Last Updated: January 20, 2009

Well-drafted constitutions, based on human rights and dignity, are thought to provide a framework for a democratic peace. In modern constitutional experiences, constitutional issues can be separated into constitution building, which is the broader scope of evolving constitution-related processes, and constitution-making (or constitutional engineering), which encompasses the technical process of rendering a constitution. Increasing emphasis is placed on the role of deliberation and participation in these processes.

In the aftermath of violent conflict, reforming or drafting a new constitution is viewed as a key process of (re)establishing the basis of state legitimacy, establishing and reinforcing the political community, and establishing or reforming the rules for the allocation, exercise, and accountability of power. These key functions explain why many negotiations surrounding the settlement of armed conflict apply to the modifications envisioned for the change of regime and constitution. Attention to these issues is equally important as a preventive measure. Yet, they are insufficient alone as a peacebuilding tool.

Rather, constitutions law out a framework for other peacebuilding activities. Domestic and international actors engage in constitutional processes, and many components go into drafting or reforming a constitution. For instance, constitutions establish citizenship and rights of the political community, determine the form and structure of legislature, and set up devolved territorial arrangements. A number of constitution-building activities implement and support these components. First, the constitution-drafting process is seminal to ensuring appropriate constitutional engineering. Also important is the enactment, where applicable, of sub-national constitutions. Other parties may support legislative and judicial training programs on constitutional issues, advisory forums, and civic education and public awareness campaigns and programs.

Constitutions bring up a number of key debates. For instance, deliberation exists on what rights to enshrine in constitutions, the definition of citizenship, the type and form of legislature, and territorial arrangements systems. At the implementation stage, challenges are equally numerous. Specific considerations include cases in which the drafting of a new constitution is part of a peace agreement, the existence or not of a Constitutional Assembly, sequencing issues, the participation of the population, the specific role of women in constitution building, as well as gender equality in future governance. Finally, pressure by the international community may create some problems that need to be considered.

A series of case studies are presented in this sub-section. They give concrete elements of how these different dimensions of constitution building have been implemented so far in different contexts, presenting different points of view on each particular experience. Useful resources and references to additional information are provided.

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