Guyana has chance to craft the best constitution

Guyana Chronicle
June 19, 1999

ONE of the specialists identified to help told a recent women's rights forum here that Guyana has a chance to craft the best constitution in the world.

Canadian Professor Kathleen Mahoney, who spoke at Park Hotel, Georgetown, last week Friday night, is one of the 10 constitutional experts selected by the Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the UN Association of Guyana (UNAG) to provide guidance for drafting the new charter.

German Professor Theodor Hanf, Jamaican lawyer Stephen Carl Dundas and Local Government veteran Rodney Brooke from the United Kingdom have already addressed the 20-member Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) and delivered similar public lectures.

Guatemalan Agusto Willemsen-Diaz, whose has expertise in indigenous rights, is another of the visitors here for the same purpose.

Mahoney said this country is undertaking the process at a time when it has access to a plethora of dated and reformed constitutions and can educe the finest provisions to build its own.

"You are very fortunate to be doing the constitution renewal in this time, because...women are well aware of what they want and...need, indigenous people the same, unions political parties (and) religious groups can all bring an educated reality to these discussions," she posited.

"The outcome of the ongoing arrangement is that this country may very well have the best constitution in the world because you (Guyanese) are now able to call upon the collective wisdom of all the other countries which have created constitutions in ancient... and...modern times," Mahoney maintained.

According to her, the race to finish the most updated document of the kind first is between Guyana and Ireland.

The Canada-trained attorney-at-law has, during her distinguished career, researched extensively on gender equality and human rights, judicial neutrality, freedom of expression and constitutional law, among other issues.

She has accomplished leadership roles in various international and community activities, including serving as Chairperson of International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development and as Coordinator of North American Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

Referring to what is being done in Guyana, Mahoney pointed out that the "process of nation building is one of those events in the history of a nation that is unforgettable (and) the basic nature of a country, its values, understanding and the...individual and collective identity of the nation" are wrapped up in it.

Tracing the history of global constitutional development, she said her country's was patterned on the European model, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), amongst other legal documentation, because those were the most modern instruments in 1980 when Canada reworked it.

Mahoney said the celebrated South African one, understandably, took its pattern from Canada's, which was the most recent.

"...if you look at the South African constitution, you will see very strong resemblance to the Bill of Rights but you will see changes and improvements," she said.

Mahoney said Ireland is on the verge of preparing its own and the lawmakers there are analysing the Canadian and South African profiles in their quest to perfect it.

The lecturer said constitution building is a continuous procedure utilising accumulative knowledge and the end result of the current thrust locally can spur further achievements in this sphere globally.

"...people don't quite realise the extent to which countries would start relying on each other's jurisprudence," she acknowledged.

Speaking on her theme:`Why should Women's Rights be included in the Constitution?', she referred to the universality of norms and standards achieved through culling constitutional ideas from diverse States.

As a consequence, women's rights are enshrined in individual constitutions under the principle of equality which is recognised as "one of the most fundamental...of modern democracy and based on the rule of law," she submitted.

Mahoney added that women's rights are now protected through the equality guarantee in many States and must also be clearly spelt out to free them from "overbearing" State apparatus.

In her own country, they have identified equality before the law, equality under the law, equal protection of the law and equal benefit of the law to give the notion of some "content" in the Bill of Rights.

The first aspect focuses on the issue of legal procedures available to citizens while the second mandates that the substance of the statutes must be applied equally to those targeted in the legislation.

The equal protection statute is designed to end the customary discrimination against women in such areas as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment and the equal benefit part seeks to eliminate bigotry in others, Mahoney said.

Some women in the audience expressed concerns about the lack of activism among Guyanese women and said it can be an obstacle but Ms Vanda Radzik of Red Thread observed that, as a group, women "stake a lot of hope in the new Guyana Constitution."

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples