[JURIST] The Syrian government on Sunday approved a draft law that would allow the formation of political parties to oppose the ruling Baath Party, led by President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile]. The law would permit a political party to be established [AP report] so long as it is not based on religious or tribal lines and does not discriminate based on ethnicity, gender or race. Though the draft law, along with other concessions made by al-Assad, is a step toward the reform demanded, protestors seek an end to Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution [text], which declares the Baath Party leader of the state and society. The bill will likely be presented for debate on August 7, and Parliament must approve the law before it is enacted.
Al-Assad spoke at Damascus University in June where he announced that he would soon introduce reforms and present a new constitution [JURIST report], but he spent much of the speech claiming that the protests were part of a conspiracy against Syria. He contends that a group of terrorists is responsible for the vandalism, robberies and murders that have taken place since protests erupted in the country early this year and said that he planned to prosecute and hold those individuals accountable. Earlier in June, al-Assad granted amnesty to political prisoners [JURIST report] including all members of the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive], but opposition leaders dismissed the move and met in Turkey to discuss Syria's future. Syria has come under international scrutiny for using force to suppress the protests across the country. The UN has expressed concern over violence in Syria and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. Also, 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's government. Nearly 1,200 people have been killed and 10,000 displaced since protests erupted in February.