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Eternity clauses in post-conflict and post-authoritarian constitution-making: Promise and limits

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 April 2017

University College London, Faculty of Laws, Bidborough House, 38–50 Bidborough Street, LondonWC1H 9BT


The literature on entrenchment as a means to achieve constitutional endurance has grown in recent years, as has the scholarship on unamendable provisions as a mechanism intended to safeguard the constitutional project. However, little attention has been paid to the promise and limits of eternity clauses in transitional settings. Their appeal in this context is great. In an effort to safeguard hard-fought agreements, drafters often declare unamendable what they consider the fundamentals to the political deal: the number of presidential term limits, the commitment to human rights and to democracy, the form of the state (whether republican or monarchical), the territorial integrity of the state, the territorial division of power, secularism or the official religion. This article explores the distinctive role and problems posed by eternity clauses in transitional constitution-building, as guarantees of the pre-constitutional political settlement in such fragile periods. The article also compares unamendability to other techniques of constitution-making in uncertain times, such as sunset clauses, deferring hard choices and other forms of constitutional incrementalism.

Special Issue: Constitution-making and political settlements in times of transition
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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97 Among these are: the Central African Republic (art 108), El Salvador (art 248), Guatemala (art 281), Honduras (art 374), Mauritania (art 99), Guinea (art 154), Madagascar (art 163), Niger (art 136), Qatar (art 147), The Republic of Congo (art 185) and Rwanda (art 193).

98 Opinion on the Final Draft Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia, para 215.

99 Albert, ‘Constitutional Handcuffs’ (n 3) 688.

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111 The prohibition on re-election is compounded by additional constitutional provisions which attach severe penalties to its breach or attempted breach (see arts 239 and 42).

112 Albert, ‘Constitutional Handcuffs’ (n 3) 692. He states: ‘It was none other than this constitutional clause that pit the leading popular democratic institution in Honduras—the presidency—versus the other national democratic institutions, namely the legislature, courts, and leading independent bodies.’

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128 Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others 1996 (4) SA 672 (CC), 25 July 1996.

129 Ibid, para 21.

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132 Varol (n 131) 418.

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135 However, it has been argued that the temporary nature of the German Basic Law was meant in a geographic sense and did not refer to its substantive commitments: ‘[t]he Basic Law in general and especially the decision to institute democracy as well as for the rule of law was … definite’. Heun, W, The Constitution of Germany: A Contextual Analysis (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2011) 10Google Scholar. See also Benda, E, ‘The Protection of Human Dignity (Article 1 of the Basic Law)’ in Fifty Years of German Basic Law: The New Departure for Germany, Conference Report (American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, 1999) 36.Google Scholar

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139 Zulueta-Fülscher (n 131) 18.

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143 Schwartzberg (n 58) 12.

144 Widner (n 12) 1534.

145 Art 147 of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia, 14 December 2012.

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157 Volpi and Stein (n 38) 280, 289.

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Eternity clauses in post-conflict and post-authoritarian constitution-making: Promise and limits
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Eternity clauses in post-conflict and post-authoritarian constitution-making: Promise and limits
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Eternity clauses in post-conflict and post-authoritarian constitution-making: Promise and limits
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