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Letting off steam: Interim constitutions as a safety valve to the pressure-cooker of transitions in conflict-affected states?



Recent years have seen considerably more attention being given to constitution-making as a field of deliberate study and practice, particularly with regard to the challenges and opportunities posed by constitution-making in conflict-affected states. A consequence of this work has been a more explicit recognition of the interconnectedness of peace processes and constitutional processes as mechanisms of political settlement. Within this context, this article argues for the more deliberate use of interim constitutions as a peacebuilding mechanism with potential to be effective in highly divided contexts in grounding a more inclusive and sustainable political settlement. This article argues that while interim constitutions are indeed commonly found in conflict-affected contexts, their use appears ad hoc and their design poorly conceived. The article reflects upon the potential strengths and weaknesses offered by interim constitutions in fragile and conflict-affected states. Reflecting on both the existing scholarship and the author’s own practical field experience, the article concludes that if a more modest and realistic approach to what constitution-making can achieve in fragile and conflict-affected states is coupled with more attention to design, interim constitutions can provide space and time to undertake more comprehensive discussions regarding the longer-term settlements.


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Former UNDP constitutional assistance and political dialogue specialist. Currently, an inclusive and accountable governance consultant and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne Law School. I wish to thank Professor Christine Bell, Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh, for her generous guidance and editorial support.



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1 Franck, TM and Thiruvengadam, AK, ‘Norms of International Law Relating to the Constitution-Making Process’ in Miller, L (ed), Framing the State in Times of Transition (United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, 2010) at <> 8.

2 For example, as discussed below, the original 2011 Libya Constitutional Declaration envisaged a six-month constitution-making process, in Egypt multiple constitutions were drafted between 2011 and 2014 in the wake of the revolution in time spans of one, three and six months, and in the Central African Republic the 2014 peace agreement envisaged a revised constitution within approximately six months (to align with the anticipated deadline for elections).

3 ‘Completion’ of the transition has often been proxied with the holding of national elections, with a new constitution being considered a precedent step, in order to set in place transformational post-conflict political arrangements before holding elections for a new executive and/or parliament.

4 Varol, O, ‘Temporary Constitutions’ (2014) 102 California Law Review 409, 411–12. (The counterpart to the so-called Ackermanian ‘constitutional moment’ is the belief in constitution-making as a profound, long-enduring form of law-making that transcends ordinary politics); Hart, V, ‘Constitution-Making and the Transformation of Conflict’ (2001) 26 Peace & Change 153. (‘The constitution is thus enshrined, isolated, representing a moment of unity and consensus. This is the constitution as icon. The contract is signed, the covenant made.’)

5 Elkins, Z, Ginsburg, T and Melton, J, The Endurance of National Constitutions (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009) 2.

6 Arato, A, ‘Redeeming the Still Redeemable: Post Sovereign Constitution Making’ (2009) 22 International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 427. (There is a ‘new reliance on two drafting stages that foresee from the outset the interlinked production of two constitutions, an interim and a final one, where the rules of the first constrain the making of the second. The existence of a fully developed, explicitly interim constitution is the most important documentary evidence of the new paradigm of constitution making.’)

7 Varol (n 4); Jackson, V, ‘Constitution-Drafting in Post-conflict States Symposium: What’s in a Name? Reflections on Timing, Naming, and Constitution-making’ (2008) 49 William & Mary Law Review 1249; Ludsin, H, ‘Peacemaking and Constitution-Drafting: A Dysfunctional Marriage’ (2011) 33 University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 239; IDEA, Interim Constitutions in Post-Conflict Settings, Discussion Report (IDEA, Stockholm, 2014). Discussed further in Section III below.

8 For UN Development Programme’s engagement with constitution-making see UNDP, Guidance Note on Constitution-Making Support (UNDP, New York, NY, 2014).

9 Brandt, M, Cottrell, J, Ghai, Y and Regan, A, Constitution-Making and Reform: Options for the Process (Interpeace, Geneva, 2011).

10 International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States (OECD, Paris, 2011).

11 Ludsin (n 7); Samuels, K, ‘Post-Conflict Peace-Building and Constitution-Making’ (2006) 6(2) Chicago Journal of International Law 663.

12 Benomar, J, Constitution-Making and Peace Building: Lessons Learned From the Constitution-Making Processes of Post-Conflict Countries (UNDP, New York, NY, 2003) 15. (‘The cases surveyed point out that, when these two processes are collapsed into one, long-term concerns of institution building may be compromised. Also, in such cases, public participation is usually minimal.’)

13 Ludsin (n 7) 241. (‘The assumption of compatibility of the peacemaking and constitution-drafting processes is inappropriate. While theoretically the goals of the two processes can be harmonized, in practice peacemaking needs are likely to subordinate constitution-making goals. The subordination of one set of goals to the other risks the sustainability of peace and weakens the foundation of the state.’)

14 Bell, C, ‘Peace Agreements: Their Nature and Legal Status’ (2006) 100 American Journal of International Law 373 <>.

15 UNDP (n 8); Brandt, Cottrell, Ghai and Regan (n 9); Samuels (n 11).

16 Teitel, R, ‘Transitional Jurisprudence: The Role of Law in Political Transformation’ (1997) 106 Yale Law Journal 2009, 2057 <>.

17 Brandt, Cottrell, Ghai and Regan (n 9) i.

18 In 1975, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi published Al-Kitab al-Akhdar, better known as The Green Book: The Solution to the Problems of Democracy; The Social Basis to the Third Universal Theory. The Green Book was written as a political manifesto but officially operated as the constitution of Libya. It was widely recognised as unimplementable in practice. D Poort, ‘Libyans turn page on Gaddafi’s ‘‘Green Book’’’, Al Jazeera, 14 September 2011, <>.

19 Varol (n 4) 412.

20 IDEA (n 7).

21 C Goss, unpublished, ‘Chapter 8: Success and failure of interim constitutions’ 315 (part of an untitled book to be published on the topic of interim constitutions, copy on file with the author).

22 Hart (n 4) 153.

23 Ludsin (n 7).

24 Elkins, Ginsberg and Melton (n 5).

25 Huq, A and Ginsburg, T, ‘What Can Constitutions Do?: The Afghan Case’ (2014) 24 Journal of Democracy 116, 116.

26 Varol posits four benefits: (1) facilitating consensus building where decision costs are high, (2) promoting incrementalism and experimentation where error costs are high, (3) reducing cognitive biases where cognitive biases predominate in constitutional design, and (4) relaxing the ‘dead hand’ problem by easing intertemporal control by the constitutional framers. Varol (n 4) 414.

27 Ludsin (n 7) 288. (‘The primary advantage of a multistage process is that an interim constitution can secure the immediate constitutional changes necessary for a cease-fire without rushing into a final drafting process and sacrificing long-term constitutional goals. An interim process allows negotiators room to address immediate crises without entrenching provisions for governance that would be inappropriate for a stable and representative state.’)

28 Benomar (n 12).

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid 6.

31 Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 200 of 1993) Schedule 4 – Constitutional Principles of the Interim Constitution.

32 Barnes, C and De Klerk, E, ‘South Africa’s multi-party constitutional negotiation process: Owning the process: Public participation in peacemaking’ 13 Accord 26 (Conciliation Resources, 2002).

33 Ex Parte Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly: In re Certification of the Constitution 1996, 1996 (4) SA 744 (CC); 1996 (10) BCLR 1253 (CC); see also IDEA, ‘Constitutional history of South Africa’ (ConstitutionNet, Stockholm, 2015).

34 Ex Parte Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly: In the Certification of the Amended Text of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, 1997(2) AS 97 (CC); 1997 (1) BCLR 1 (CC); see also IDEA (n 33).

35 Democracy Reporting International, ‘Lessons Learned From Constitution-Making: Processes with Broad Based Public Participation’ (2011) Briefing Paper No. 20: 6.

36 Benomar (n 12) 6.

37 Ludsin (n 7) 288–9.

38 Samuels, K, ‘An opportunity for peacebuilding dialogue? Somalia’s constitution-making process’ 21 Accord 8 (Conciliation Resources, 2010).

39 Ibid.

40 Abdi, E, ‘Revisiting the UN-Controlled Constitution-Making Process for Somalia’ E-International Relations online, 2 September 2012, available at <>.

41 This assessment is based on the author’s own experience of this period, during which she worked at the United Nations Development Programme Headquarters to provide support of the UNDP Somalia Country Office’s constitution-making programme.

42 Abdi (n 40).

43 Jama-Aflaawe, M ‘Somalia’s democratic transformation: Options for 2016’ Sahan Journal online, 22 April 2015, available at <>.

44 Federal Republic of Somalia Provisional Constitution 2012, ch 15.

45 Transitional Federal Charter of the Somali Republic 2004, ch 7, Pt II.

46 Federal Republic of Somalia Provisional Constitution 2012, chs 7 and 8.

47 30 August 2001, art 1.

48 Regan, T, ‘Chapter 13: Autonomy and Conflict Resolution in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea’ in Ghai, Y and Woodman, S (eds), Practising Self-Government: A Comparative Study of Autonomous Regions (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013).

49 Ibid.

50 Woodbury, J, ‘Bougainville Independence Referendum 2019: What are the risks and challenges’ (2015) Indo-Pacific Strategic Papers available at <>.

51 C Bell, ‘What we talk about when we talk about Political Settlements’ Political Settlements Research Project (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, 2015); C Castillejo, ‘Promoting inclusion in political settlements: a priority for international actors?’ (NOREF, Oslo, 2014).

52 Ludsin (n 7) 272.

53 Samuels, K, Constitution Building Processes and Democratization: A Discussion of Twelve Case Studies, Second Draft (International IDEA, Stockholm, 2001) 29.

54 UNDP, Somalia UN MPTF Programme Quarterly Progress Report: Period: Quarter 4-2015 (2015) UNDP Somalia Country, available at <>.

55 UNSOM, ‘2016 is a ‘‘decisive year’’ for the future of Somalia’, Press Release, 25 February 2016 available at <>.

56 Central African Republic Constitution of 2013, art 102.

57 Agence France-Presse, ‘C. African parliament starts work on new constitution’ ReliefWeb online, 14 March 2014, <>.

58 Reuters Africa, ‘Central African Republic council adopts new constitution’, 31 August 2015, at <>.

59 Ludsin (n 7) 277–81.

60 Ibid 281.

61 UNDP (n 8); Brandt, Cottrell, Ghai and Regan (n 9); Benomar (n 12) 15.

62 Franck and Thiruvengadam (n 1) 8.

63 Storm, L, ‘The Constitutional Process in Egypt and Tunisia’, E-International Relations online, 8 March 2014, available at <>.

64 Today’s Zaman, ‘ Official: Temporary constitution changes planned in Egypt’, 15 February 2011, available at <>.

65 Z Al-Ali, ‘The new Egyptian constitution: an initial assessment of its merits and flaws’ (IDEA, Stockholm, 2013).

66 Sabry, B, ‘Ten Things Libya Can Learn from Egypt’s Constitution’, Al-Monitor, 20 January 2013, available at <>.

67 Storm (n 63).

68 J Lunn, ‘Nepal’s endless peace process, 2006–12’ (UK House of Commons Library, 2013).

69 Ibid.

70 Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Powersharing Transitional Government: Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2015) University of Notre Dame Peace Accords Matrix, available at <>.

71 Chandrasekharan, S, ‘Nepal: Constitution Drafting Getting Delayed: Update No. 301’ (2014) South Asia Analysis Group, available at <>.

72 Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (n 70).

73 IDEA, ‘Nepal’s constitutional impasse: an insider’s perspective’ (2012) ConstitutionNet, available at <>.

74 Malagodi, M, ‘Nepal’s Constitutional Crisis’, Journal of Indian Law and Society online, 10 September 2015, available at <>.

75 Parashar, U, ‘Nepal: major parties refuse to accept Supreme Court order and plan to deliver a draft constitution by mid-July’ (2015) ConstitutionNet, available at <>.

76 Sharma, B and Najar, N, ‘Amid Protests, Nepal Adopts Constitution’, New York Times, 20 September 2015, available at <>.

77 Ibid.

78 Kumar, S, ‘Understanding Nepal’s Constitutional Crisis: A Conversation with Prashant Jha’, The Diplomat, 28 September 2015, available at <>.

79 ‘Nepal to amend new constitution after pressures from Madhesi community and India’, Financial Times, 23 December 2015, available at <>.

80 Sharma and Najar (n 76).

81 ‘Briefing: Can federalism work in Somalia?’, IRIN online, 5 February 2014, available at <>.

82 A Yousif and D Rothbart, ‘Sudan and South Sudan: Post-Separation Challenges’ (2012) Beyond Intractability Collaborative, available at <>.

83 Knox, C, ‘The Secession of South Sudan: A Case Study in African Sovereignty and International Recognition’ (2012) Political Science Student Work, Paper 1, 27–32, available at <>.

84 Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2005, Chapter 1: The Machakos Protocol, 20 July 2002.

85 Ibid, art 1.5.5.

86 Knox (n 83); Allison, S, ‘Analysis: Was the secession of South Sudan a mistake?’, Daily Maverick, 7 January 2014, available at <>.

87 Zambakari, C, ‘South Sudan’s Interim Constitution and the Challenge of Transition’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 8 January 2016, available at <>.

88 Libya Constitutional Declaration 2011.

89 Pack, J and Cook, H, ‘The July 2012 Libyan Election and the Origin of Post-Qadhafi Appeasement’ (2015) 69 Middle East Journal 171 (‘The National Transitional Council’s policy of appeasement successfully averted widespread armed conflict, yet it inadvertently derailed Libya’s future constitutional process’). For a contrasting view highlighting instead the multi-sectoral statebuilding and security challenges which arguably undermined peacebuilding in Libya see Jebnoun, N, ‘Beyond the Mayhem: Debating Key Dilemmas in Libya’s Statebuilding’ (2015) 20(5) Journal of North African Studies 832.

90 National Transitional Council website at <>.

91 Libya Constitutional Declaration 2011, Article 30 as enacted 8 August 2011, available at <>; see also Pickard, D, ‘Libya’s constitution controversy’, Foreign Policy, 5 September 2012.

92 Libya Constitutional Declaration 2011, Article 30 as amended on 3 July 2012, available at <>; see also Gluck, J, ‘Constitution-building in a political vacuum: Libya and Yemen in 2014’ in Annual Review of Constitution-Building Processes: 2014 (IDEA, Stockholm, 2015) 45.

93 UN News Online, ‘Libya: UN welcomes decision on formation of constitution-drafting body’, Press Release, 6 February 2013, available at <>.

94 Eljarh, M, ‘The Libyan Assembly needs to ensure that the constitution drafting process is as inclusive as possible’ (2014) ConstitutionNet, available at <>.

95 Ibrahim, S, ‘Will Libya’s Constitutional Drafting Assembly survive the turbulent times?’ (2014) ConstitutionNet, available at <>.

96 Libya Constitutional Declaration 2011.

97 ‘Libyan UN-backed government starts work from naval base’, Al-Jazeera, 1 April 2016, available at <>.

98 ‘In Depth: Over a year late Libya struggles to finish Constitution’, Libya Channel, 9 February 2016, available at <>.

99 Di John, J and Putzel, J, Political Settlements: Issues paper. Discussion Paper (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, 2009).

100 Benomar (n 12).

101 Arato (n 6) 427.

102 Varol (n 4) 412.

* Former UNDP constitutional assistance and political dialogue specialist. Currently, an inclusive and accountable governance consultant and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne Law School. I wish to thank Professor Christine Bell, Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh, for her generous guidance and editorial support.


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Letting off steam: Interim constitutions as a safety valve to the pressure-cooker of transitions in conflict-affected states?



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