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Dilemmas and opportunities of public participation in constitution building

April 6, 2009
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Photo credit: Interpeace
As part of the Interpeace thematic programme that focuses on constitution building, Interpeace, the United States Institute of Peace and programme partner International IDEA hosted a consultative 4-day workshop with practitioners from around the globe. The focus of the workshop was on the ‘Dilemmas and Opportunities of Public Participation in Constitution Building’.

Consultative workshop held with over 30 practitioners
Between the 2 - 5 April, over 30 practitioners who played key roles in their own constitution building processes (including many former chairs of constitutional assemblies) or as advisors, came together in Cape Town, South Africa. The workshop was the seventh in a series of consultative workshops organized by Interpeace and International IDEA on key constitution building issues.

Overall programme goal is to build capacity of national constitution builders
The overall goal of Interpeace’s Constitution Building programme is to promote lasting peace through enhancing the capacity of national constitution builders (including civil society), their advisors, and key members of the international community. The focus is on how to design, implement and support constitution building processes that promote national dialogue and consensus-building, conflict management and transformation, reconciliation, peacebuilding and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

Interpeace’s programme components include ‘constitutionnet’ (a resource website), a handbook on the process aspects of making a constitution, a virtual library of constitutional articles, documents and sample materials, and research on key constitutional issues as well as consultative workshops.

The consultative workshops provide valuable input into the programme
The consultative workshops bring together practitioners from around the globe to gather knowledge and input for the preparation of a handbook for national actors and their advisors on designing and implementing constitution building processes. By getting input through consultative workshops the process draws upon the Interpeace principles that encourage participation from those involved – in this case, practitioners and academics.

First day of latest workshop is opened with keynote address from Professor Yash Pal Ghai
The keynote address was given by Professor Yash Pal Ghai, the Sir Y.K. Pao Professor of Public Law, University of Hong Kong and former Chair of the Kenyan Constitutional Review Commission (2002-2004). He has also advised in over a dozen constitution building processes. Professor Ghai introduced the topic of the workshop, highlighting the benefits and dilemmas of participation.

Day two examined country specific examples
The second day focused on examining the process and impact of public participation in constitution building processes at the country and regional level.  Experiences from South Africa, Kenya, Eritrea, Timor Leste as well as numerous cases and regional trends in Latin America and the Pacific were presented and discussed.

Day three featured a comparative discussion based on specific themes
Civic education, consultation processes on constitutional issues and constitution drafting were discussed.  The roles of different stakeholders and the dilemmas and opportunities of participation were addressed.

Impacts of constitution building and the application of lessons learned to the Somali Region was the focus for day four
The context of Somalia and the participants brainstormed on how the issue of participation could be addressed in the context of the upcoming constitution building process.

Final report
A report on the workshop proceedings as well as bios of the participants are available on request. Please send us an email info@interpeace.org