Syria: Briefing by the Special Envoy on Efforts to Establish a Constitutional Committee
Tomorrow (26 October), at the request of France, the UK and the US, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will brief the Council via video-teleconference on his efforts to facilitate the establishment of a constitutional committee for Syria. At his most recent briefing to the Council on 17 October, de Mistura offered the possibility of briefing again after a trip to Damascus to consult with the Syrian government in a last attempt to get them to engage on the political process before he steps down from his position at the end of November. The Secretary-General has directed de Mistura to explore actively and once and for all the feasibility of establishing a credible and inclusive constitutional committee during the final month of his tenure.
In the midst of the military impasse over Idlib, the political process has continued to fail to gain traction, including over the establishment of the constitutional committee. The committee, which would be established within the broader framework of the implementation of resolution 2254, is expected to comprise 150 members (one-third each from the government, the opposition, and civil society). At his last briefing, de Mistura told Council members that the main reason for the delay in convening the first session of the committee was the government’s difficulty in accepting the list of civil society participants, which was prepared by the UN. Russia and Iran also have significant reservations about the list, while Turkey had recently indicated its full understanding of the logic and composition of the list, he said.
Council members will be interested in hearing about de Mistura’s meeting with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus on 24 October. Syrian press reports on the meeting indicate that Muallem underscored the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty. At a late September meeting with Secretary-General António Guterres, Muallem questioned the validity of the final statement of the 30 January meeting in Sochi and the UN facilitation role to establish the constitutional committee. This controversy is not new, as illustrated by the Syrian government’s uploading of a modified version of the Sochi final statement to its website, which led to the circulation of the original statement as an official Council document in February, at Russia’s request.
Since September, the members of the Small Group (Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the P3) have encouraged de Mistura and the Secretary-General to convene the constitutional committee as quickly as possible, while countries including Russia have warned against pursuing “artificial deadlines”. A similar dynamic can be expected at tomorrow’s meeting, with divergent positions from Council members on whether the UN should convene a first session of the constitutional committee in November in the absence of agreement by the parties to engage in good faith.