Señor Presidente, Embajador Lorenti, [Sacha Lorenti, Bolivia],
Dear Friends, Members of the Council:
When I briefed you last month, I said that we were approaching a moment of truth in the effort to convene a UN-facilitated, Syrian-led, Syrian-owned constitutional committee. The constitutional committee is the main item which is at the moment operationally left about how to implement [resolution] 2254. Everything else is still there on the table but that one [element] is the most important one at the moment. A credible and balanced committee could be the cornerstone of an inclusive political process for Syrians towards implementing Security Council resolution 2254 – the only one we have.
Yesterday, I consulted the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and received his very clear instructions regarding our accelerated efforts to convene a credible and balanced constitutional committee – the only kind that the UN Secretariat would be willing to convene and the only one it would be willing to be associated with. I will come to those instructions later.
First, let’s be a little bit precise about where we are.
As I told you last month, some things are quite clear. The Government list and the Opposition list of 50 names each for a constitutional committee are not in question.
But questions continue to be raised, mainly by the Syrian Government, over the composition of the Middle Third list of 50 names. So, let me recall how we did arrive at the Middle Third list that is now on the table, and indeed has already been further revised, more than once, and updated in a new list.
The Sochi Final Statement spoke of the need to include, I quote: “Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women” (unquote), with (quote) “adequate representation of Syria’s ethnic and religious components” (unquote). The Sochi final statement made clear that it was via the Geneva process, and the facilitation of the Special Envoy, that the final selection would be made.
Actually, in truth, it went even further than that. The Secretary-General has asked me to remind the Council that, in addition to the terms of the Sochi Final statement itself, an explicit UN-Russian understanding was made during the Vienna consultations, which took place just before the UN attended Sochi – namely that I as Special Envoy would be free to draw not only on names emanating from Sochi but also on other names, including of Syrians who did not attend Sochi, if necessary to form a balanced and credible list.
And let me recall also that Security Council resolution 2254 anyway mandates the United Nations to convene parties in the political process, and tasks the Geneva talks to set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.
The Middle Third list was developed very carefully, believe me, by the United Nations. We received inputs, listened to many – including the guarantors of course, and also others. Above all, we also did our own careful homework.
We sought out credible and neutral Syrian experts – including people who have played a role in previous constitution-making process – who could bridge build between the sides, and whom the two sides could constructively work with. We looked for respected civil society representatives, independents and other Syrians of standing – individuals who could somehow represent the many Syrians who are not political affiliates but still deserve a stake in their future – as in any other constitutional process.
Of course, we do know that all Syrians, like all of us, have some political opinions or leanings – that is natural. But we sought a fair balance between those leanings, so that no political side could dominate the committee – this is a key part of what we consider the “credibility and legitimacy” of the list.
We ensured adequate representation of different ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds – as well as a balance between those living inside Syria and the millions of Syrians for the moment living outside their country due to the conflict.
And finally, with the full support of the Secretary-General and as part of our commitment to give effect to Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security, we insisted that a minimum of 30% of the constitutional committee should be women, and this meant bringing many qualified and expert women, of all backgrounds, into the Middle Third. Indeed, the proposed Middle Third is almost half women.
That is what has guided the UN effort to facilitate the Middle Third, and to revise it into a new list, as it has already done.
I have also carefully facilitated the development, as 2254 and Sochi both say that I should, on a logical basis, of some basic aspects of process and rules of procedure that could enable the constitutional committee to work.
From the three lists – government, opposition, and middle third – it would be possible to identify a smaller group – 15 from each – to form a drafting body of the constitutional committee.
The constitutional committee could be mandated to draft for popular approval a constitutional reform, as a contribution to the political settlement in Syria leading to a new political structure, giving effect to the Sochi Final Statement of 30 January 2018, within the context of the Geneva process to implement Security Council resolution 2254. Such a constitutional reform could aim to embody in the constitution and constitutional practices of Syria the letter and spirit of the 12 Principles developed in Geneva, with a lot of hard work, and endorsed in Sochi, which offer the people of Syria a vision of a future that can be shared by all.
The constitutional committee could work in Geneva with impartial Syrian chairmanship acceptable to all components and supported by UN facilitation, and with appropriate decision-making arrangements.
These arrangements should all take place consistent with respect for the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria, and with UN facilitation to enable the Syrians themselves to engage each other and to independently and democratically determine their own future with dignity.
Clearly, the key parties are the Syrian parties, and equally, the prospect of a constitutional committee being effective does rest also on strong support from key countries. These will be further engaged by us in the coming few weeks.
So, let me start with the Government of Syria. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Moualem met the Secretary-General during the General Assembly – I also attended the meeting.
The Foreign Minister on that occasion did strongly cast doubt on the Sochi statement and its outcome, indicating that the Government had very different understandings about those matters. He called for a fundamental reassessment of the work that has been done to date on the Middle Third list and rules of procedure, and on the UN facilitation role.
For his part, the Secretary-General reiterated the Sochi statement and outcome and the mandate of the Security Council, and offered to have me explain the work that has been done on that basis in much more detail. He appealed to the Foreign Minister for the Government to work in partnership with the UN.
For their part, two of the Astana guarantors – Russia and Iran – have also called the Middle Third list into significant question – indicating that it does not meet the requirements of the Government, notwithstanding the extensive consultations and the Sochi understandings. They have at the same time indicated that they continue to engage the Government of Syria on the matters. Senior Russian officials will indeed be in Damascus in the coming days.
Turkey, which had initially felt that our list could benefit from revision, has indicated lately its full understanding of the logic and composition of the list now on the table.
For its part, the Syrian Negotiations Committee – “the opposition” – confirmed to the Secretary-General during the General Assembly their readiness to move ahead on the basis of the broad package on the table. The opposition met at the beginning of this week in Riyadh, and most of their nominees for the constitutional committee are at present, while we are talking, sitting together in internal consultations to prepare for their work.
The Small Group of countries – Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States – have all urged that the United Nations convene the constitutional committee without delay. Similar messages came during the last few days from a large number of European and Arab Foreign Ministers with whom I met during the General Assembly.
Querido Señor Presidente,
I wish to inform the Security Council that the Government of Syria has invited me to Damascus next week. This is a follow-up to the meeting with the Secretary-General during the General Assembly. I plan to engage them on the work that has been done on the Constitutional Committee. I will of course be ready, if the Council so wishes, to report back to it after my visit on whether these direct consultations have produced, as we hope, the approval and agreement on a credible and inclusive third list.
I also intend before the end of the month to invite the Astana guarantors for consultations with me in Geneva, and also to engage the Small Group. That would, in my view, be the last opportunity for putting finishing touches on the preparations for convening a constitutional committee.
I would hope then to be in a position to issue invitations to convene the constitutional committee hopefully during November. I offer no prediction whether this is possible. What I do know is that after nine months of preparations, it is important to launch a credible constitutional committee and that whatever transpires, I would like to come back and brief you in November on where we stand.
Let me remind all of us: without steps on a safe, calm and neutral environment, the work of a constitutional committee will not end up being very meaningful. We all know that. But first thing first: the constitutional committee. On this front, despite our best efforts regarding steps on safe, calm and neutral environment, we have seen very few concrete outcomes during 2018. I hope we will see more in the coming months. For instance, the Working Group on the release of detainees and abductees, the handover of bodies and the identification of missing people met again last week in Tehran -- but we keep urging for the first tangible results. Many, many people in Syria are waiting for that.
Let’s look now at the big picture for a moment and then we go back to the constitutional committee. A catastrophe has so far been averted in Idlib, and the Russian-Turkish memorandum of understanding appears to be being implemented. Major strides have been taken in defeating terrorism and this should continue to be a priority. ISIL’s territorial base has largely been erased – though it does remain dangerous. The de facto map of Syria is for the moment relatively stable, but it must not become a de facto soft partition, nor a theatre for new international confrontations. There must therefore be a political path forward. President Putin and President Erdogan said that the Idlib deal offered a window for the constitutional committee to be established and the political process to go ahead. The European Union will host for instance a third Brussels Conference in March 2019 – we know that its decisions will depend on a credible political process.
The United Nations has done all that it can, and frankly more, to find a way to convene a credible and balanced constitutional committee. We are ready to do more and in an accelerated way during the forthcoming month, taking advantage of the Idlib window of opportunity, but we are not ready to convene a committee that is not credible and balanced.
In that regard, having consulted the Secretary-General, let me also give you some heads up - if I may: I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November. I have had the honor to serve for four years and four months as Special Envoy. I have for some time been discussing with the Secretary-General my desire for purely personal reasons to move on. I have deeply appreciated his constant support and wise counsel on this matter.
But I will definitely not say goodbyes or engage in reflections today. A month can be a century in politics. We still have a very intense and hopefully fruitful month ahead. I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate. In fact, the Secretary-General has instructed me that my last month of service should be used to actively verify whether the UN is in a position or not to convene a credible and balanced constitutional committee and report to the Security Council accordingly. I plan to do so with clarity and frankness, and count on the support of the Security Council and all Syrian counterparts to do so.
So, let me summarise some bottom lines of my message, which has been long:
- The Idlib MOU provides a unique window of opportunity for launching a credible and inclusive constitutional committee. We must take advantage of it. This is and remains our aim. And our assessment is that, if there is a political will, there is no reason for the constitutional committee not to convene in November, 10 months after the Sochi declaration;
- The main reason so far for the delay in convening in Geneva the first session of a credible and inclusive constitutional committee, is the difficulties that the Government finds to accept the current Third list of participants prepared by the UN, as per the Sochi declaration and resolution 2254;
- I plan to discuss this pending issue during my forthcoming mission to Damascus, and report back to the Secretary-General and the Security Council thereafter on the outcome;
- Since my personal plan – purely personal, believe me – in consultation with the Secretary-General, has always been to end my mission for purely personal reasons in the last week of November 2018, which means 4 years and 4 months after the beginning of this mission, my intention, and as per the Secretary-General’s instructions, is to dedicate this crucial last month to actively verify once for all the feasibility of the implementation of a credible and inclusive constitutional committee, and hence also the implementation of the Sochi declaration.
- I will therefore report in November to the Secretary-General and the Security Council on the status of the implementation of the constitutional committee in order to allow the Secretary-General and the Security Council to draw their own conclusions so that my own successor will be able to start from a clean ground his or her mission.