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Briefing to the Security Council by Staffan de mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria

20 December 2018

Mr. President,

Thank you for this opportunity to deliver my monthly briefing for the final time of this mandate. I am circulating this full written statement to you – because it is a little bit longer and there is a lot to say.

I have served as Special Envoy for four years and four months – almost exactly the length of the First World War. The Syrian people have been enduring a conflict for seven and a half years – longer than the Second World War.

This conflict has been and remains a tragedy for the Syrian people. It is a dirty, brutal, horrific war. It has seen all the faultiness within Syria, the region and the world prevail so far rather than the will of the Syrian people, Syrian unity, regional stability and international cooperation

No effort – not mine, not yours, not anyone else’s -- has been able to completely stop the logic of war prevailing. But we hope we are getting very close to that. In spite of several ceasefires and some moments of real hope, the battlefield has all too often prevailed over peace talks, and it has been constantly shifting.

But ultimately the question will be and is - and now is the time to look at it even more so: will the peace be won? We believe it should and it can. And will it be sustainable? We believe it can and should. That is why a real political process is required.

You, the Security Council, outlined in resolution 2254 the elements for the political process.

You exclusively mandated the United Nations to convene the parties, to facilitate the political process, and to finalize participation -- with full respect for Syria’s sovereignty, with respect of the ability of the Syrian people to choose their own representatives, with the purpose of enabling the Syrian people independently and democratically to determine their own future, and while stressing at the same time the vital parallel importance of a nationwide ceasefire.

With this mandate, I believe we have made some difference – but not enough. We have to be frank, we have made some difference, you with us and we with you:

- We have saved lives with some ceasefires and de-escalations, no matter how limited in scope and time, but did save lives, and stimulated humanitarian access to places that were not getting it – but nowhere near what civilians desperately needed and asked for. - We have convened the Government and opposition and also helped the process of uniting the opposition – but we have not yet, and we have to admit that, had the parties really recognize each other as interlocutors with whom they must do business and actually negotiate, let alone reach agreements.

- We have elaborated with the parties key principles for a common future and settlement – but we have not yet turned these yet into real mechanisms for implementation.

- We have identified a clear agenda accepted by the parties that would facilitate negotiation but we have not yet been able to tap into its potential.

- We have with determination promoted the involvement of Syrian women in the search for a peaceful settlement to the crisis – they know what their country is facing, they are more than half of the population – even though this is still constantly challenged.

- We have with equal determination promoted the meaningful inclusion and substantive participation of civil society – but this also is constantly challenged

- We have nearly completed the work of putting in place a constitutional committee to draft a constitutional reform, as a contribution to the political process– but there is an extra mile to go.

- We know what is needed for a safe, calm, neutral environment in Syria – and for UN supervised elections to the highest international standards pursuant to a new reformed constitution – but we have not been able to begin the full work required to make that a reality.

I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry that more could have been done but it was not possible. I think we in the Security Council should share that regret too.

But we have identified and put in place some of the key building blocks on which the future process can build. My successor has all the skills and ability to work out what combination of continuity and change is required. He was my successor in Lebanon, he did better than me. He is a friend and someone who we all respect. So I am very confident of what I am saying.

But make no mistake: as with my predecessors, and let me pay deep respect to Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, his success will depend on your unity and purpose to empower and support the United Nations, and pressure all parties to begin real dialogue, negotiation and compromise to address the grievances of the Syrian people and implement resolution 2254.

Mr. President,

Following the passage of resolution 2254, we did see serious attempts to put in place a ceasefire and cooperate in countering terrorism - which is, continues to be, and will be priority for all of us because it was threatening everyone in this room and beyond - and to support Geneva talks on a political transition via the International Syria Support Group.

But that promise has not been yet fulfilled. The unity here was not strong enough yet. And the forces which have been trying to complicate peace-making have been proving stronger.

By the start of 2017, Iran, Russia and Turkey committed to cooperate in Astana on de-escalation and confidence-building -- with Jordan, the United States and the Russian Federation beginning to work on deescalation in the south-west later in the year.

The results were mixed – lives however were saved, but three of four de-escalation arrangements were standing and then suddenly came to an end, and there were also lives lost. One of these areas has held and still holding, and we are all supporting that arrangement – Idlib, -- with more than 3 million civilians.

Meantime, results on detainees, abductees and missing people fell short of hopes – despite the establishment of a working group in December - which is better than nothing and we have to recognise that - produced a first concrete but modest movement recently. It is however, at least as seen from the point of view of Syrians and thousands and thousands of families, unacceptable that tens of thousands languish in detention or remain unaccounted for amidst fear of torture or death or not knowing where they are.

So we have never had for any length of time the nationwide ceasefire or the real confidence-building that resolution 2254 envisaged alongside the Geneva political talks. We got often close to it.

Despite this, the UN-facilitated Geneva talks identified a clear agenda of four baskets of issues based on resolution 2254. You are very familiar with them, but we need to recall them in order not to lose them. They produced 12 Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles developed with the extensive input of the Government and the opposition, and with consultation with a wide-cross-section of civil society and with Syrian women

These 12 principles are a solid foundation which my successor can work on, and they offer a vision of the future of Syria that can be shared by all1. And they provide carefully crafted formulas on key issues that in fact can be the basis for future work – sovereignty and unity … governance and democracy … separation of powers and human rights … religion and the state … decentralization … measures against terrorism … respect for all Syria’s components … the full participation of women … the rights of refugees to return to their homes and lands … and so on.

Logically, a Syrian-owned and Syria-led political process with UN facilitation must secure the actual realization in practice, not only words, of these principles - through agreements, mechanisms, and concrete steps, guided by resolution 2254.

As was recognized at presidential level between the United States and the Russian Federation in Da Nang in November 2017, a constitutional reform and UN-supervised elections in a safe neutral environment opens the way to concretely implementing resolution 2254.

And as indicated to you a year and a day ago when I briefed you on 19 December 2017, the UN identified via baskets 2 and 3 of the Geneva process 11 parameters for constitution-making2 and 6 insights on UN supervised elections3. These were in my assessment broad commonalties that could guide the parties -- and that could in any case guide the UN and my successor as a facilitator
Mr. President,

By the end of 2017, Russia, Turkey and Iran were preparing to coconvene a gathering of Syrians in Sochi. I attended Sochi at the guidance of the Secretary-General -- in light of understandings the Secretary-General and myself reached in Vienna with Russian diplomats, as to how Sochi would make a contribution by enabling the UN to establish under its auspices in Geneva a key piece of architecture of the broader process that the realisation of resolution 2254 requires.

The Sochi Final Statement, which the Russian Federation circulated to this Council as an official document, affirmed the 12 Principles as the basis of the political settlement. It called for formation of a constitutional committee with the purpose of “drafting of a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement under the UN auspices in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254.” I underline to you all the word ‘contribution.’ Thus the constitutional committee can be a key building block of a real political process, an important entry point if you will, but certainly not the only one. Syrians know that, you know that, I know that.

It was agreed in Sochi that such a committee “would at the very least comprise Government, Opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks, Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women”, and that “care would be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria`s ethnic and religious components”. And that “final agreement is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process on the mandate and terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the Constitutional Committee”.

To this end, the Sochi Final Statement appealed “to the United Nations Secretary-General to assign the Special Envoy for Syria for the assistance of the Constitutional Committee work in Geneva.” Russia and the United Nations clearly understood that the Special Envoy facilitated that process and enjoyed the finalization prerogative in the formation of a constitutional committee, and was able to identify members of that committee from a Sochi pool of candidates as well as draw on other persons from outside this pool if required to ensure a credible and balanced committee. The UN facilitation of that process was the clear basis of moving forward

Mr. President,

Since Sochi, I have during the period of almost one year undertaken marathon of consultations with Syrian and international stakeholders, in particular the Sochi co-conveners, to enable the establishment of a Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated, balanced, inclusive and credible constitutional committee in Geneva.

I shall not recount all steps of that diplomacy, but let me reiterate the key points so that we know where we stand before I pass it on to my successor:

- the Government and the opposition have conveyed 50 names each, and agreed not to question the 50 names of the other; - it was accepted that there should be 50 names in a “Middle Third” meeting the Sochi Final Statement criteria; - it was accepted that this would thus see a constitutional committee of 150 - it was accepted that a drafting body of maximum 45 would be identified with 15 each from each third; - it was accepted that conducive chairing and decision-making arrangements needed to be clearly identified;

- it was affirmed that the constitutional committee would be convened under UN auspices in Geneva;

- the UN put forward 5 months ago a consolidated proposed Middle Third list based on credibility, balance and inclusivity, including aiming at an overall minimum of 30% women in the constitutional committee;

- the opposition did not like this list, but agreed not to question it in the spirit of moving forward;

- the Government had strong objections to this list and indicated that it would work with the Sochi co-conveners on a different list and that the UN should await that input;

- the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey agreed in Istanbul on 27 October that the end of December should be a target, considering the circumstances, for establishment of the constitutional committee;

- the Secretary-General tasked me before moving on to verify whether it was possible to establish a credible, balanced and inclusive Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee to draft for popular approval a constitutional reform, and to fundamentally advance that objective;

- to overcome the Government’s concerns while not losing the opposition and maintain the quality and legitimacy of the overall package, I indicated that the UN would be receptive to modest, credible and balanced proposals while bearing in mind the UN’s mandate and responsibilities and in the context of the need to finalise a package

- it is, we understand, the UN’s responsibility to exercise its mandate and it is expected not to accept any type of imposition regarding convening the CC or finalising the package.

Mr. President.

In recent weeks, diplomacy, beyond the UN Secretariat, intensified, leading to a meeting that I hosted in Geneva on Tuesday with the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey. The Secretary-General was closely involved throughout.

The three Foreign Ministers offered the United Nations a significant joint input regarding the constitutional committee

That significant joint input comprised 50 names, drawing partly from my own suggestions, as their proposal for the Middle Third of the constitutional committee.

The United Nations secretariat, having examined the names, assessed that we would not feel totally comfortable yet in giving the UN stamp of legitimacy to all 50 names as meeting the necessary criteria of credibility and balance – hence, in our own suggestions, the need for going an extra-mile.

We have seen the loss of experienced experts of excellent credentials who would also have been natural bridge builders. No list will ever be perfect. But in our assessment, the list needs a further review and some extra time.

And there is also a need to identify with more precision the remainder of the package with the parties on board so that a constitutional committee when it meets can effectively function, delivering outcomes in line with its mandate as a genuine instrument within a larger political process towards sustainable peace.

In this respect, my consultations leave me confident that it should be possible to agree on a 75 percent voting threshold and balanced cochairmanship arrangements. Regardless who would be the chairperson, if one is from the government, the co-chair should be at least from the opposition, and either one should be a woman - they represent 51% of the population.

My consultations leave me also confident that it is understood that the constitutional committee would draft a constitutional reform and that the UN would have the crucial role in accompanying and facilitating this Syrian-owned process.

It is also crucial to identify how the smaller drafting body would be selected and begin work. The parties need to buy in to these key details.

So let us be frank, there is real progress. We nearly have a list. The rules of procedure became a little clearer. But we need to go that extra mile.

If a constitutional committee is established, it would be done with the blessing of the Security Council, and it would be vital for this Council to support regular reviews of the progress of the committee’s work and any adjustments required along the road, in order to help the Syrian-owned Syrian-led constitutional committee in accordance with the implementation of the terms of resolution 2254

Mr. President,

The UN alone has the legitimacy and mandate to bless, at least at the first stage, a constitutional committee given the circumstances in Syria, and that is the Security Council.

And is it accompanied by parallel efforts to ensure a full ceasefire, see detainees and abductees released at scale, build confidence, create a safe calm neutral environment with reforms of governance, and lay the ground for UN supervised elections as per 2254.

In this regard, and contrary to the spirit of building mutual confidence, we have been deeply concerned at recent and credible reports of some type of intimidation and coercion of persons reportedly on the list for the constitutional committee and their family members inside Syria. This has been more frequent in recent days, and we consider it very worrisome.

This is a fundamental reminder of the need for concrete steps on a safe, calm and neutral environment.

And that, Mr President, will be one of the question that refugees and internally displaced have been telling us, in no uncertain terms, we want safe, calm and neutral environment. People will consider returning if they feel safe; if their fundamental rights are protected; if they can reunite with the families in the areas they came from; if their

property and other legal rights are preserved and institutions of the State protect such rights; if basic social services will be delivered without political prejudice or bias. The list of legitimate questions doesn’t end here Mr. President. All these and other questions are key to the establishment of a calm, safe and neutral environment

Mr. President,

If we are able to start a constitutional committee, it will be a new test of political will. Will the Government engage seriously, and show a willingness to address real grievances? The real grievances which have been at the origin of this horrible conflict. Will the opposition engage, seriously, realistically, realising that the process of change in Syria will not be an easy one, but that it needs them to realise to be also pragmatic? I urge them both to do so. There is no other way out
of this conflict

Let me commend the voices of Syrians beyond the Government and opposition working for peace against all odds. Many participate in the Civil Society Support Room which we have created in partnership with Syrians who committed to the value of peace, and indeed many are meeting with my team this week in regional capitals.

I therefore must urge you, members of this council, the international community and Syrian parties more broadly to listen to their voices, protect them and involve them meaningfully in the long and challenging road forward. I salute them, the civilians, and thank them for their efforts, willingness to engage with us and with you all.

Let me stress also the crucial role of women in the Syrian political process. I have seen them and they have enormous influence given the chance, and can be given more chances. I have done everything I could to promote this – with the delegations and within civil society. I have also been assisted by a Women’s Advisory Board whose membership has recently rotated and been renewed. The Women’s Advisory Board is a model for what is possible when Syrians from different backgrounds come together to accompany the mediation process. And I can see this is now being replicated in Yemen. Women is Syria have been reminding me of what’s possible, and continue to plea for a process that is fully inclusive of all of Syrian society and with the full participation of women and everyone else.

I have fought and will continue to fight to ensure at least 30% representation of women in the constitutional committee, and I hope to see that realised - therefore the emphasis is also on the cochairmanship

Mr. President,

You are the Security Council, so let me stress one point above all.

The UN as a facilitator and mediator can create every sort of mediation process, every sort of dialogue, whether secret talks, backchannels, proximity talks, technical talks, working groups direct talks, multi-party talks, constitutional committees, national dialogues and so on. I have sought to bridge international divides with ideas, messages, channels, meetings, and by framing a way forward that all could sign on to consistent with my mandate.

I have also sought to speak publicly and clearly about the shocking violence and abuses against civilians, the need for humanitarian access, and the need to counter terrorism, and the fundamental importance of respecting international humanitarian law.

But that is no substitute for genuine efforts of influential countries to talk to each other and to work constructively within this Council and beyond in support of the UN process and Syrian-led and owned process

It is this Council -- and this Council alone -- that is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. You have mandated the UN to facilitate the intra-Syrian political process for the implementation of resolution 2254. That is the only way to enable the Syrians to determine their own future. And we need a renewed sense of common purpose and concerted action in this Council if 2019 is to be the real turning point for Syria

Mr President

In closing, I would like to thank my Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, for his trust, advice and encouragement, and my own team who over the last four and a half years have worked tirelessly to keep the talks process alive and moving forward, sometimes simply incrementally, but never giving up. I owe them enormously. I am convinced that the UN’s tenacity and ingenuity can make a fundamental difference for Syria. I wish my successor all success in his vital work.

It has been a real privilege and an honour to work with each of you, members of this Council - in spite of your divisions you have always had one line and I felt it constantly: you consistently supported our complex mission and myself, and I want to thank you for that.

Thank you, Mr President.


20 December 2018