The Perspectives of the Political Process and the Principle of “Step-by-Step”
- updated: December 13, 2023
According to the directives issued by the Security Council, the mission entrusted to the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, is to support the achievement of a strong and comprehensive political solution. This includes developing action plans to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2254. However, so far, there have been no tangible results due to various factors, including the Syrian regime’s obstinacy and divergent positions of active parties on both the local and international levels. In response, the Special Envoy recently intensified his efforts, following the principle of “step-by-step,” hoping that this approach would facilitate gradual progress alongside collaborative work with the Constitutional Committee, both of which constitute the cornerstones of his diplomatic strategy. From this perspective, the importance of discussing the effectiveness of this methodology and putting it on the table is emphasised.
The Syrian regime poses significant obstacles to any progress in the political process based on UN references, especially those confirmed in its statements and resolutions (Geneva Statement 2012, UN Security Council Resolutions 2118 issued in 2013, and 2254 issued in 2015). The Syrian Negotiation Commission emphasized several important points, including the formation of a credible, inclusive government that does not rely on sectarianism, the establishment of a constitution ensuring the separation of powers, and the prevention of any authority from encroaching on others, with a specified term for the President and his powers. Additionally, it emphasized the need for free and fair elections under UN supervision, involving all Syrians, both inside and in the diaspora.
Despite the setback of the political negotiating process in 2016 and its attempt to continue in 2017 due to the regime’s obstinacy, the Syrian Negotiation Commission has faced positive engagement with the outcomes of the “Sochi Conference” held in late January 2018. The Commission agreed to the Constitutional Committee in its expanded and miniaturized forms under UN auspices, which was formed after a delay of about two years, consisting of three equal teams (the Syrian Negotiation Commission, the Syrian government team, and the civil society team). The committee began its work, but after eight rounds, lasting about two and a half years, it has not produced any constitutional material.
The Syrian Negotiation Commission agreed to hold meetings of the Constitutional Committee at any UN headquarters outside Geneva to facilitate the mission assigned to Mr. Pedersen. It did not set conditions for continuing its work but stressed the importance of adhering to the agreed-upon procedures when the Constitutional Committee starts its work. The Syrian regime must provide written proof in the simplified internal regulations of the Constitutional Committee that the delegation represents it and is not a candidate from the Syrian government. This is to ensure the presence of conflicting parties in the Syrian arena, fearing its later rejection of any proposal claiming that the delegation does not represent it. Additionally, a timeline for consecutive rounds must be established so that the Constitutional Committee can accomplish its tasks within the specified period; otherwise, the regime will be able to procrastinate due to the absence of a clear timetable. Discussion of the effectiveness of this methodology and placing it on the table is crucial from this perspective.
Geir Pedersen recently proposed the “step-by-step” principle as a measure to break the deadlock in the quadrilateral political negotiating process. It is an unclear measure, leading us to ask: Is it a project for understanding between the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition? Or is it a project for understanding between the Syrian regime and the Arab, regional, and international environment? Can it indeed be a suitable mechanism for implementing relevant international decisions regarding the Syrian file, especially Resolutions 2118 and 2254? Or is it a set of steps presented by the international community to the regime, starting with partial easing of sanctions and proceeding with reconstruction, so that it agrees to progress in the political process and takes steps in favor of its relations with neighboring countries and the international community, as suggested by Mr. Pedersen? These recurring questions arise from the continued suffering of the Syrian people, given the regime’s lack of response to initiatives directed at initiating a political solution outside the United Nations, including the Tripartite Project (Russia, Turkey, Syria), which turned into a Quartet with Iran’s inclusion, and the Jordanian initiative, which turned into an Arab initiative after decisions of the Arab League Council confirmed in statements of the Arab Communication Group in meetings in Amman and Cairo.
In the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, we believe that the success of the political process, linked to the principle of “step-by-step,” requires the commitment of all those involved, including the International Security Council, the United Nations team represented by Mr. Pedersen, and the Arab Communication Group, to specific standards. It is crucial to emphasize the importance of the Syrian people’s demands and ensure their presence on the negotiation table, without neglecting them in the face of regional and international interests, to guarantee sustainable peace and the success of the political process. Moreover, each step taken must contribute to the full and strict implementation of Resolution 2254, with the participation of the Syrian opposition represented by the Syrian Negotiation Commission. Humanitarian principles are the right of the Syrian people, obligatory to implement, and non-negotiable. Additionally, there should be symmetry in the steps, meaning that when a responsible step is taken, the regime commits to stopping arrests, releasing detainees, ensuring the voluntary return of refugees, and guaranteeing that they are not arrested. There must be a corresponding step that matches it, and any step taken by the regime should not be reversible. Finally, it is essential to activate the work of the Constitutional Committee and advance the political process, emphasizing that this process should not be limited to the Constitutional Committee alone but should also include other aspects such as the Transitional Governance Body, elections, and counterterrorism.
For us in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, it is clear that the proposal of the “step-by-step” principle, presented by the UN envoy, may lead to rehabilitating Assad and normalizing with his regime without achieving real and fundamental change. This is especially true since Assad shows resistance to engaging in a comprehensive political process, including political transition, conducting fair trials, revealing the fate of detainees, and ensuring the safety of refugees. These changes require radical reforms in the regime’s security structure and a change in its all-encompassing strategy, which Assad rejects so far. Additionally, there are no guarantees confirming Assad’s non-reversal of any steps he takes. We also express our concerns that starting to implement this strategy may result in the intentional exclusion of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people. Even if these steps are implemented, it is still unclear how they will effectively push the political process forward.
Therefore, we urge the UN envoy to reassess his negotiating strategy, which has not borne fruit, and seek alternative, more effective, realistic, and honest ways to implement Security Council Resolution 2254 in the interest of the Syrian people.
The Political Committee in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement