At its core, broad public participation and consultation is most important in developing an authentic sense that the new constitution is not irrelevant and abstract, or a tool to be used or abused by those in power but, rather, is the possession of all the people, who will insist on its implementation.
At first I scoffed at some of the ideas presented in the paper as to how best to conduct outreach. Ideas such as town halls and radio addresses are great, but what about skits or cartoons? Then I heard (turn on your speakers) a song
in the back of my head and I realized they were right:
We the people
In order to form a more perfect union,
Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
Provide for the common defense,
Promote the general welfare and
Secure the blessings of liberty
To ourselves and our posterity,
Do ordain and establish this Constitution
for the United States of America.
Public education and outreach will be very important. Of course they also have to listen to what the people tell them and take it under advisement, work together and make sure the timing is right as well. The report also spells out what the international community can do as well, provided we are asked:The U.S. Institute of Peace–UNDP study has found the role of foreign experts to be especially constructive when they have served as a neutral resource, offering guidance to locals by elucidating the pros and cons of particular substantive issues, frequently through comparative analysis of how constitutional issues have been handled in other countries. This kind of role facilitates informed debate of issues among locals, who will ultimately make the substantive choices.
One of the most important ways that the international community can assist the constitution-making process in Iraq is by facilitating access to information about, and key experts from, the relevant constitution-making experiences of other countries.
In other words, don’t make them reinvent the wheel. The report ends with a number of concrete recommendations as well:• Iraq’s new National Assembly should embrace a model of robust public participation in the constitution-making process. This effort can be pivotal in establishing the legitimacy of the process, fostering national dialogue, developing a common vision for Iraq’s future, and cultivating a sense of public ownership and commitment to the country’s new constitution, resulting in greater stability for the political system established by that constitution.
• The recent constitution-making experience of several countries, particularly with respect to public participation in the process, can provide helpful lessons and tools for Iraq, and the international community should facilitate Iraqi access to such comparative information.
• The National Assembly should consider early adoption of rules governing the constitution-making process that (1) spell out further details and organizational structure for the constitutional process, including active public consultation and participation, and (2) reaffirm fundamental principles and guarantees of human rights that will be respected during the life of the National Assembly and enshrined in the new constitution.
• Separate phases of public education and public consultation should be conducted. Members of the National Assembly, civil society groups, the media, academic institutions, and others should play active roles in this effort. This process should include dialogue among Iraq’s various ethnic and religious communities regarding one another’s concerns and ideas for the country’s new constitutional system. Adequate time should be allocated for this component of the constitutional development process.
• A constitutional commission should be established in Iraq to facilitate public education and consultation efforts, collect and organize public input for the National Assembly’s constitution drafters, and conduct research and drafting for the National Assembly.
• The drafting of the constitution should ideally develop from an open consideration of issues and options, rather than simply focusing on a complete draft constitution tabled by any particular political faction.
• The international community should provide resources and technical assistance to aid the Iraqi constitution-making process. Foreign governments and institutions should not be aligned with particular political factions but, instead, should provide neutral assistance to the National Assembly and civil society constitutional efforts.
If you have made it this far with me, thank you, and thanks
to the Beltway Traffic Jam too. I am convinced, after finishing this report and thinking about what I would want
from the drafters of a constitution today, and what I would not want
, that more than anything I would not want the end product simply presented to me one day. For the Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Christian and all the other groups in Iraq to have a future they will need to agree on the foundation. How will mosque and state work together? How will good laws
be passed and bad
? What ownership do I have over my freedoms and future?
As I said at the top, it is a long row to hoe. I wish the framers and the people of Iraq the best of luck.