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New round of talks on Syria's constitution begins in Geneva

UN envoy Geir Pedersen will mediate the talks [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 January, 2021

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A new round of UN-sponsored talks to write a constitution for war-torn Syria has begun in Geneva, amid accusations that the Assad regime is deliberately stalling their progress.

Delegations from Syria’s regime, opposition and civil society groups began a new round of meetings in Geneva on Monday aimed at revising the constitution of the war-torn country.

The fifth round of the so-called Constitutional Committee came days after UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that many subjects have been discussed for more than a year and it’s now time for the committee to ensure that “the meetings are better organized and more focused.”

More than half a million people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas, and nearly half the country’s pre-war 23 million population has been displaced, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighbouring countries.

“I believe that we need to ensure that the committee begins to move from `preparing’ a constitutional reform to `drafting’ one, as it is mandated to do,” Pedersen said last week.

The United States and several Western allies have accused Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to waste time until presidential elections are held this year and avoid UN-supervised voting as called for by the UN Security Council.

According to Syria’s elections law, presidential elections are scheduled to take place between April 16 and May 16, at least 90 days before Assad’s seven-year term expires. Bashar Al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez, has been in power since 2000.

Presidential elections under Assad’s rule are not democratic or transparent. In 2014, Assad won over 88% of the vote in an election considered to be a fraud by observers.

At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution, which took until September 2019. A 45-member committee known as the “Small Body” started its meetings in Geneva on Monday.

Monday’s meeting involved 15 people from each delegation and was taking place amid measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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