Statement at the Venice Commission Plenary by Sumit Bisarya, Senior Project Manager, Constitution Building, International IDEA
Statement at the Venice Commission Plenary by Sumit Bisarya, Senior Project Manager, Constitution
Building, International IDEA
7 October, 2017
Thank you. First of all, please allow me to congratulate you Mr. President, your staff in the secretariat and
the commission experts on another year of high achievement. Your country and thematic reports are always
of interest to us, and the longevity of your record of success is to be universally admired and appreciated.
For those that do not know, International IDEA is an intergovernmental organization with a mandate to
support sustainable democracy. We focus on three programmatic areas, elections, political parties, and
constitution building, which is the work that I head. We have offices dotted around the globe from our HQ in
Stockholm and our constitutions office in The Hague, to regional offices in LA, Africa and Asia and country
offices implementing projects in various places from Lima to Yangon. Of interest to the Venice Commission
is the recent launch of a Wider Europe Programme, which has focused primarily in its first year on issues of
campaign finance and electoral integrity.
Mr. President, in terms of our work in constitution building, as we call it, I would like to provide a brief update
of the country-level and thematic work which may be of interest to you and the Commission.
Firstly, though, I would note that constitution reform globally is becoming more challenging. For our annual
review report last year I counted no less than 20 countries where significant reforms were being debated.
Many of these cases are intrinsic parts of peace processes to resolve violent conflicts, which means that the
price of failure is measured in numerous deaths, forced migration and regional instability. Never has the
frequency and the import of constitutional reforms been at such a high.
With regards to our work this year which might be of interest to this room, in terms of country-level work we
continue to provide constitutional advice and support to the peace processes in Yemen and Myanmar, and I
this week was in Manila where we held very initial discussions with political parties on their plans for a
federalization and change of system of government. I head out next week to conduct an induction workshop
for the Somalis as they seek to re-launch their constitutional process. Perhaps less central to global
attention, last month my staff spent a fascinating week in the island of Tuvalu at the request of the United
Nations, and we will provide a series of reports to aid that government in their plans for constitutional
With regards to research, it is in the development of comparative knowledge resources where IDEA has
built its reputation. We focus on three general programmatic areas: constitutional design, constitution
process, and constitutional awareness. The term we use - constitution building - connotes that constitutions
are more than words on a page. We believe that the process can be as important as the content in building
support and legitimacy for the new constitutional order, highlighted in the discussions on Georgia and
Venezuela yesterday perhaps. And we believe that constitutional democracy requires the broad
development of a shared understanding of a set of values, which requires much more than politicians and
experts to construct a deal, it requires citizens to own and protect the values and the spirit espoused in the
constitution. The rise of populist leaders commented on yesterday highlights the need for us to redouble our
efforts to ensure constitutional democracy can become embedded in societies, both at home and abroad.
With regards to constitutional design, we have continued to develop our series of primers which focus on
different design choices, explaining the issues and providing an overview of comparative practice. They are
designed to be handy and accessible, a quick but quality brief on issues ranging from presidential vetoes
and formation and dismissal of governments, to social/economic rights and the relationship between religion
and the state. We now have 18 of these primers and more in the pipeline.As you know, we developed a comparative survey of semi-presidential systems with reflections for Ukraine.
I thank Mr. Markert for his careful and valuable review, and also Mr. Holovaty who participated most
constructively in our in-country consultations.
In terms of process, our main focus is primarily on post-conflict processes. In the coming weeks we will
publish our annual policy paper in this area which focuses on sub-state constitutions, and our annual
workshop in December will focus on the sequencing of elections and constitutions.
Lastly, perhaps our biggest challenge is in developing resources for the general public in order to promote
constitutional awareness. It may shock those present, but outside of this room, in most counties there are
few members of the general public who find constitutions anything but technical and
singularly uninteresting. In this regard I highlight a couple of items: we developed a tool called the
Constitution Assessment for Women's Equality which allows non-experts to audit their constitutional texts
for compliance with gender equity and agency approaches in other constitutions as well as against
international standards. Secondly, in an effort to reach youth, we produced a series of educational videos
explaining what constitutions are, how they are made and why they are important. These videos have
proved to be very successful, going 'viral' to use the parlance of our times, to the extent that for any young
Spaniard who picks up their phone today and types the word 'constitucion' into YouTube, the first thing they
get back is our explanatory videos. The same is true for those in the Arab world for our Arabic versions.
In concluding, I would mention that we cannot tackle these challenges alone. We continue to work closely
with the United Nations, the Center for Constitutional Transitions in the USA, the International Development
Law Organization, the Comparative Constitutions Project, as well various academic institutions including
Edinburgh University for our post-conflict research. We also endeavor to build regional networks such as
the Arab Network of Constitutional Lawyers and the Constitution Transformation Network in the Asia Pacific.
I found last year's joint conference with the Venice Commission most useful and I reiterate Professor
Tuoori's concluding remarks that day in suggesting it be the start rather than the end of the conversation. I
have greatly enjoyed being at the plenary and gaining first hand insights into your work, I hope our own
updates have been of interest to you, and we look forward to further opportunities for discourse and
collaboration in the future.
Thank you for your kind attention