[JURIST] Syria held a referendum Sunday to vote on a new constitution [text]. The gesture towards the opposition by President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has widely been seen as an empty one, with much of the international community calling it a “sham” [AP report]. The vote comes just one day after reportedly 89 people were killed in Homs, the center of the opposition. The proposed constitution will impose term limits on the president as well as provide for a multi-party system. However, the term limits will theoretically begin once the constitution passes, meaning Assad’s previous time in office will not be counted against the term limits. The preamble describes the proposed constitution as:
[A] system of fundamental principles that enshrines independence, sovereignty and the rule of the people based on election, political and party pluralism and the protection of national unity, cultural diversity, public freedoms, human rights, social justice, equality, equal opportunities, citizenship and the rule of law, where the society and the citizen are the objective and purpose for which every national effort is dedicated.
The new constitution also provides for freedom of speech, press, assembly and association in Articles 42 through 45, which some see as a step in the right direction.
The referendum is an attempt to calm 11 months of protests [JURIST news archive] and general opposition to the Assad regime. Activists estimate that more than 7,500 people have died since Assad began cracking down on protesters. The UN General Assembly [official website] voted earlier this month to condemn Syria through a non-binding resolution [JURIST report]. The resolution supported a plan [text, PDF, in Arabic] advanced by the Arab League [official website] that aims to bring the situation in the country to a close as quickly as possible by encouraging Assad to step down. The same day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] called on Syria to end to violence against civilians and possible crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. Earlier that week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court [official website].