The latest UN proposal to map out a new charter for Syria has left both the regime and opposition figures in a renewed state of confusion. The proposal was made by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday — the first day of renewed peace talks in Geneva. De Mistura’s plan came with an implicit suggestion that a team of civil society activists and technocrats should be made responsible for a draft constitution. The team, according to the proposal, would begin work immediately on specific options for constitutional drafting. The move is aimed at preventing the ever present danger of a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated.
Until now opposition members have shown more interest in resolving the issue of thousands of detainees still held in Syrian jails than drafting a new constitution. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is believed to have many reservations about the plan and it is not yet clear how it intends to officially respond to de Mistura on the issue.
As can be expected, the UN-sponsored negotiations have made little headway. Both sides have literally stuck to their guns. For the opposition and the regime, the sticking point is Bashar al Assad. His ouster is central to the HNC transition plan. For the regime, however, the fate of the president is non-negotiable. In addition to a new constitution, the current talks will focus on governance, elections and combating terrorism in the war-torn country.
Despite the urgency of ending the bloodbath in Syria, there is little hope of a breakthrough being achieved in Geneva. The US claim of new regime atrocities being committed at the Saydnaya prison has taken the gloss off the Geneva meetings. Despite stout denials by Damascus, the opposition has demanded a thorough response. Time and again the agenda for peace has been hijacked.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2017.