Delegates Voice Concern about Delays in Convening Constitutional Committee, United States Decision to Withdraw Troops
Providing his final briefing on the Syrian political process to the Security Council today, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General appealed to the Council to finally unite in efforts to end what he called the “dirty, brutal, horrific war”.
“We need a renewed sense of common purpose and concerted action in the Council if 2019 is to be the real turning point for Syria”, Staffan de Mistura said as he summed up his efforts of the past four years to facilitate a Syrian-led political process, most recently through urging the convening of a Constitutional Committee.
“Make no mistake: as with me, my successor’s success will depend on your unity and purpose to empower and support the United Nations, and pressure all parties to begin real dialogue, negotiation and compromise to address the grievances of the Syrian people and implement resolution 2254,” he said, ahead of shaking hands with each Council member.
He said that the key to implementing the resolution, which mandated the United Nations to play a central role in facilitating the political process, is constitutional reform leading to United Nations-supervised elections in a safe, calm and neutral environment. Evoking the hopes raised by the Sochi Final Statement in early 2018 after a gathering of Syrians convened in that city by the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran, collectively known as the Astana guarantors, he described his hard work since then to facilitate the convening of the constitutional committee, agreed to be held by the end of 2018.
Most problematic in that regard, he recounted, was agreement on a list of participants for the Middle Third group of the committee – meant to be mainly civil society – in a way that was credible, balanced and inclusive. That was the focus of his previous briefing and his final weeks in his position (see press release SC/13590 of 19 November 2018).
The United Nations alone, he stressed, has the legitimacy and mandate to “bless” a Constitutional Committee, accompanied by parallel efforts to ensure a full ceasefire, see that detainees and abductees are released, build confidence and create the environment needed for elections and return of displaced persons.
He expressed deep concern about recent, credible reports of intimidation and coercion of persons reportedly on the list for the Constitutional Committee. Asserting the importance of Syrian civil society actors, including women, in peace efforts, he urged the members of the Security Council, the international community and the Syrian parties more broadly to “listen to their voices, to protect them and involve them meaningfully in the long and challenging path forward”.
Following the briefing, members of the Security Council paid tribute to the Special Envoy’s work, pledged support for his successor and reaffirmed their support for a Syrian-led political process shepherded by the United Nations, as laid out by resolution 2254 (2015). Speakers again agreed that the first step should be the soonest possible convening of the Constitutional Committee. They also called for continuing and reinforcing the Idlib ceasefire.
Representatives of the United States, United Kingdom and France, members of the so-called Small Group on Syria, again expressed concern about delays in the convening of the Constitutional Committee, stressing that the Astana group had committed to holding it by the end of the year. He called on the group to work with the United Nations to ensure a credible and inclusive list of participants. The representative of the United States added that no aid for reconstruction should be provided to Syria until irreversible political progress occurs.
The representative of France, in addition, reacting to reports that the United States had decided to withdraw all its troops from Syria, expressed concern about a resurgence of terrorism accompanied by humanitarian disaster. “Da’esh has weakened but the fight is not over,” he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation announced that although certain Council members have ignored it, there was a breakthrough on the composition of the Constitutional Committee two days ago, between the Syrian National Congress and the Syrian opposition, with assistance from the Astana guarantors. With such progress, the moment has come for reconstruction. His delegation is not trying to create the impression that everything is fine in Syria. Acknowledging that problems persist, he said, however, that “the situation in Syria has changed for the better”.
Similarly, the representatives of Iran and Turkey described progress in the Astana group’s consultations, with Turkey’s representative calling the guarantors’ constructive engagement “a game-changer” both politically and on the ground. Taking stock of joint efforts to maintain the ceasefire in Idlib, he said the guarantors would continue to work on the implementation of the Sochi Memorandum. The international community should facilitate, not dictate, the Syrian political process, the Iranian delegate stressed.
Syria’s representative, in that vein, said that his Government has demonstrated openness and cooperation with the United Nations, but Syrians alone must decide their country’s future, without foreign interference. Adding that the Government has provided the list of invited participants for the Constitutional Committee, he stressed the need for a Syrian-owned committee process, emphasizing that no one should impose an artificial deadline on its work.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Netherlands, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Poland, China, Peru, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 12:44 p.m.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, noting that this will be the last briefing of his mandate after four years and four months in a conflict that had lasted over seven years said, “It has been a long, dirty, brutal, horrific war.” No one has been able to stop the logic of war from prevailing, he regretted, adding that, “A real political process is required”. Reviewing the United Nations mandate for facilitating a political process to end the crisis, he said, “We know what is needed for a safe, calm, neutral environment in Syria…but we have not been able to begin the full work required to make that a reality.” He expressed his regret over that fact, adding that the Council should share his regret. “Make no mistake: as with me, my successors’ success will depend on your unity and purpose to empower and support the United Nations, and pressure all parties to begin real dialogue, negotiation and compromise to address the grievances of the Syrian people and implement resolution 2254,” he said.
Key to implementing that resolution adopted in 2015, he said, is constitutional reform and United Nations-supervised elections in a safe, neutral environment. Evoking the hopes raised by the Sochi Final Statement in early 2018 after a gathering of Syrians convened in that city by the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran, the so-called Astana guarantors, he described his hard work since then to facilitate the convening of the Constitutional Committee as a first step. Most problematic in that regard, he recounted, was compiling a list of participants for the Middle Third group of the committee – meant to be mainly civil society – in a way that was credible, balanced and inclusive. That was the focus of his previous briefing and his final weeks in his position.
The United Nations alone has the legitimacy and mandate to “bless” a Constitutional Committee, he stressed, accompanied by parallel efforts to ensure a full ceasefire, see detainees and abductees released, build confidence and create the environment needed for elections. In that regard, he expressed deep concern about recent, credible reports of intimidation and coercion of persons reportedly on the list for the Constitutional Committee. “Such tactics if true are simply unacceptable,” he emphasized. A calm, safe and neutral environment is also needed for the return of displaced persons.
Describing the contributions to a Civil Society Support room, created by his Office in partnership with Syrians committed to peace, he said that the hundreds of men and women that participate are the “tip of a civic iceberg”. He urged the members of the Security Council, the international community and the Syrian parties more broadly to listen to their voices, to protect them and involve them meaningfully in the long and challenging path forward. Stressing the crucial role of women in the political process, he underlined that he had done everything he could to promote it and will continue to fight to ensure at least 30 per cent representation of women in the Constitutional Committee.
In closing, he said his relentless efforts of the past years were no substitute for the genuine efforts of influential countries to talk to each other and to work constructively within the Council and beyond in support of the United Nations process. The Council had mandated the United Nations to facilitate that intra-Syrian political process, the only way to enable the Syrians to determine their own future. “We need a renewed sense of common purpose and concerted action in the Council if 2019 is to be the real turning point for Syria,” he said. Thanking the Secretary-General for his support, he wished his successor all success in his vital work. Ahead of personally shaking the hand of each Council member, he thanked them for their consistent support for his complex mission.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said his delegation looks forward to constructive engagement with the incoming Special Envoy for Syria and United States forces remain committed to defeating terrorists, such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), in Syria. The United States continues to contribute to a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the conflict per the terms of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), which is the only roadmap for a political solution. Regarding the creation of a new Syrian constitution, the Sochi Declaration to reinvigorate this process has so far failed to achieve its objectives. The Syrian Government cannot veto the United Nations-proposed composition of the constitutional committee. There are only 11 days before the end of the year, by which the Astana guarantors pledged to hold the first meeting of the committee. In particular, he urged the Russian Federation to convince the Syrian Government to accept the proposed composition. The United States and its allies will isolate the Syrian regime economically, he said, stressing that there will be no money for reconstruction until the political process becomes irreversible.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed concern about the situation in northeast Syria, where ISIL/Da’esh continues to be a threat. Although the terrorist group has weakened, there is a risk that its remnants can still commit violence and atrocity and cause a humanitarian disaster. Fresh hostilities emerged, and sustaining calm is key. Regarding a United States decision to withdraw its troops from Syria, France is in close consultation with the United States on the timeline. France believes that it is important to avoid a resurgence of terrorism and humanitarian disaster. “Da’esh has weakened but the fight is not over,” he said. On the political front, the balanced inclusive constitutional committee is crucial, he said, urging the Russian Federation and other Astana guarantors to fulfil their commitment before the end of the year. The door is not closed for creating a credible and inclusive Constitutional Committee. Down the line, the establishment of the new constitution must be followed by free and credible elections. Astana guarantors must fulfil their commitments.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said a constitutional committee that is not credible, balanced and inclusive of all Syrians and which is not accepted by all parties, including the Syrian opposition, will lack international legitimacy. The United Nations must ensure as close to equal representation as possible, with at least 30 per cent female participants. The Organization must also take a leading role in setting out working methods and procedures, he said, adding that in the absence of a stamp of legitimacy, the incoming Special Envoy should find an alternative way forward under resolution 2254 (2015). Expressing grave concern about the lack of progress on the issue of detainees, he called for confidence-building measures and urged the Special Envoy to prioritize the matter. On accountability, he called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court, adding that a credible and inclusive political transition must be underway before the European Union can consider reconstruction assistance.
TAYE ATSKE SELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia) stressed the importance of convening a Constitutional Committee that is Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, in line with resolution 2254 (2015). Despite relative calm in Syria, there remain very serious challenges regarding humanitarian aid, the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, and full implementation of the Idlib demilitarization agreement. He emphasized that the Syrian crisis can only be addressed effectively and sustainably through a comprehensive political dialogue facilitated by the United Nations, with the Syrian parties engaging in good faith with the new Special Envoy. Local actors must also support the search for peace. Unity within the Security Council, particularly among its permanent members, is central and critical to making progress, he added. For the sake of the Syrian people, all actors must work together to find a common path to end an ongoing tragedy.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), regretting the lack of progress in implementing resolution 2254 (2015), renewed his call for the convening of a balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee as the first step in a political transition leading to elections under the supervision of the United Nations. He stressed the central role of the Organization in moving forward a Syrian-led political process. Efforts to build trust between the parties are crucial, including ensuring that perpetrators of serious crimes are held accountable. In its disunity on the Syrian issue, he said, the Security Council has failed the Syrian people and it must unite to ensure that their aspirations for peace are realized. He pledged that his country will fully support the incoming Special Envoy in the fulfilment of his mandate.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), underlining the importance of continued work on the creation of a constitutional committee to draft new laws, said consultations towards that end have significantly contributed to a political settlement in Syria. Through the Astana process, he expressed hope for a credible, balanced and inclusive committee that would include a balanced arrangement for chairing, drafting and ensuring electoral viability. Indeed, the Secretary-General has recognized the invaluable work of the Astana process, particularly among the guarantors and the representatives of the Syrian opposition. The only way to create peace is to establish a comprehensive political process under the leadership of Syrians, in accordance with Council resolution 2254 (2015). The Astana process has strengthened the ceasefire and monitoring mechanism, while laying the foundation for a further political settlement under the Geneva talks.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), welcoming the Astana guarantors’ renewed commitment to uphold the ceasefire in Idlib, called on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate, show restraint and to fully respect their obligations under international law. His delegation is encouraged that the ceasefire is holding although there have been worrying signs of violence recently. In this regard, Sweden is deeply concerned by continued military operations by the Syrian Government forces and allies, particularly in Idlib, where reports cite civilian casualties, and by Turkish statements on a possible military operation into north-east Syria. A sustainable political solution acceptable to the international community can only happen through a United Nations-led political process in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). It is deeply disappointing that one year after Sochi, the constitutional committee has not been established. Sweden trusts the United Nations to ensure a balanced composition of the committee. Failure to establish this Committee would rest fully with the Government of Syria. To end impunity, his delegation said the Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that, with the political process failing to gain traction, the focus must remain on achieving an intra-Syrian framework agreement. A cessation of hostilities could give the peace talks in Geneva a chance to gain momentum, he said, calling also on the Astana guarantors to follow through on their commitments and protect civilians. Any political solution must be brokered in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva Communique, he said, expressing Poland’s support for efforts to immediately set up a Constitutional Committee, with the Syrian authorities participating in good faith and without preconditions.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), paying tribute to the Special Envoy, expressed the hope that that his determined efforts to convene a Syrian Constitutional Committee will continue with the succeeding Special Envoy. Stressing the crucial role of the Astana guarantors in moving the political process forward, he regretted that a stalemate has occurred, suggesting it is due to the fact that each party wants only its own interests met. In that light, the Middle Third list must meet the criteria of balance and inclusivity and draw the greatest possible consensus from all parties. Affirming respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, he reiterated that there is no military solution to the crisis. He hoped that dialogue between influential countries can help move the process forward.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), paying tribute to the Special Envoy, said that his efforts to bring about the convening of an inclusive and credible Constitutional Committee show the way forward for his successor. He hoped that such a committee will pave the way for elections and national reconciliation. Expressing full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, he called for progress in resolving the fate of disappeared persons, the freeing of detainees and other measures needed to build trust for political progress. Vital to such progress is work to solidify existing ceasefires to keep Idlib from becoming the stage of a new humanitarian tragedy.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said it is deeply regrettable that there is no progress on the establishment of the Constitutional Committee. A handful of days are left before the Russian Federation’s self-imposed deadline, she said, urging the Syrian authorities and their supporters to seize the moment. The United Nations can join only a process that is balanced and credible. The Astana guarantors submitted a committee composition list that is unworkable. The third anniversary of resolution 2254 (2015) is approaching and it is the best agreement so far for resolving the crisis. It is a huge failure of the international community that it collectively could not advance this further. It is also a huge failure of the Syrian regime that it has not protected its citizens and implemented the resolution. Syria will not see reconstruction until the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians are met. There is no end to the suffering of the Syrian people. Regarding ISIL/Da’esh, the United Kingdom, as a leading member of the global coalition against the terrorist group, believes that important advances have been made, but “we must not lose sight” that ISIL/Da’esh remains a threat even though it no longer holds its previously controlled territories.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that on 18 December in Geneva, a breakthrough occurred, but a number of Council members failed to take note of it. That breakthrough was an agreement on the composition of the Constitutional Committee between the Syrian National Congress and the Syrian opposition, with assistance from the Astana guarantors. This process is Syrian-led and in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). The first meeting of the Constitutional Committee will be held in the beginning of 2019 in Geneva. Some Council members are not always happy with whatever the Astana format achieves. Some Council members insist that progress on the political process is a precondition for post-reconstruction. Now there is progress, so the moment has come for reconstruction. His delegation is not trying to create the impression that everything is fine in Syria. Indeed, many problems exist. “But the situation in Syria has changed for the better,” he declared.
JUAN MARCELO ZAMBRANA TORRELIO (Bolivia), paying tribute to the Special Envoy, recalled his country’s efforts to encourage consensus in the Council during its membership. He welcomed the efforts of the Astana guarantors in advancing the political process and establishing a ceasefire in Idlib. Such progress, he emphasized, was a result of dialogue between all actors. He stressed that any unilateral efforts are not helpful. He also stressed that the conflict has no military solution and could not be solved by the intervention of foreign forces. He called for the withdrawal of such forces as quickly as possible. The political way forward must be based on the Geneva process and resolution 2254 (2015), he affirmed, supporting the convening of a Constitutional Committee that is legitimate, balanced and inclusive.
WU HAITAO (China) said that the formation of the Constitutional Committee has seen new momentum and expressed the hope that all parties continue dialogue to ensure that the political process moves forward. Welcoming the ceasefire in Idlib and the relatively stable security situation in the country, he said it is necessary to keep advancing the political process. For that purpose, the United Nations should strengthen its dialogue with the Syrian Government and the Security Council should speak with one voice. In addition, the international community should determinately fight terrorism and act with respect for Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, supporting a Syrian-led process. He pledged his country’s willingness to continue to play a positive role.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), reaffirming his country’s support for Syrian-led political progress and the strengthening of the ceasefire in Idlib, welcomed confidence-building measures such as the exchange of prisoners. At the same time, he emphasized the importance of accountability for crimes that have occurred. He also expressed concern about announcements by Turkey of plans for further offensives in the north of Syria. He called, in addition, for the creation of conditions that will allow displaced persons to return. Welcoming recent accomplishments toward the convening of a Constitutional Committee, he paid tribute to the Special Envoy for his tireless efforts in that regard and in trying to return peace and stability to Syria through a political solution.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that it is true, as stated by the Special Envoy in his briefing, that the Syrian people have suffered for a period longer than World War II. But how did this Syrian crisis start, he asked, explaining that some Council members helped create the crisis as a way to change geopolitics in the Middle East. He recalled that in a televised broadcast, the former Prime Minister of Qatar said his country and Saudi Arabia had spent $137 billion to destroy the State of Syria following the instruction of their United States master. Terrorist organizations suddenly appeared in Syria. They were not created in a vacuum nor did they arrive from outer space. It is high time to read the situation objectively to get rid of these terrorists, including Da’esh and the Al-Nusra Front. The Syria Government has demonstrated openness and cooperation with the United Nations, including the three Special Envoys, and looks forward to working closely with the incoming Special Envoy. Syrians alone can decide their country’s future, without foreign interference. The Syria Government has provided the list of invited members to the Constitutional Committee. No one has a right to doubt Syria’s commitment. Creating the constitution is a sovereign right of the State. The Constitutional Committee is autonomous. No one should impose an artificial deadline on its work. Reconstruction and the return of refugees has already begun. A solution to the crisis must be found in Syria, not in Doha, Riyadh or Washington, D.C.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) said that after years of conflict, there is an emerging consensus in support of the political process. What the international community should do is to facilitate, not dictate, that process. Pointing to the ministerial meeting of the Astana guarantor States in Geneva on 18 December, where Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, he said those principles should be respected by all sides. “This means that all foreign forces whose presence is not permitted by the Syrian Government should leave the country,” he said. Going forward, the Constitutional Committee must be an effective, pragmatic and inclusive Syrian-led and Syrian-owned vehicle with strong international support. All States with influence over armed opposition groups must encourage them to stop fighting and join the political process. At the same time, fighting against terrorists should continue unabated. He added that the international community should further support Syria’s reconstruction and the speedy return of refugees and internally displaced persons. All sanction must also be removed, he stated.
RAUF ALP DENKTAŞ (Turkey) reaffirmed that only a United Nations-mediated political solution in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015) can bring an end to the Syrian conflict. Turkey has always advocated for the revitalization of the Geneva process through a credible, balanced and legitimate Constitutional Committee. The Astana Process is not an alternative to the Geneva Process, but rather a complementary effort built on solid cooperation among his country, Iran and the Russian Federation. In fact, that constructive engagement has been a game-changer, yielding concrete results both politically and on the ground, he said. Indeed, after months of hard work and intense consultations, they are in the final stretch of efforts toward the finalization of a Constitutional Committee. Together with the other guarantors, his Government will step up efforts in the days ahead to ensure that the Constitutional Committee will convene its first meeting in January 2019. Taking stock of joint efforts to maintain the ceasefire in Idlib, he said the guarantors would continue to work on the implementation of the Sochi Memorandum. Considerable progress has also been made in the removal of radical groups and heavy weapons from the demilitarized zone. Despite provocations, they are committed to make sure that calm prevails in Idlib, he said, adding that a stable ceasefire not only prevents further bloodshed, but also creates an environment conducive to making progress on the political track.