Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] on Monday announced that he would soon introduce reforms and present a new constitution [press release], alleging that a conspiracy against Syria is ongoing. In a speech before citizens at Damascus University, al-Assad said he wanted citizen input with respect to a new constitution in the form of a national referendum. Al-Assad spent much of his speech addressing an alleged conspiracy, contending that a group of terrorists was responsible for the vandalism, robberies and murders that have taken place since protests erupted in the country early this year, and that he planned to prosecute and hold those individuals accountable. He also said that foreign political entities pressure Syria and interfere with Syrian affairs for their own benefit, and he accused the media of inciting violence and getting involved in protests to get better footage. These forces, he said, were antagonistic to Syria's development. Al-Assad called on Syrian citizens to participate in the reform:
The people are the most capable of maintaining security. ... I say that based on experience and reality. ... The one who protected the country during the critical years and who are protecting it now are the people. ... They are the youths who confronted, initiated and implemented. ... [A] state's strength lies in the strength of the people and their strength lies in their dignity and their dignity lies in their freedom and their freedom lies in the power of their country."Equality, justice, transparency and honesty are the future headlines which we aspire for our country," al-Assad said.
There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence since the protests began earlier this year. In June, Syrian and international human rights groups urged [JURIST report] the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against al-Assad. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session in April, publicly condemned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the violence used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Also in April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Earlier in the same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel [JURIST report], sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. Pillay urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] in March to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.