Constitutionalism and Rule of Law in Divided Societies

Rule of Law





L to R: Maurice Adams, Bill Loris, Roelof Haveman ©IDEA
L to R: Maurice Adams, Bill Loris, Roelof Haveman ©IDEA

On 12 July, 2013 International IDEA and Tilburg Law School held a seminar at the IDEA Hague office to stimulate discussion around what role constitutions and rule of law can play in uniting, or dividing, societies. The event attracted over 25 participants from local universities and organizations working on or conducting research on the subject.


The first in a series of seminars to be organized by the IDEA Netherlands office, the decision to focus on divided societies was an easy one according to IDEA Senior Project Manager for Constitution Building Processes, Sumit Bisarya. “From Nepal to Egypt, Myanmar to South Sudan, we are faced with the same challenge – how can the constitution bring together different groups as one nation?”


L to R: E.M.H. Hersh Ballin, Tom Ginsburg ©IDEA
L to R: E.M.H. Hersh Ballin, Tom Ginsburg ©IDEA

Professor Tom Ginsburg presented the ‘constitution-maker’s tool-kit’ for bridging divided societies, showing how different aspects of constitutional design affected state legitimacy and national identity, two crucial indicators of national unity. Professor Ginsburg’s illustration of constitutional design in Egypt and Afghanistan was contrasted sharply with the next presentation from Professor Maurice Adams of Tilburg Law School who described a counter-example rather closer to home – that of Belgium. Professor Adams showed how in certain cases, poor constitutional design can accentuate,rather than heal, divisions in society. The third speaker, Bill Loris of the Loyola University LLM Program on Rule of Law, spoke about the role of the international community, stressing the paramount importance of national ownership of decision-making.


Lastly, Professor E.M.H. Hersh Ballin, Professor of Dutch and European Constitutional Law, Tilburg University, and former Minister of Justice and Minister for the Interior for the Netherlands, gave closing remarks, and highlighted the need to focus on urban-centers in order to bridge divisions in society.

Participants included local academics and practitioners, as well as a visiting delegation from Nepal, and a lively discussion was moderated by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs Policy Advisor for Rule of Law, Dr. Roelof Haveman.

Many participants commented on the direct usefulness and applicability of the seminar presentations to the work they were involved in, given the spread of constitution-making activity around the globe, and the scarcity of in-depth knowledge and resources on the subject.

IDEA will continue the series with a second seminar in September.