is necessary between all parties, the dynamics on the ground need to change, starting with full respect for international humanitarian and human rights law and protection of civilians. In that regard, he expressed deep concern over renewed violence in Idlib and other areas. In addition, he suggested confidence-building measures that include release of detainees and clarification of the plight of missing persons.

Also expressing concern over the continued engagement of international forces in varied configurations, he called for all involved to step away from any trend that could lead towards a deeper international conflagration over Syria and deeper infringement of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

What is needed, he said, is the establishment of a safe, calm and neutral environment, allowing any constitutional reform to be matched by improving conditions on the ground. That could set an environment for inclusive, free and fair elections in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and contribute to voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees.

Sabah Alhallak, a member of the Syrian Constitutional Committee and the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, stressed that, unfortunately, “Syrian women face threats to their rights from all sides, not only from existing discrimination embedded in law, but also from groups such as ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and Al-Nusra”. Nonetheless, women’s rights activists from grass-roots political movements continue to organize and demand a say over the country’s future, including on issues of justice, citizenship and the constitutional process.

However, their full, equal and meaningful participation continues to be overlooked in high-level processes, she pointed out. To date, there have been only two women in the Government and opposition delegations to the Geneva negotiation process. “This cannot wait until after a political process has concluded,” she said.

She also called on the Council to press for progress on the fate of the 100,000 Syrians who remain detained or missing, often subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. The Council must also prioritize an immediate ceasefire, ensure civilian protection, humanitarian access and women’s full participation in the political process, and guarantee that provisions in the new Constitution codify human rights, including gender rights. “Our future — indeed, our present — depends on decisive action by this body,” she stressed.

Following those briefings, Council members took the floor to welcome the launch of the Constitutional Committee and commend Mr. Pedersen on his tenacity in shepherding the formation of the body. They also echoed his concerns about the need for improvements of conditions on the ground, calling them critical to relieve suffering and create a climate for the Syrian-led process to succeed, as well as facilitating the safe, voluntary return of refugees.

Kuwait’s representative said of the convening of the Committee: “It is a glimmer of hope for all Syrians.” He called on Syrian parties to focus on the interests of the Syrian people towards a solution that upholds the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. For that to occur, there must be tangible improvements on the ground that include justice and accountability for all crimes committed since 2011. He also condemned Israeli attacks on the territory of Syria.

The United States’ representative said that the developments in Geneva could lead to a resolution of the conflict if unrelenting pressure from the Council ensued on those who continue to fuel violence, condemning Iran for moving long-range missiles into Syria and continuing ground strikes through its proxies. Defending, in addition, Israel’s right to defend itself, he ruled out reconstruction assistance to areas controlled by Damascus until a credible political process is under way, in line with Council resolutions.

The representative of the Russian Federation, expressing hope that the Constitutional Committee will proceed successfully, stressed that it is unacceptable for outside players to interfere in the Committee’s work or impose artificial deadlines. He pledged that the Astana guarantors — Iran, Turkey and the Russian Federation — stand ready to provide continued support based on respect for Syria’s sovereignty. In that regard, he called for complete restoration of State control, including in delivery of comprehensive humanitarian assistance, lifting of sanctions, end of support to any terrorists and provision of reconstruction aid.

Syria’s representative, while affirming progress on a wide array of issues in the Constitutional Committee, also called for respect for his country’s sovereignty. Speaking against support for terrorists, incursions by Turkey and the United States and the occupation of the Golan by Israel, he pointed out that some parties have expressed their support for the Constitutional Committee in a “very strange way”. External interference is one of the greatest threats to that Committee’s operations, he stressed, adding: “This dialogue is, first and foremost, one between Syrians.”

Also speaking today were representatives of the Dominican Republic, Poland, Germany, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, China, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, France, Belgium, Peru and the United Kingdom.

The meeting started at 3:14 p.m. and ended at 5:04 p.m.

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