After a protracted negotiations process of almost two years, the UN announced the formation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee at the end of September 2019 as a crucial step towards a future political transition within the framework of the UN-facilitated Geneva process and Security Council Resolution 2254. The Constitutional Committee is mandated with drafting a constitution for popular approval, as part of achieving a political settlement in Syria. While the formation of the Constitutional Committee was termed a sign of “hope for the long-suffering Syrian people” by UN Special Envoy Geir Pederson, the broader geo-political context in which this process has taken place and the lack of transparency regarding the selection of the Committee’s membership and structure has posed major challenges to its work.
- Progress: There has been no meaningful progress on the political process through this committee since its inception in September 2019. Constitutional Committee rounds are paralyzed by the Assad regime’s intransigence. The regime delegation regularly stipulates major conditions to which the opposition must concede before any discussion, and frequently refuses to attend sessions or withdraws early. Meanwhile, Russia dominates the agenda utilizing the process to push for international recognition for the regime through concessions on major issues such as the return of refugees and the lifting of sanctions.
- Uncertain Aims: In the scenario that a new constitution is drafted, there are no guarantees that such a constitution can be implemented and therefore it is unclear how this process will bring about necessary change in Syria. Indeed, while the 2012 ratified constitution states that “freedom shall be a sacred right”, brutal authoritarianism characterizes the Assad regime’s rule in Syria. Further, any constitution would have to be ratified by Parliament, which has been set-up through the 2020 elections as a buffer to block any threat to the regime or its powers.
- Political Focus: While the constitutional process continues, it absorbs the valuable political focus of the international community, preventing any other meaningful initiatives outlined in 2254 to occur, such as negotiations in Geneva, which address the fundamental objective of 2254 to establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” in Syria. In terms of political initiatives for Syria, the constitutional committee is currently the sole political initiative which skews the interpretation of 2254 away from its key aims.
- Delay: On the current trajectory, the formation of a constitution will likely take years, allowing the regime, Russia and Iran to cement their influence and implement their de facto reality on the ground. Immediately following the formation of the Constitutional Committee and its first meeting, the regime launched a major military assault on opposition-controlled Idlib that lasted from December 2019-March 2020 and saw the regime capture huge swathes of territory. Since then, the lead up to new committee rounds are often characterized by an increase in regime violence against opposition areas on the ground. It is important to consider how a political initiative which serves as a delay-tool, is especially useful in the context of decreasing international involvement in Syria, while the regime and Russia maintain their appetite for expansion in the north-west and other areas outside the regime’s control.