Syria constitution talks in Geneva an 'important step': UN envoy
A meeting in Geneva next week of Syrians tasked with amending their country's constitution marks an important step and could help open the door to a broader political process, the UN envoy said Friday.
Members of Syria's Constitutional Committee will be meeting for the first time since last November, following delays brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
"Obviously, the fact that we will be meeting here in Geneva after nine months is an important step in the right direction," Geir Pedersen told reporters in the Swiss city.
The full constitutional review committee is made up of 150 delegates divided equally three ways among President Bashar al-Assad's government, the opposition and civil society.
But next week's meeting will only include about a third of them, with 15 members from each group taking part.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pedersen said that strict measures had been put in place to ensure everyone's safety.
All delegates have been tested prior to departure, and will be tested again upon their arrival in Geneva over the weekend, he said.
He added that the week-long meeting would be held in a large UN hall to allow for proper distancing, and all participants would wear masks.
The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later.
A planned second round of talks in late November ended after disagreement on the agenda prevented government and opposition negotiators from meeting.
Pedersen voiced hope that the delegates could next week get into "substantive discussion", and stressed that the talks could serve as "a door-opener to a broader political process."
But he acknowledged that "the constitutional committee in itself... of course cannot solve the Syrian conflict."
The United Nations has been striving for more than nine years to try to help find a political resolution to Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 380,000 people and has displaced more than 11 million Syrians from their homes.
Constitutional review is a central part of the UN's peace plan for Syria, which was defined by Security Council resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015.
The resolution also calls for UN-supervised elections.
Pedersen on Friday stressed the urgent need to build confidence between the parties to move forward in the political process.
He insisted that progress on determining the fate of detainees, abductees and missing people on all sides "could be the one key important development that could help to build trust."
Representatives from a range of countries involved in Syria's complex conflict, including Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States, are expected to be in Geneva next week.
Pedersen said he would try to meet with them on the sidelines, but stressed that Syria's constitutional review was being carried out by Syrians alone, "without any foreign interference."
"No one expects that this meeting here next week will produce a miracle or a breakthrough," he said.
"That is not what this is about. This is about the beginning, about a long and cumbersome process where we hopefully can start to see progress."