Human Rights and Constitution Making

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This publication explores human rights in the context of constitution making. It notes the important role of participatory processes which should be designed to ensure that consultations with a wide variety of interest groups and vulnerable parts of the populations take place when a new constitution is drafted. It also focuses on what human rights and fundamental freedoms should be included in a constitution, including civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, it addresses how the rights of women, children, the disabled, minorities and indigenous peoples can be expressed in a new constitution. Examples from over fifty different constitutions are used to illustrate how these rights can be expressed. The publication is designed for drafters of future constitutions, as well as to all those who want to ensure that human rights are protected constitutionally.

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States in many parts of the world regularly amend and in some cases write entirely new constitutions. This may happen for a variety of reasons. For example, it may reflect a desire to redefine the distribution of political power, hopefully with the aim that a constitution will be more democratic, have better checks and balances, and be more responsive to the wishes of the electorate. Constitutional change may also be undertaken after a period of conflict to establish a new constitutional order and to provide a vision on how to move forward to create a more equitable society. Or there may be a desire to update an existing constitution so that it will be more responsive to political, economic or social changes in society. Whatever the reason, a key part of any constitutional reform is ensuring the promotion, respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Socrates wrote that freedom is the essence of democracy. It is as true today as it was over 2,000 years ago. And a good constitution can greatly assist in protecting those freedoms and providing the foundations for democratic governance.

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