UN proposes steps for drafting new Syria constitution

UN proposes steps for drafting new Syria constitution
3 min read
The UN's Syria envoy has proposed the creation of a 'consultative' team to immediately begin work on options for drafting a new constitution for the country.
The Geneva talks are the 6th round of UN-backed discussions to end the war. [AFP]

Syrian regime representatives and opposition figures were expected to respond to a "surprise" UN proposal on Wednesday for developing a new constitution, as peace talks in Geneva continued for the second day.

Meetings between UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and representatives from both sides ran late into the night on Tuesday, with the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) focusing on the issue of prisoners in Syrian jails.

The talks also centred on drafting a new constitution, with de Mistura presenting the HNC with a document proposing a team of technocrats and civil society activists responsible for mapping a way forward.

The "consultative" team would begin work immediately on "specific options for constitutional drafting", according to a copy of the proposal seen by AFP.

It would aim to "prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated".

The HNC's Munzer Makhos said opposition figures held many "reservations" over the proposal and were still discussing the issue.

"It will become clear on Wednesday. This paper was a surprise - it was not expected in the first place," Makhos said.

Syrian regime officials did not comment on the proposal, but a source close to their delegation confirmed that they had received a copy of the document.

The back-to-back meetings on Tuesday were brief, in line with de Mistura's pledge to keep the talks "rather business-like, rather short".

Efforts to end the war are now proceeding along two rival tracks: the formal political peace process in Geneva and, since January, parallel talks in Kazakhstan brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The HNC has described the UN talks as the most critical track in negotiations, saying they "only believe in deals that are agreed upon here in Geneva - not in Astana".

Assad, meanwhile, has brushed off the Geneva negotiations as "merely a meeting for the media".

"There is nothing substantial in all the Geneva meetings. Not even one per million. It is null," he said in a recent interview with Belarus's ONT channel.

De Mistura has dismissed suggestions that the Astana talks are competing with the Geneva track, saying they were "working in tandem".

The UN-backed talks are the sixth round in a drive to bring a political solution to the six-year conflict, which has claimed more than 320,000 lives.

Hopes for a breakthrough in the negotiations remain dim, particularly after recent US claims that the Assad regime is engaging in industrial-scale killing of detainees, disposing tens of thousands of bodies in a crematorium built for the purpose near Damascus.

"The Americans know what's going on in Syria now... To save the lives of Syrian people it needs some action from the (United) States, from our friends, and I hope they will do it very soon," HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet said Tuesday.