While Welcoming Forthcoming Constitutional Committee Meeting, Delegates Worry Ongoing Hostilities Could Derail Political Process, Urge Ceasefire
With military front lines still largely frozen, the time is ripe to push for a political process that can help end the decade‑long war in Syria, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today, as speakers hailed news that negotiations aimed at crafting a fresh constitution look set to resume after an eight‑month hiatus.
Geir O. Pedersen, briefing the Council on his recent meetings with the Government of Syria, the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission and others, said that trust is clearly low, but common interests do exist and there is every reason to try now to build more effective political efforts to resolve a conflict which, according to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 24 September, has left more than 350,000 confirmed dead.
He announced that, after eight months of facilitation efforts, and pending the confirmation of logistics, the sixth session of the Small Drafting Body of the Constitutional Committee — bringing together delegates appointed by the Government, opposition and civil society — will convene in Geneva from 18 October. “I am convinced that Geneva can be the place where Syrians committed to durable peace can begin work with each other in a constructive manner,” he said.
On the security situation, he said that while broad conflict lines remain largely frozen, violence persists in several areas, including air strikes near Damascus attributed to Israel. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and other listed terrorist groups are also operating throughout Syria. The Special Envoy said he expects the situation in Idlib to be a topic for discussion when the Presidents of Turkey and the Russian Federation meet on 29 September.
Rouba Mhaissen, Founder and Director of Sawa for Development and Aid, also briefed the Council, saying that so long as Syrians — either in the country or living as refugees abroad — lack their human rights, and so long as a fair political settlement has not been reached, Syria must remain on the international agenda. While women make up 28 per cent of the Constitutional Committee, their everyday contributions at the community level remain unseen and their demands unheard in the peace process, she added.
Emphasizing that a successful political settlement requires building local resilience, she said that now is the time for societal structures to reflect the shifts in gender dynamics that are emerging every day at the community level. A growing grass‑roots approach to crafting healthy communities shows promise in strengthening the unity of the Syrian people and healing a decade of divisions and trauma.
She went on to say that peace in Syria will require the Council to shift from its fixation on great power politics towards dynamic engagement with conflict‑affected communities. “Put Syrians at the forefront of your strategies. Speak to us, don’t only speak about us or in our name,” she said.
In the ensuing debate, Council members hailed news of the forthcoming Constitutional Committee meeting, but feared that ongoing hostilities could derail the political process. Many speakers urged respect for a nationwide ceasefire. Several renewed calls for an end to sanctions and the large‑scale release of detainees, emphasizing that the latter can help forge trust on all sides.
The Russian Federation’s representative said the political process must be Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led, with no intervention from abroad, no artificial timelines and neutral United Nations mediation. Establishing long‑term peace and security is only possible by fully restoring Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, ending the illegitimate foreign presence and the definitive routing of terrorists, he added.
The representative of the United States said that, while nothing can be done to bring back to life those who have been killed in the conflict, President Bashar al‑Assad’s regime in Damascus could end the suffering of the 149,000 people believed to be detained or who are missing. He called on all parties to abide by the terms of the September ceasefire, while noting a resurgence of violence in the north‑west Governorate of Idlib.
France’s representative said that resolution 2254 (2015) remains the common road map for all Council members regarding Syria. Ahead of the upcoming Constitutional Committee meeting, he urged the regime’s representatives to participate in good faith. He added that his country’s positions on the lifting of sanctions, normalization and reconstruction remain unchanged.
India’s representative said that, nearly two years after the Constitutional Committee was established, external influence remains the major impeding factor hampering the progress on the political track. “We call on all external actors to desist from adversely influencing the parties concerned.” He also warned that ISIL and Hayat Tahrir al‑Sham have gained in strength in Syria. That is a cause for serious concern that must be fully recognized and acted upon, he said.
Tunisia’s representative also expressed concern about an uptick in violence on the ground, which in turn increased humanitarian challenges. Stressing the need to bring about a lasting ceasefire, he said the current arrangements in Syria are only for the short term and do not provide a long‑term solution to terrorism. A political solution is key to stability of the region, he added.
Syria’s representative, stressing the importance of a Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led political process, said his Government has facilitated the launch of the Constitutional Committee’s work. Going forward, the Special Envoy must act in an impartial and neutral manner. He called on those countries which have used the Council to create disruptions in Syria to learn from “their failed and senseless wars over the past years”. He also called for the immediate withdrawal of United States military forces from the north‑east and Turkish forces from the north‑west, and stressed the importance of an immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures imposed by Washington, D.C. and the European Union.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viet Nam, Mexico, United Kingdom, Niger, Estonia, Kenya, Ireland, Turkey and Iran.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:51 a.m.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Syria, said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ announcement that more than 350,000 people can be confirmed as having been killed in the first decade of the conflict is a grim reminder of the appalling suffering and losses of the Syrian people. Given the vast numbers still unaccounted for, the actual figure is likely to be much higher. To the horrific death toll can be added the more than 12 million Syrians displaced and the tens of thousands detained, abducted or missing. Poverty levels are approaching 90 per cent and the country is divided into several de facto zones, with international players jostling on the ground and violent incidents testing the relative calm of the last 18 months.
“The Syrian people desperately need a Syrian‑led and -owned political process to deliver,” he said. That approach requires sustained international attention in support of a wider effort to solidify calm, ease suffering and carry Syria forward on the path to restoring its sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity while also meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people to determine their own future, in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015). With military front lines largely frozen, and concerns from parties regarding the status quo, “the time to push for a political process is now”.
He drew attention to multiple sources of concern on the ground, including the displacement of returnees amidst shelling and air strikes in Idlib; ongoing skirmishes among non‑State armed groups and the Turkish military; and air strikes near Damascus attributed to Israel. Multiple terrorist groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), meanwhile continue to operate in all quarters of Syria. The situation in Idlib will surely be discussed when the Presidents of Turkey and the Russian Federation meet on 29 September, he said, appealing for those with influence to promote calm. He added that any humanitarian effects of sanctions that could exacerbate the plight of ordinary citizens must be avoided and mitigated, particularly in terms of over‑compliance.
“I hope that the issues being discussed in recent international contacts are the floor, not the ceiling, of what we collectively want to achieve in Syria,” he continued, explaining that that was his message during talks in recent weeks with the Government of Syria, the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission and others. Trust is clearly low, but common interests do exist, things are not static and there is every reason to try now to build more effective political efforts. He announced that after eight months of facilitation efforts, and pending the confirmation of logistics, the sixth session of the Small Drafting Body of the Constitutional Committee will convene in Geneva from 18 October. It should begin to work seriously on drafting, rather than preparing, a constitutional reform process, with all three delegations ‑ nominated by the Government, opposition and civil society ‑ making important contributions. “I am convinced that Geneva can be the place where Syrians committed to durable peace can begin work with each other in a constructive manner,” he said.
He added that he is “absolutely convinced” that inroads can be made on detainees, abductees and missing persons, a dossier on which all sides agree on the need for action. That would build confidence and signal to all Syrians that peace is possible, in addition to serving as a circuit breaker in the context of international diplomacy. The international community can also begin looking into ways to lift some of the obstacles to refugee returns, thus helping to decrease tensions across the region linked to the conflict’s spillover effects. He went on to call for “constructive Syria diplomacy” to save lives, ease suffering, promote stability and further the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015). In that regard, he asked key States to work with him in exploratory discussions on concrete, mutual, verifiable and reciprocal steps that can be implemented in parallel. Going forward, he said that he will continue his consultations to seek “real buy‑in” from relevant players.
ROUBA MHAISSEN, Founder and Director of Sawa for Development and Aid, highlighted the difficulty in keeping Syria on the priority agenda amid conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and elsewhere. As long as Syrians, inside the country or in forced refugeehood, did not obtain their human rights, and as long as a fair political settlement and a holistic transition have not been reached, “it is our imperative to actively work on ensuring that Syria remains on the international agenda,” she said, also stressing the need to advance women’s participation in the political process. The successes are modest, she said, but women did manage to participate in official delegations to the United Nations‑led talks. They also made up 28 per cent of the Constitutional Committee. However, much remains to be done. The everyday contributions of women at the community level remain unseen, and their demands remain unheard at the peace process level.
Politics is monitoring humanitarian aid, she said, questioning: How can a wife who does not know the fate of her imprisoned, disappeared or kidnapped husband contribute to any sustainable peace? How can a woman who cannot return to her land with her children accept a political settlement that doesn’t guarantee her rights? Pointing to evidence of returnees leaving Syria again and big waves of forced internal migration, refugees and internally displaced persons, she said they are searching for a decent life, flowing into Egypt, Turkey and Europe through newly formed trafficking channels. Despite the stalled political settlement, local actors continued their engagement at the community level — many of them women activists and agents of change — to push for local dialogue and mediation efforts, often at great risk to themselves, she stressed.
Emphasizing that a successful political settlement requires building local resilience, she went on to declare that now is the time for societal structures — including leadership and legislative frameworks — to reflect the shifts in gender dynamics that are emerging every day at the community level. The traditional efforts to convene the parties around the table are insufficient in the face of military developments inside Syria and are subservient to the will of proxies and regional Powers. The increasing grass‑roots approach to crafting healthy communities, despite polarized and divisive environments, both inside and outside the country, shows promise in increasing the unity of the Syrian people and healing the divisions and trauma caused by 10 years of conflict. Peace in Syria will require this Council to move from its fixation on great power politics to dynamic engagement with communities affected by conflict, she said, demanding: “Put Syrians at the forefront of your strategies. Speak to us, don’t only speak about us or in our name.”
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) welcomed progress towards resuming the work of the Constitutional Committee, emphasizing however that the process must be Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led, with no intervention from abroad, no artificial timelines and neutral United Nations mediation. Recent experience shows that it is wrong and counterproductive to impose artificial demands on negotiations. While the situation on the ground in Syria remains difficult, the Syrian army, with support from Russian Federation military experts, has peacefully resolved the situation in Daraa, he said. However, terrorists in Idlib are exploiting instability in the south, while the situation in Turkish areas of operations is deteriorating and Kurdish forces are clashing with pro‑Turkish forces and Arab tribes. He condemned relentless Israeli air strikes on Syrian territory, saying it undermines efforts to stabilize the situation.
Establishing long‑term peace and security in Syria is only possible by fully restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity, ending the illegitimate foreign presence and the definitive routing of terrorists, he continued. The politicization of the humanitarian dossier must end and assistance must be made available to all Syrians, under United Nations leadership, in line with General Assembly resolution 46/182. He went on to say that Western sanctions on Syria are making the suffering of civilians all the more dire, adding that Security Council resolution 2585 (2021) on the delivery of humanitarian assistance must be implemented in full. “The clock is ticking” and tangible progress on the ground must be reflected in the Secretary‑General’s report to the Council by January 2022, he said.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR.(United States) said that, while nothing could be done to bring back to life the 350,209 people killed since the beginning of the uprising, the Assad regime could end the suffering of the 149,000 people who are estimated to be held in arbitrary detention or whose whereabouts are unknown. Calling on the Syrian regime to release the tens of thousands of men, women and children in its custody, he added that progress on the detainee issue is a confidence‑building measure that could bolster the political process. Expressing support for the Special Envoy’s continued efforts to address this protracted issue, he also called on all parties to abide by the terms of the September ceasefire, while noting the resurgence of violence in Idlib. The Constitutional Committee has so far not discussed a single sentence of the constitution, he said, welcoming recent progress towards holding a new round of meetings.
GENG SHUANG (China), noting the large number of deaths and displacements in Syria since the beginning of the crisis, said the country still faces unabated violence, terrorist activities and rising humanitarian needs. Stressing the importance of a political solution, he called for a Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led process. Highlighting the good news in the launch of the sixth round of the work of the Constitutional Committee, he expressed hope that its work will be productive. However, he noted, the Syrian political process cannot operate in a vacuum, and trust between the different parties will be low while schemes of regime change are still in place. International foreign forces without authorization of the Syrian Government should withdraw immediately, he said, also calling for the lifting of the illegal unilateral sanctions. “Opposing the Syrian Government cannot justify punishing the Syrian people,” he underscored, noting that the international community must respect their right to choose their own development path.
MONA JUUL (Norway) urged the parties to contribute concretely to the drafting of a new constitution and said that progress on that process can increase confidence and pave the way for advancement in other parts of Council resolution 2254 (2015). She then reiterated the importance of consulting with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, and Civil Society Support Room in these efforts. Credible progress on the political track is key to development, stability, the return of refugees and ultimately peace, she stressed, expressing Norway’s support for the Special Envoy’s call to the Syrian parties to move forward in their dialogue and his call for international actors to come together and identify concrete steps that can move the political process forward.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that the recent clashes in the Daraa region and the growing attacks by the regime and the Russian Federation on a pocket of Idlib show that the war is not over, reiterating the importance of implementing resolution 2254 (2015) in all its aspects. This resolution remains the common road map for all members of this Council, he stressed. Taking note of the confirmation by the Special Envoy that the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee will be held on 18 October, he urged the regime’s representatives to participate in good faith to enable tangible progress — drafting a constitution. The full participation of women must also be ensured in this process. His country’s positions on the lifting of sanctions, normalization and reconstruction remain unchanged. Without a political solution, there will be no safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
SRINIVAS GOTRU (India) said that, nearly two years after the Constitutional Committee was established, external influence remains the major impeding factor hampering the progress on the political track. “We call on all external actors to desist from adversely influencing the parties concerned.” All sides at the Constitutional Committee must engage constructively with the Special Envoy on his bridging proposals, he said, adding that the process must remain Syrian‑led and Syrian‑driven, facilitated by the United Nations. On security matters, he said that a nationwide comprehensive ceasefire would help to ensure that positive developments — such as the first crossline humanitarian aid operation from Aleppo to Idlib — can firmly take root. He also warned that ISIL and Hayat Tahrir al‑Sham have gained in strength in Syria. That is a cause for serious concern that must be fully recognized and acted upon, he said.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that, without a political solution, Syria’s humanitarian crisis will worsen and the suffering of its people will continue. She encouraged all parties to work together in the Constitutional Committee in a spirit of mutual respect and compromise to make much‑needed progress. Lauding the work of the Women’s Advisory Board, she said the full participation of women in the political process must be guaranteed. She expressed concern at sporadic violence across Syria and urged parties to the conflict to exercise maximum restraint, de‑escalate and abide by their obligations under international law for the protection of civilians. She appealed for the immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures on Syria, which are having an adverse impact on its civilian population, and encouraged the international community to contribute to Syria’s rebuilding.
HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam), noting the devastating consequences of the continued violence, economic meltdown and the pandemic on Syria, said its civilians continue to pay the price for this conflict. Highlighting the volatility of the security situation, he called for concrete steps towards a political solution that would ensure long‑term peace and security. Stressing support for a Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led political process, he said the international community must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country’s people. Underscoring the importance of rebuilding trust and confidence to overcome long‑standing differences, he welcomed the agreement just reached on the working methodologies of the Constitutional Committee. Calling on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, he added that the international community must remain united and unwavering in its support for the Syrian people.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), welcoming the convening of the sixth meeting of the small body of the Constitutional Committee, called on all parties to participate constructively in order to make progress towards a political transition. Stressing the need to ensure civil society participation, he said a broader and more inclusive political process will ensure the equal and significant participation of women and minorities. Noting the continuing violence in some parts of Syria, including Idlib, he condemned the use of siege tactics against civilian populations, and said that without a national sustained ceasefire, humanitarian needs will continue to increase. Applauding those countries that hosted Syrian refugees throughout the past decade, he also echoed the calls for freeing detainees and for clarification on the whereabouts of disappeared persons.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) joined others in welcoming the Special Envoy’s announcement that a sixth round of Constitutional Committee talks will take place in Geneva in mid‑October. That meeting needs to be different to those that have gone before. As the United Nations strives to facilitate a political process in implementation of its side of resolution 2254 (2015), so too is it now down to the Syrian parties to take responsibility for implementing their side, she said, urging the regime to end its artificial delays of the process, and for substantive progress to be made on a new constitution. That resolution explicitly recognizes the link between the political process and a nationwide ceasefire, she said, expressing hope that the upcoming meeting between Turkey and the Russian Federation in Sochi will lead to the full implementation of the 5 March 2020 ceasefire agreement.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) expressed concern about an uptick in violence on the ground, which in turn increased humanitarian challenges. Stressing the need to bring about a lasting ceasefire, he said the current arrangements in Syria are only for the short term and do not provide a long‑term solution to terrorism. A political solution is key to stability of the region. Noting the political stalemate, he expressed hope that the sixth round of the Constitutional Committee facilitated by the Special Envoy will lead to the relaunch of the broader political processes. Those involved in finding a solution to the conflict in Syria, including the Security Council, need to share a common vision.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) said the political process must be put on the right track, in line with resolution 2254 (2015). He expressed alarm at ongoing hostilities in the south and north‑west and applauded the ceasefire in Daraa, adding that all parties must adhere to a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire as a prerequisite for meaningful progress to end the conflict. At the same time, the fight against terrorism must continue and attempts to undermine Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be resisted. A large‑scale release of detainees, and the provision of information to the families of missing persons, will help reduce tensions and build trust. He welcomed the upcoming meeting of the Constitutional Committee and urged stakeholders to demonstrate flexibility. He also applauded the meeting of the Women’s Advisory Board in Helsinki and hailed the important role that Syrian women must play. Progress in the Constitutional Committee and an end to hostilities should go hand‑in‑hand with ending foreign interference and support for armed groups, he added.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), stressing the importance of a nationwide ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access, noted that Syria was greatly affected by the economic difficulties of the broader region, especially in neighbouring Lebanon. Further, widespread corruption, warlordism and lack of good governance hinder recovery, he said, also pointing to the deadlock in the Constitutional Committee. Underscoring the importance of justice for victims, he called for the creation of an international mechanism to locate missing people or their remains. Noting the various initiatives, which have collected, systemized and preserved evidence on these crimes since the very beginnings of the conflict, he added that a lasting and credible political solution can only be reached by ending impunity once and for all.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) said that only by working together, as they did when adopting resolution 2585 (2021), can Council members facilitate the long‑desired consensus on Syria and restore hope to that country’s people. He called on the parties to the sixth session of the Constitutional Committee to seize the moment, engage constructively and show commitment to the millions of Syrians counting on their leadership for a brighter future. All parties, including foreign armies, must honour the nationwide ceasefire and exercise maximum restraint. He also called for renewed unified action against terrorist groups.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, calling upon Syria’s Government to cooperate constructively with the United Nations and engage fully and in good faith with the Special Envoy. The upcoming round of Constitutional Committee negotiations is a welcome development as it presents a rare opportunity for real progress, she said, urging all parties to grasp that opportunity. Noting the urgent need for a comprehensive political solution, she went on to stress the importance of addressing the root causes of the conflict as well as the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons. “Inclusive peace is sustainable peace,” she said, demanding that Syrian women, representing all backgrounds, are fully, equally and meaningfully involved at all levels in the political process. Syria does not yet offer a safe and stable environment for the sustainable and dignified return of refugees, she said, reiterating Ireland’s long‑standing call for a nationwide ceasefire.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria), recalling the statement delivered on 27 September in the General Assembly by his country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that his Government has always been open to any genuine and neutral political initiatives to assist in ending the crisis targeting its people. Stressing the importance of a Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led process, he said the Government has facilitated the launch of the work of the Constitutional Committee. Condemning any attempt to enforce artificial deadlines or advance the conclusions of the Committee, he stressed that “anything relating to the Constitution is a Syrian matter”. Also highlighting his Government’s cooperation with the Special Envoy, he said the Envoy’s role as a facilitator must be conducted in an impartial and neutral manner.
The patience and wisdom of the Syrian leadership, he said, as well as assistance from the Russian Federation, has enabled the restoration of stability in areas that recently witnessed tensions. Some countries are using the Council to cause disruptions in his country, he said, calling on them to learn from “their failed and senseless wars over the past years”. The war imposed on Syria by those Governments has claimed the lives of many, and it has damaged the achievements of an ancient civilization. Calling for the immediate withdrawal of United States military forces from the north‑east and Turkish forces from the north‑west of his country, he also stressed the importance of immediately lifting the unilateral coercive measures imposed by Washington, D.C. and the European Union.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said urgent action must be taken now to build momentum for a lasting and credible political solution in Syria. “After 10 years of bloodshed, we simply cannot lose another day to end this conflict.” Turkey is pleased that the Special Envoy’s efforts to reconvene the Constitutional Committee have paid off, but “we cannot afford to see ‘more of the same’ in Geneva”. The Committee must yield concrete results, with no room for stalling tactics or blame games. Turkey is actively engaged in efforts to ensure that the sixth round will unfold in a results‑oriented manner, he said, adding that all parties must adopt a similarly constructive attitude.
Turning to the situation on the ground, he said that increased violence in Idlib risks triggering a new wave of migration and jeopardizing prospects for a political end to the conflict. It also casts a dark shadow over the compromise reached in July on cross‑border humanitarian aid. Attacks on civilians must stop and the regime and its backers must adhere to the ceasefire. He added that the PKK/YPG [Kurdish Workers’ Party/People’s Protection Units] remain a major threat to Syria’s security. That terrorist organization, and its offshoot, the Syrian Democratic Forces, have killed at least 118 civilians in 2021 alone, yet the international community remains silent in the face of its documented crimes against humanity. “How much longer will this Council ignore the elephant in the room?” he asked. He went on to say that Syria’s representative had poisoned today’s meeting with fabricated lies. Try as it may, the regime will never succeed in diverting the international community’s attention away from its abhorrent crimes, he said.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) insisted that occupation of parts of Syria by foreign forces must end. All uninvited foreign forces must leave that country without any precondition or further delay. The Security Council must live up to its responsibility and compel the Israeli regime to immediately end its acts of aggression against Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Rejecting separatist activities or illegitimate self‑rule initiatives, he condemned any efforts to support them. Syria’s reconstruction and the return of refugees and displaced persons must go hand‑in‑hand with the political process, he said, calling for depoliticizing humanitarian aids and the return of refugees and displaced persons. Recalling resolution 2585 (2021), he said that a call for all Member States “to respond with practical steps” is meant to remove unilateral sanctions. He then reiterated Iran’s principled position that the Syrian crisis must be settled peacefully without external intervention and interference.