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Opening statement to the Constitutional Committee by Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, 30 October 2019 [EN/AR]

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UN Special Envoy for Syria
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AS DELIVERED

Members of the Constitutional Committee, Co-Chair Kuzbari, Co-Chair al-Bahra,

Welcome to you all to the United Nations and the Palais des Nations, and welcome to the launch of this Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee facilitated by the United Nations here in Geneva.

It is my pleasure to send you the warm greetings of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. He firmly believes that today’s launch of the Constitutional Committee can and must be a first meaningful step along the political path out of Syria’s nearly nine-year long conflict toward a durable solution in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.

A solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians. A solution based on a strong commitment to the country’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

The Security Council itself has expressed the same message of support and positive expectation. Many others have also done so in recent weeks.

Distinguished members of the Constitutional Committee,

You are here today on the basis of an agreement between the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Negotiations Commission, and that agreement will guide this Committee’s work. This is the first political agreement between the Government and the Opposition to begin to implement a key aspect of Security Council Resolution 2254, which called for setting a schedule and a process for drafting a new constitution.

This is a historic moment, because for the first time, 50 nominees of the Government and 50 nominees of the Opposition are sitting face-to-face – but also two co-chairs side-by-side – to work as Committee members on a key project: a new constitutional arrangement for Syria, a chance for something new for Syria.

This is also a historic moment because space has been opened for a diverse and broad pool of 50 individuals of importance in Syrian society, who are here in their own right and not as formal members of a party. Among these 50 are civil society activists and experts and other independents, from inside and outside of Syria, with a diverse range of religious and ethnic backgrounds from all regions of Syria and a wide spectrum of political leanings, experiences and indeed expertise.

I am proud to see so many women among you – around 30%. As you know, we have been steadfast to secure that minimum threshold of women’s representation in this process.

Members of the Committee,

I know that it is not easy for all of you to be here together in this room, and I respect that. I know that there are deep feelings among you, reflecting the deep feelings among all Syrians about the state of their beloved country after nearly nine years of violent conflict.

But the fact that you are here today sitting together face-to-face ready to start a dialogue and negotiations, is, I believe, a powerful sign of hope for Syrians everywhere, both inside and outside the country. I am therefore extremely grateful to all of you for having accepted the nomination and I am confident that each one of you, with the great responsibility it entails, will play your part in fulfilling the Committee’s mandate in the service of the Syrian people.

I encourage you to be patient and also to be persistent; to be ready to compromise; and to engage constructively as you fulfill the important mandate entrusted to you. It is my sincere hope that by signaling your good intentions to one another from the very beginning, trust will steadily grow and a positive working environment can be created.

Members of the Committee,

You are here based on key principles – respect for the United Nations charter, Security Council resolutions, Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, and the Syrian-led and owned nature of the process. You are here based on clear wider objectives: UN-supervised elections as envisaged in resolution 2254 based on a new constitution, and the need for a broader political process to implement resolution 2254. And within the context of the UN-facilitated Geneva process, you are mandated, and let me quote:

“to prepare and draft for popular approval a constitutional reform, as a contribution to the political settlement in Syria and the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254. The constitutional reform shall, inter alia, embody in the constitution and constitutional practices of Syria the letter and spirit of the Twelve Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles. The Constitutional Committee may review the 2012 Constitution including in the context of other Syrian constitutional experiences and amend the current constitution or draft a new constitution.” End of quote.

Members of the Committee,

The task you are to undertake is momentous; to establish a foundational act, a social contract for Syrians after nearly nine years of violent conflict, suffering, divisions and mistrust. Constitutional reform is a good entry point to heal those wounds. Because constitutions concern fundamental rights, political, cultural, social and economic rights; rule of law and good governance; the people’s relation with the government; how political representatives are elected and what their powers and responsibilities are.

History teaches us that the best constitution on earth cannot ensure the well-being of a nation. But a bad constitution is enough to ensure its misfortune. Your future will be shaped not only by what is written in the constitution, but also how it is written: by a credible, balanced, inclusive and forward-looking drafting process. Fear and suspicions are always bad advisers. Constitutions can help heal the wounds of a devastating conflict and indeed establish the foundations for a new co-existence. 3

Members of the Committee,

Today we gather in Geneva – a city with a deep attachment to ideals of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is also the city of an eminent philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of “the Social Contract”. Some 250 years ago Rousseau was asked to assist Poland in drafting its constitution. He framed his role by saying, and let me quote, that “Good institutions for Poland can only be the work of Poles. A foreigner can hardly do more than offer some general observations for the enlightenment, but not for the guidance, of the constitution-makers.”

I echo this sentiment today: do not expect me or my team to tell you what to write in your constitution. The future constitution belongs to Syrians, to the Syrian people and them alone. Constitutions cannot be transplanted from elsewhere. You, Syrians, the members of this Committee, will draft it. And the Syrian people must then popularly approve it.

For this reason, you are duty bound to strive to take on board the views of all your fellow citizens as you serve on this Committee. Let us remember that there are untold numbers of engaged Syrians who have worked throughout this conflict on ideas that could end the conflict and promote peace and a better future, and there are millions of Syrians suffering today inside and outside the country. All of them have the right to expect from you the highest standards of service, and an openness to wider consultations and engagement. And I am sure they will not be disappointed.

The United Nations will be here to help facilitate the process with active good offices, strong secretariat support, regular reporting to the Security Council – and the continued promotion of a wider political process among Syrians, and a real dialogue internationally too, all in accordance with my mandate.

A key part of my task is supporting the two equal Co-Chairs who are today with me on this podium – Co-Chair Kuzbari nominated by the Government, and Co-Chair al-Bahra nominated by the Opposition. Gentlemen: you will need to work together to proceed in consensus in chairing the Committee, exerting the prerogatives necessary for ensuring the Committee’s smooth functioning.

I have appreciated the discussions we have had to prepare today’s events, and I look forward to working with both of you and all members of the Committee. I know, and I am certain, that you understand your responsibility as office holders to all members of the Committee, and to all who would participate in the drafting body too. Your duties of course are not only to your own side, but to all members of the Committee, and that includes in particular the members of the Middle Third, who must be able to ensure their full role as equal members of this Committee. And you of course have a particular responsibility, based on the mandate of the Committee, to ensure that the deliberations focus on the substantive constitutional issues.

I stand ready to support you and to help to bridge differences when they arise by exercising my good offices. I am at your disposal to facilitate the Committee’s work in any other way deemed helpful. I will always do so in a manner that ensures the Committee’s continuing credibility, balance and inclusivity, and in accordance with my mandate and the agreement that brought us together here today.

I am painfully aware, like you are, of the suffering this conflict has caused. Every day we see the risks and dangers of military escalation. Of the terrorist threat that continues to hang as a dark cloud over all Syrian communities. Of the struggles faced day in, and day out by millions of Syrian citizens, trying - yet too often failing - to make ends meet. We also know the tragedy of the tens of thousands who are still detained, abducted or missing, as well as of the millions more who remain displaced. And that these challenges have yet to be meaningfully addressed.

That is why I take a broad view of my mandate, which is to facilitate not just this Constitutional Committee, but a wider political process too, for which resolution 2254 has the elements required. I have repeatedly stated that I believe your work in this Committee must be accompanied by other bold steps to build trust and confidence among Syrians and between Syria and the international community. I appeal to all stakeholders to work on such bold steps. And I will not cease to work on the broader process, throughout and beyond the constitution-making process.

Members of the Committee,

The road ahead will not be easy. Each of you will face challenges. We will be here to support you. But with willingness, courage, patience, and resolve, then future generations may look back on this day as the start of a new chapter for Syria.

Thank you.