Constitutionalizing Rights in the 21st Century – A Comparative Workshop for Constitution Makers

On 20 and 21 June 2024, the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and The Constitution Building Programme of The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), hosted a workshop on navigating contestations around human rights issues in constitutional reform processes. This workshop marked the beginning of a new partnership between Bonavero and International IDEA. The workshop brought together constitution-makers from Commonwealth countries, especially the Caribbean, where processes of constitutional reform are under discussion. 

On the first day, after a warm welcome by Kate O’Regan, Director of the Bonavero Institute, and Sumit Bisarya, Head of the Constitution Building Programme at International IDEA, Sumit shared trends and current debates in constitution making and formulating rights provisions. Kate presented five key questions that constitutional drafters need to address relating to the architecture of bills of rights: should limitations and derogations of rights be permitted, and if so in respect of which rights and how? Who should bear obligations under bills of right? What is the nature of the obligations imposed by bills of rights? What is the role of interpretive clauses in bills of rights? And how should enforcement, including standing and remedies be regulated in bills of rights? 

Group photo of the participants of the workshop

Subsequently, Jeff King, professor at University College London, discussed contemporary debates relating to the inclusion of economic and social rights in constitutions. This was followed by presentation by constitution-makers from Sri Lanka and Tanzania, and discussion.

The last session of the first day featured presentations by Lavanya Rajamani, professor at the University of Oxford, Katya Aristova from the Bonavero Institute, and Sharon Hickey from International IDEA. This session covered the right to a healthy environment from a range of governance perspectives, including international and regional viewpoints. Constitution-makers from Guyana and Jamaica also contributed, sharing examples from their respective countries.

On the second day, Christina Murray, professor emeritus, University of Cape Town, presented on rights and the challenge of participatory constitution-making, drawing on her academic work and involvement in constitution making in, among other places, South Africa, Fiji and Kenya. Her presentation focused on ways in which constitution-making bodies can try to manage public participation. This was followed by presentations from constitution makers from Belize and Barbados and a lively discussion of the various challenges other constitution makers have encountered.

Tracy Robinson, professor from the University of the West Indies, then presented on gender and the bill of rights, mapping gender in constitutional reform in the post-colonial context of the Caribbean and offering some lessons for constitution-makers. This was followed by presentations from constitution-makers from The Gambia and Zambia and a discussion.

Finally, Sebastien Becker from International IDEA presented on constitutional rights in the digital age, raising the question how to secure fundamental rights in the digital age and what role should be played by tech corporations, the State and (constitutional) law. This was followed by presentations from constitution-makers from Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and discussion among constitution makers.