Syria Brief: Constitutional Committee Update

A timetable for the sixth round of the constitutional committee has not yet been announced. With the last round, which was held in January, being decried a disappointment by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, he is now committed to achieving an agreed upon methodology for conducting the negotiations between the regime and opposition prior to the next committee rounds. There have been backchannel discussions for months, and both the opposition delegation and the Special Envoy have proposed methodologies, but the regime remains intransigent. Rather, it appears that the regime may be laying the groundwork to engage in a staged negotiations process with regime-sanctioned “internal opposition” in Damascus that could lead to token compromises in an attempt to circumvent the constitutional committee process altogether.


The following paper is a summary of the latest political developments surrounding the sixth round of the constitutional committee.

Constitutional Committee Sixth Round
Plans for the sixth round of the constitutional committee have not yet been announced by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen. Following the failure of the previous round, which was held in January 2021, Pedersen has signalled that he is not willing to go ahead with the sixth round without the regime and opposition agreeing to a methodology beforehand. In a briefing to the Security Council at the end of August on the regime’s violence on Daraa al-Balad, Pedersen reiterated the paralysis on reaching a political solution and the need for trust building and political will.


Backchannel Discussions
Discussions behind-the-scenes attempting to lay the groundwork for a sixth round of the constitutional committee have been ongoing for months. UN Special Envoy Pedersen has been speaking with members of the civil society delegation, and has met on a number of occasions with Hadi al-Bahra, the co-chair of the constitutional committee from the opposition delegation. Pederson requested a visit to Damascus in August to meet with Bashar al-Assad, but there is no response yet from Assad. At the same time, Russia is pressuring the Special Envoy to move ahead with the next constitutional committee round, viewing agreement on the methodology as unnecessary. Meanwhile, Pederson is pushing for greater US-Russia cooperation on Syria beyond humanitarian concerns in order to reach a political solution.


Opposition’s Proposal on Methodology
As per the Special Envoy’s focus on agreeing to a methodology ahead of the sixth round, the opposition submitted a proposed methodology which the regime neither accepted nor rejected this proposal, but rather sent a hastily-drafted counter proposal. The divergence between both proposals was so significant that the Special Envoy submitted a bridging methodology. Similarly, the regime neither agreed nor objected to the Special Envoy’s proposal, but began picking on minor, linguistic points, in order to block any serious discussion on methodology.


Regime Reaction
The regime’s desire to finish off the Constitutional Committee process remains unchanged, with the regime delegation being instructed to waste time during negotiation rounds. Bashar al-Assad has no interest in any political process that could undermine his dominance in Syria. Instead, there is a growing perspective that the regime seeks to impose a fait accompli by engaging in staged negotiations with the “internal opposition” – opposition that exists under the regime’s purview in Syria – such as Mahmoud Ahmad Mar’ai, who ran as a candidate in May’s presidential elections.


Russia’s Agenda
Having successfully undermined the Geneva-based process away from questions of political transition, Russia now wants the constitutional committee process to move forward. It is focused on getting the constitutional committee back on track, irrespective of an agreement between the regime and opposition on methodology. For Russia, the widely-accepted Geneva-based process is key to securing international recognition for the status quo it has created in Syria, and burdening the international community with the long-term costs of the Syrian crisis by expecting donors to support and fund the return of refugees and reconstruction.