29 August 2020
Thank you so much Jenifer and let me start by saying it is good to see you despite this late hour on Saturday.
So, we just concluded the session, after what I call a challenging week, but I was extremely pleased, of course, that we were actually able to reconvene and to meet again despite the challenges we had with the COVID-19.
As you know, we worked very closely with the Swiss health authorities and with the UN medical authorities here at the UNOG, and after retesting and making sure that we continued to take very strong precautionary measures, we were able to continue to actually meet Thursday afternoon, and then as you know, we met on Friday and then finished after two sessions today.
Let me just repeat my thanks to the Swiss federal and Geneva cantonal authorities and all the others that have helped us in this process.I believe all the members of the Small Body have showed great flexibility and have contributed to that we were able to have the meeting in a safe environment.
I think I told you before we started the session that what I wanted to achieve was substantive discussions following the agenda that we had agreed upon. You know, it has been absolutely fascinating to listen to the discussions that we have been having. I mean, obviously, there are still very strong disagreements and my Syrian friends are, of course, never afraid of expressing those disagreements, but I was also extremely pleased to hear the two Co-Chairs saying very clearly that they thought also that there were quite a few areas of commonalities. And what I am looking forward is, hopefully then when we meet again, that we would be able to build on these commonalities, and bring the process further forward.
I would also like to say that I believe that the tone was respectful, that people were listening to each other, and that goes for all the three delegations.I also got a clear message both from the Co-Chairs, and from the members that they are keen to meet again, and we will build, obviously, on what we have discussed so far and this, in my opinion, is encouraging. I will be working with the two Co-Chairs on finding, hopefully, an agreement on the agenda for the next session, and then when we have an agreement on the agenda we will also then set an exact date for when we meet again. I hope that with some goodwill and flexibility that we will indeed be able to agree on the agenda.
Let me also just mention very briefing that I also had the pleasure virtually to be in in touch with the Women’s Advisory Board during this week and as always was listening very carefully to their advice and the support that they are indeed giving to the process for the benefit of all Syrians, men and women, and indeed to promote gender-sensitive outcomes.
I emphasised last time we met that I was also very pleased with the strong support that I have from the international community and I also count, of course, on the international community to continue this strong support to the work of the Constitutional Committee.
I am now pleased to take some questions.
Question: Mr. Pedersen, the fact that you have not set an exact date for the next session that was a last-minute change because we had understood that you were about to declare a set date, the second part of my question is the following, have you decided on a time or a schedule to complete the work on a new constitution probably before the next presidential elections?
Mr. Pedersen: No, I have not set a date that is not my job, as we have emphasised from the very beginning this is a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned process and it will be up to the Syrian parties to decide on when they are ready to move forward on this. But let me also say that we discussed a lot earlier on whether we should have a deadline for when we should finish the work in the Terms of Reference that we working on, and I was checking with different constitutional experts and they explained to me that hardly has there been any work on a new constitution where they have been able to meet a fixed deadline that has been set in advance. So, what we have been emphasising is that it should be continuous work, built upon what we have been doing, and that there should be no preconditions to moving forward. And both Co-Charis have accepted that, and I hope that I can also build on that for the future.
Yes, you are right, we were discussing different dates, but as you know we also agreed that we will not set an exact date before we actually have an agenda, and this week was a bit shorter than what we had anticipated, so I will continue to be in intense dialogue with the two Co-Chairs the next few days and then hopefully we will see if we can have both an agenda and a date.
Question: Last October when you launched the first Constitutional Committee it was a very big success for your term, and now we have just finished the third round of the Constitutional Committee meetings, are you still in the stage of building trust between the parties? And my question is, do you think the committee will be able to draft or start writing the new constitution that will shape the future of Syria by the end of this year? And the situation on the ground is relatively calm as well, do we have that chance before 2020 ends for the committee to start drafting the constitution?
Mr. Pedersen: I learned that it is very difficult to predict the future. So, I think I will not do that. But let me say that I am confident that we have been able to build a little bit of confidence, a little bit of trust, and if we can build on this, and continue the work that we have started we will see progress in the work of the committee, but as I said how this is happening, is of course, up to the Syrians themselves, within the committee.
Question: So, you are still working on building trust between the parties, is my understanding is right?
Mr. Pedersen: Your understanding is correct.
Mr. Pedersen: Yes, there is as you know a ceasefire that was negotiated between Russia and Turkey on 5th of March this year when it comes to Idlib. That ceasefire is by and large holding, there are daily episodes, we have seen violations of it, but so far, we believe that it is, as I said, by and large holding. Then as you know there are other areas of Syria where there are also still security challenges, the northeast, we have in the southwest, and of course we also have the presence of ISIL that is still a challenge. But your observation is correct that it is calmer and that is obviously conducive to the talks that we are having. But as the same time, I think we have agreed in principle that the talks that are happening here in Geneva will not depend on the situation on the ground. In all my briefings to the Security Council, this is one of the key issues I am addressing and appealing to the parties to make sure that we develop this calm into what we have called, in line with Security Council resolution 2254, a nationwide ceasefire and that is still what we are calling for.
When it comes to the deliberations of the committee, I am afraid I am not in a position to give you any detail on, issues they agree on, what they disagree on. That will be up to the members of the committee themselves.
Question: You have mentioned that you have got support for this process from the international community, could you elaborate on where that support is coming from and what type of support it is?
Mr. Pedersen: Yes with pleasure, of course, I do believe I said that last time I briefed you that there is a strong and united support from the Security Council on this, all 15 members have expressed strong support to the work of the Constitutional Committee and also to the fact that we would be convening here again in Geneva, on the work that started on Monday. And this support I think is extremely important and it is important that it continues. And then of course, we then have the so-called Astana support and then of course we have the Small Group and we have different European states. On this particular issue, there is an international consensus in short.
Mr. Pedersen: The issue of abductees, detainees and missing persons has been one of my so-called five priorities from when I stared, and it is an area where I am afraid, we haven’t seen enough progress. But of course, it is my hope that, with the continued calm on the ground, and with progress on the political track, that we could also see some progress on this front. We have been stating all along that we do hope that progress in one area could have a positive spillover on the other area, and this is sort of a positive momentum that we very much hope to see.
Question: I wanted to ask about the COVID cases, I was interested to know why the UN or you decided to start the talks before the second test results came in on Monday and you had to shut down, and if you fear that this may have some impact on your or the UN’s decision to hold future talks here in person, or physically, if you think that this could impact that decision or if you expect also the next talks to be held here, and secondly I wanted to ask, you weren’t able to decide on the agenda which was one of the issues that was said could be a sign of progress, do you think it is still as success?
Mr. Pedersen: On the COVID-19 cases, this was before they arrived and after they arrived handled in close consultations, of course, with the relevant medical authorities in Switzerland, and within the UN System. I do believe that what we have achieved this week proves that it is possible to handle even complicated cases as long as you follow strictly medical protocol and the advice you are receiving. And I think the fact that we have now been able to conclude this week without further hiccups also proves that this is a good example of how we can hopefully proceed with the new realities that the COVID crisis is creating. So was it a challenge? Absolutely, did we come through it in a proper and in a positive manner? Yes, we did. That is why we also hope that it will be possible to have the next round here in Geneva.
On the agenda, we need a little bit more time, we have started discussions, we have some ideas, so let’s see how it develops.
Question: There are fundamental disagreements such as the functions of the president or the occupations, the naming of the factions and the terrorist factions as well as the titles of both delegations, when you discuss the next agenda, are you going to avoid these disagreements, will you postpone them to a later stage and do you think that the present confidence-building process is able to absorb these disagreements?
Mr. Pedersen: As I said, it was interesting to notice that the two Co-Chairs agreed that there are quite a few areas of commonalities, but obviously after nearly 10 years of conflict there are many areas where there are still strong disagreements, and this will take time of course, to work through those areas. That work has already started, and it will continue. And then as you know it is stated in the Terms of Reference that to be able to proceed in the end we will need consensus or a 75 percent majority. And this is of course something in place exactly so that we can move on, all the sides know that they cannot force their views on the other, if we are to reach a new constitutional reform, it have to be built as I said, either on a strong consensus or bringing people together with a 75 percent majority, and this of course, is a remarkable process to watch and to follow. So, let’s see when we meet again after the next round if we have been able to continue to make a little progress.
Geneva, 29 August 2020