UN-backed Syria Peace Talks Resume in Geneva

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By Joseph Cook and Nsioh Macnight

The Syrian conflict is moving into its 7th year. According to the United Nations 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for the Syrian Arab Republic, there has been a rapid rise in humanitarian needs across the country. The report highlights that 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 6.3 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), up to $3.4 US billion are needed to meet the humanitarian needs, 7 million are food insecure, 1 in 3 Syrian children are out of school, 60% require health assistance, and 30,000 people suffer war-related trauma every month. With the hope of bringing the conflict to an end, the United Nations have been facilitating discussions between the parties involved in the hostilities. The Syrian peace negotiations are chaired by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, who convened the intra-Syrian negotiations between the 23 February 2017 and 03 March 2017. After 8 days of negotiations, the parties involved agreed to the agenda endorsed by resolution 2254 for the next talks in late March 2017. The negotiations are mandated by the Security Council Resolution 2254 imposed in 2015, which endorsed a roadmap for the peace process in Syria, scheduled a process to draft a new constitution, and focussed on matters related to governance and elections. The peace negotiations are focussed on ensuring the talks are Syrian-led and ultimately, Syrian-owned. Previous peace talks took place in January 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Russia, Turkey, and Iran sponsored the talks.

The UN-backed peace talks resumed on March 23, 2017, in Geneva with both hope and scepticism surrounding the talks. According to analysts, President Assad’s regime is increasingly seen as being reluctant to make any concessions. However, Mr. Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy (UN deputy special envoy for Syria), met with the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and government negotiators separately for preliminary talks. The main items on the agenda for this round of talks are counter-terrorism, the constitution, a political transition, and elections. Reports suggest the Assad regime has gained significant positions on the ground since receiving military support from Russia in 2015. Many analysts do not see any reasons why the Assad regime will make the slightest concessions, which makes the possibility of any compromise very difficult to achieve. Meanwhile, fresh fighting has been reported in government strongholds in Damascus, the Syrian capital, despite the ceasefire that was earlier agreed upon by conflicting parties.

Mr. Staffan de Mistura on Saturday, March 25th, called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to salvage the fragile ceasefire in Syria to help keep the peace talks on track. In a statement on March 25th, de Mistura expressed deep concern on the growing violations in recent days that undermine the ceasefire regime that was addressed through the Astana meetings. He went on to say that these violations have significant negative consequences for the safety of civilians, humanitarian access, and the momentum of the political process. He also revealed that he had urged the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey (in their capacity as guarantors of the ceasefire) to “undertake urgent efforts to uphold the ceasefire regime.”

The UN, through these talks, is aiming for a political deal to end a six-year conflict that has killed close to half a million people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 following protests against the Assad regime.