The Syrian Constitutional Committee has finally been agreed upon, after two years of negotiations spearheaded by the United Nations and often shaped by Turkey, Iran, and Russia. The 150-member committee is made up of an equal number of representatives of the Syrian regime, the opposition, and civil society members, and it is tasked with writing a new constitution for Syria. In an ideal world, and bearing in mind that a broader peace process has stalled, this new constitution could be the first step to bringing an end to the deadly conflict that has left the country, and the lives of countless Syrian people, in ruins.
UN Security Council Resolution 2254, a document that is regarded as the foundation of the political negotiations in Geneva, calls for, among other things, the creation of “a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.” Although a constitution was always envisioned to come as a result of a political transition, and not at the genesis of one, the formation of the Constitutional Committee could be considered the firmest promise of a future transition that anyone has witnessed in years. Time will only tell whether the committee is able to deliver meaningful results toward sustainable peace, justice, democracy, and inclusion as well as enshrine the respect for human rights, as modern constitutions should.
There is still a long road ahead. The “Syrian-led and Syrian-organized” process will have to begin in Geneva, where the committee must first establish the negotiation methodology and drafting processes, guaranteeing transparency and creating some channels for participation, which are essential to ensuring the process is legitimate and credible. Of course, they must then agree on the content of the new constitution.
After eight years of brutal conflict and unfathomable human tragedy, the Constitutional Committee, if successful, could very well mark a historic turning point for Syria. However, for it to do so, the new constitution will have to acknowledge the deep pain of victims and the suffering of the Syrian population more generally; their rights to justice, truth, and reparation; and the root causes of the conflict. A well-conceived constitution can be a way to prevent the recurrence of violence and human rights violations. To achieve this goal, provisions in the Syrian constitution will need to deal with issues related to accountability for crimes and abuses committed on Syrian soil and guarantee institutional reforms.
If the Constitutional Committee approaches its negotiations as if it were the only opportunity for justice, it will certainly fail to lay the grounds for sustainable peace. The Syrian constitution must transcend the paper on which it is written and conceive concrete processes and institutions that ensure its implementation. It should also clear the path for a Syria that protects all its citizens and uphold the rights of everyone.
This yet-to-be negotiated Syrian constitution should not be understood as the final step out of this current dreadful reality. On the contrary, it should be regarded as the foundational social contract, and a first step toward a more just future for Syria where human rights and the rights of victims are fully respected.
PHOTO: Bashar Ja’afari, Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations, addresses the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Syria) on September 19, 2019.(UN/Cia Pak)