What's In Blue

Posted Fri 12 Mar 2021

Syria: Meeting on Political Developments

On Monday (15 March), Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the political situation in Syria in an open videoconference (VTC). A closed VTC is scheduled to follow.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria. This past week has seen a number of statements by UN officials marking the occasion. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement on 11 March, focusing on the need for truth, justice and reparations for victims and highlighting her concerns about detainees and those who have been forcibly disappeared. “Many Syrian families”, she stated, “struggl[e] to establish the truth of what happened to their loved ones”. Speaking to the press on 10 March, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored that Syria’s people “have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century” and commemorated the hundreds of thousands who have died and millions who have been displaced. “Countless others”, he noted, “remain illegally detained and often tortured, missing, disappeared, or living in uncertainty and deprivation”. In this context, the Secretary-General underscored the need for accountability “if there is to be sustainable peace in Syria”.

Turning to the need for a political solution to the conflict, the Secretary-General highlighted the UN’s role in pursuing a negotiated political settlement, with a “first step on that path [being] tangible progress in the Constitutional Committee”. While arguing that all of Syrian society must be engaged in this process, it was also important that the international community engage in “sustained and robust diplomatic dialogue” in order to overcome their own divisions and work together to help bring peace to Syria.

Pedersen is likely to echo the Secretary-General’s sentiments, calling on the need to reinvigorate the political process. He is also likely to reiterate a  point that he apparently underlined during the closed consultations on 9 February: that the lack of progress on the political track was due to a lack of constructive international diplomacy on Syria. Speaking to the press after the closed session, Pedersen stressed that without international diplomacy that “bridges existing divides and focuses on mutual and reciprocal steps, it is unlikely that any track—the constitutional track or any other—will really move forward”.

Pedersen is likely to offer an assessment of his recent diplomatic outreach, following the failure of the fifth round of the Constitutional Committee, which was held in Geneva during the week of 25 January, to achieve any discernable progress. To that end, Council members will be keen to hear about his meetings during his recent travels. In this regard, he met with representatives of the Astana guarantors—which consists of Russia, Turkey and Iran—in Sochi on 15-16 February, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on 18 February, and with Syrian officials in Damascus on 22-23 February. The outcome of these meetings, coupled with his engagement with a new US administration, will be important factors for determining if and when another round of the Constitutional Committee can be held. While most Council members continue to argue that steps should be taken to reinvigorate the Committee, others have apparently intimated that the Committee’s work is moribund and that a new approach is needed.

Depending on the results of his recent diplomatic efforts, Petersen may argue that he is willing to move ahead with organising a sixth round of Constitutional Committee talks, but only if he is able to gain assurances from the parties that doing so will result in meaningful progress and tangible outcomes. If such assurances are obtained, a sixth round could be organised within the next month. Pedersen may also reiterate that for a sixth round to be successful, parties to the Committee need to work in good faith toward drafting a new constitution for Syria, and current divisions amongst key international actors need to be bridged. A potential complicating factor to organising another round of talks will be the timing: if a sixth round cannot be organised within the next month, it is possible that it would have to be postponed until late summer, given the Ramadan holidays from mid-April to mid-May and potential Syrian presidential elections scheduled in late May or early June. Several Council members—including France, the UK and the US—have stressed that they will not recognise the results if the elections fail to conform with resolution 2254, which was unanimously adopted in 2015 and calls for “free and fair elections, pursuant to [a] new constitution, to be…administered under supervision of the UN”. Some Council members are also likely to argue that organising the elections without a new constitution in place could exacerbate the deep mistrust between the parties of the Constitutional Committee.

Finally, Pedersen may also echo Bachelet’s statement on the detainees and those who have been forcibly disappeared and note that there has not been any noticeable progress on this issue. Other members may raise this matter as well.