Acknowledging the grim milestone in a briefing to the Security Council on Thursday, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, urged the members of the Constitutional Committee’s Small Drafting Body to work “with the sense of seriousness and spirit of compromise that the situation demands”. 

History of disappointment

The Syrian Constitutional Committee, first established amid high expectations in 2019, is a 150-member body comprising 50 representatives of the Syrian Government, 50 from the opposition and 50 from civil society, which is represented by the so-called “Middle Third”.

Fifteen members of each bloc are represented in the Small Drafting Body, which is charged with deciding on draft text for a new constitution.

.@GeirOPedersen Before the Committee began to work this week, I recalled that Syria remains one of the gravest crises in the world, and there is a clear need for progress towards a political solution in line w/Security Council resolution 2254. Text here:

— UN Special Envoy for Syria (@UNEnvoySyria) March 24, 2022

The latest session of the Committee, convened in late 2021, ended in disappointment after members failed to make progress on a draft text that was agreeable to all parties.

During the seventh meeting — which began on 21 March and will conclude throughout this week — members have discussed four areas of constitutional principles. Those include basics of governance, State identity, State symbols and the regulation and functions of public authorities.

Difficult deliberations

Noting that those deliberations “have not been easy,” the Special Envoy said members are expected to submit revisions to reflect the content of their discussions and begin to deliberate on 25 March.

“We will therefore see if the next 24 hours help to move us forward,” he said.

Noting significant differences between the parties’ positions, Mr. Pedersen said it remains possible to find and build on common points, if the will exists to do so.

Calling for serious attempts to narrow differences and explore compromises, he said such a path will help build public trust and confidence in the process — “something sorely lacking among the Syrians at present”.

Devastation ‘finds few parallels’

Martin Griffiths, Humanitarian Affairs chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Council that the devastation wrought in Syria over the last 11 years “finds few parallels” in recent history.

More than 350,000 people have been killed, nearly 14 million displaced, basic services are absent, and 5 million children born since the start of the conflict have known nothing but hardship.

Noting that civilians continue to be killed and injured along front-line areas in the north-west and north-east, he added that some 14.6 million people in the country require humanitarian aid – more than at any time since the start of the conflict.

He also warned that the Syrian pound is reaching a record low value just as the war in Ukraine is driving a global spike in food prices, with about 12 million people in Syria considered to be food insecure. 

Against this backdrop, he called for intensified early recovery efforts, stressing that “people must be allowed to lead dignified lives and see a better life for themselves and their children”.

Impact of Ukraine war

Also briefing the Council was Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General of the League of Arab States, who noted that the Syrian crisis will not be immune from the impact of the worsening conflict in Ukraine.

Over the last 11 years, the conflict in Syria has created a humanitarian catastrophe with intergenerational effects, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of sanctions.

Citing a decision recently adopted on the Syrian situation by the League’s Foreign Ministers Council, he said its members expressed their growing concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the possible catastrophic impact resulting from rising violence in Syria, which is taking place despite a change in the front lines.

In addition, he said, the League called upon international donors to disburse their pledges for Syria in line with their previous commitments.

Earlier this week, officials from the League sounded alarm about growing donor fatigue as the war in Ukraine continues to dominate headlines.