The urgent need to re-affirm people’s rights and responsibilities
South Sudan drew everyone’s attention when became the world’s newest nation on 9th July 2011. However, long before that this African region came to be known for its more than two decades of civil war which resulted in the death of over two million people and generated an enormous humanitarian crisis. Thankfully the war ended in 2005 and South Sudan stands now as an independent country with the huge task to build a nation.
In this process of nation building, there is an important ongoing event to which little attention has been given by local and international media. It is the making of the National Constitution. Why is the Constitution so important for South Sudan? It is important because the supreme law should take into account principles of democracy, human rights, political participation at every level and lay the basis for effective governance.
In other words, it should lay out the structures and powers of the government and the rights and duties of the people. It should also help to make a break from the past, embody the hopes and aspirations of the people and provide them with a vision for the future. This does not necessarily means that the Constitution will bring about immediate and effective changes, but it is indeed an important step in the nation-building process which should show the way forward for the country to develop with peace, justice and prosperity for all.
Another reason why the Constitution is important lies in the fact that citizens should be involved in the law making process and offered a unique opportunity to design the kind of country they need. In this regard, Salva Kiir, the President of South Sudan, said that the Constitution is to “be a way for all South Sudanese to come together to unite in a common purpose so as to build the nation”. Therefore, people are given the opportunity to reaffirm their rights and responsibilities.
Actually, the Constitution of South Sudan has been in the making since 2005. After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), an Interim Constitution was drafted, revised and officially passed by the Transitional Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly. A few years later, just after the January 9th Referendum, the Interim Constitution was revised, adopted with few changes and promulgated by the President as the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan on July 9th 2011.
It needs to be said, though, that up to this point there was no concerted effort to involve the citizens in the process of making the Transitional Constitution. However, a National Constitutional Review Commission was established on 9th January 2012 and given the task to travel around the country and collect views from the citizens. The law making process was to enter into a new phase.
At the launching of this commission the President said that “this Constitution is to be a document for all the people of South Sudan. The process of making the Constitution, therefore, must be inclusive. Every person, regardless of ethnicity, gender, education, status or wealth, has the right to voice opinions on the text, to participate in the process”.
Ten months later it seems that little has been achieved by the National Constitutional Review Commission. Actually, this Commission has barely started its work and it seems very unlikely that it will be able to complete its task by the deadline of 9th January 2013. A proper public consultation process has not happened so far as expected. Has it been intentional on the part of the government so that a draft of the Constitution will come out on its own terms? Many people would say so.
The good news is that there is a great willingness among faith leaders and civil society to work towards a solid Constitution that will serve the interests of the South Sudanese people. In fact, some constitutional workshops have been conducted across the country to allow further dialogue on the Constitution at grassroots levels, to educate citizens on constitutional issues and raise concerns on critical parts of the national law of South Sudan.
When the National Constitutional Review Commission was convened by President Kiir he said that “a crucial phase of nation-building process, which will lead to a Permanent Constitution in 2013” has begun. The process is still on. The next phase will be the Constitutional Assembly. However, if the Constitution is to be a document for all the people of South Sudan, then the period of the Constitution Commission and for the Constitutional Assembly needs to be extended to allow the citizens greater participation on the National Constitution.
By Raimundo Rocha, MCCJ