Ignoring international pressure, regime continues to block constitution talks

Published 01.12.2019 11:19
Updated 01.12.2019 18:34
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen gestures as he speaks to the media at the U.N., Geneva, Switzerland Nov. 29, 2019 (Reuters Photo)
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen gestures as he speaks to the media at the U.N., Geneva, Switzerland Nov. 29, 2019 (Reuters Photo)

Despite calls from the international community to reach a political consensus over the eight-year-long civil war in Syria, the Assad regime insists on entrenching its position by repeatedly blocking the talks of the Syrian constitutional committee.

For over 10 days now in Geneva, all parties to the war have been engaged in constitutional talks with little progress in sight, representatives of the regime once again leaving the table, as in the second round.

The international community was disappointed by the regime's approach, with the U.S. on Saturday condemning the move.

The Assad regime cannot continue to delay progress at the U.N. facilitated the Syrian constitutional committee any longer, the U.S. State Department said.

"The requested preconditions from the Assad regime clearly violate the constitutional committee's rule of procedure and are a blatant attempt to delay the work of an important effort that is supported both by the Small Group and Astana Group," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

The statement stressed that the constitutional committee cannot be the only U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 line of effort pursued by the international committee.

It added that other elements including the release of detainees, a nationwide cease-fire and establishing a safe and neutral environment to hold free and fair elections under full U.N. supervision, should be ensured.

The U.S.' statements were not welcomed by the regime as the regime's media outlet SANA reported yesterday that an official source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said "any opinions or statements by the United States or others are of no value and will not affect the work of the committee and the nature of its dialogues and its form and content."

The Syrian constitutional committee, which is comprised of members of the opposition, civil society and the regime, began its work on Nov. 20 in Geneva with U.N. facilitation. On Nov. 25, the Assad regime delegation left on the first day of the second round of talks. The regime delegation proposed three new items on the agenda and left when they were not accepted by representatives of a number of local nongovernmental organizations, it was learned.

Following the regime representatives' departure, opposition representatives expressed disappointment while still showing a willingness to present new offers until a solution could be hatched.

"Since the beginning of the second round, we have made five proposals to the constitutional committee. All five were rejected by the regime. We will continue to present new proposals in order to find a solution," Hadi Albahra, co-chair of the opposition side on the committee stated Thursday. Albahra explained that the regime had only made two proposals so far which were "putting certain political issues into the agenda of the committee" and "the committee is starting without an agenda."

Still, despite efforts to find a solution, Ahmad Kuzbari, the co-chair from the regime's side, continued to criticize Turkey and the opposition in his statement.

The U.N. on the other hand, despite assessing the process as "positive" at the beginning of the talks, is remaining silent in the face of the disunity. No statement was made by the U.N. regarding the talks, which have been in deadlock since the beginning of the week.

The regime's uncooperative stance has been clear, and many pundits expect it may quit the talks having gained confidence from its military success. The main problem for the regime is thought to be the necessity to compromise, perhaps to the point of coming up with a new constitution and eventually giving up existing authority. Yet, pundits also suggest that the presence of Russia as a pressure point may cause the regime to fall in line with the committee and process as a whole.

The committee is mandated by the U.N.-facilitated Geneva process to prepare and draft constitutional reforms to pave the way for a political settlement in Syria. The 150-member committee is formed of a subcommittee of 45 members responsible for preparing a draft of the new constitution.

The meeting, supported by powers backing both sides of the conflict, marks the first political negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition groups.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) released a report, showing that despite the ongoing talks, the attacks of regime forces in some parts of Syria still continues, which is alone an irony to the existing political process. It revealed that 32 civilians were killed at the hand of Syrian-Russian alliance forces during the two rounds of the constitutional committee talks.

"These reports, which reflect only violations and crimes committed during the period of the negotiations' rounds, aim to emphasize that while a draft national contract is being discussed, Russian and Syrian regime forces continue to bomb hospitals and vital facilities, and carry out arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture; they continue with their ultimate goal of gaining more time to rehabilitate the Syrian regime according to the logic of military victory," said the head of the SNHR, Fadel Abdul Ghany, on the report.

According to the report, the Syrian regime must stop "violating the Syrian constitution by killing Syrian citizens, destroying their homes and disappearing and torturing tens of thousands of them, stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers, and complying with U.N. Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law and the Syrian constitution and law."

It reveals that during the first round of the talks, the regime attacks killed 22 civilians, 10 of whom were children, while Russian forces killed 13 civilians, five of whom were children. During the second round of talks, on the other hand, 10 civilians killed in the regime attacks, four of whom were children while Russian attacks killed three civilians, one of whom was a child.

The report also underlines that "the Syrian regime's air force dropped at least 82 barrel bombs during the same period, most of which dropped on the Idlib governorate."

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