External assistance and culture

This theme examined the implications of the interdependence of culture and constitution building for the roles of external actors in a constitution building process.

L-R: Ms Eugenie Marieau (Thailand), Mr Shamsad Pasarlay
(Afghanistan) Mr Aderito Soares (Timor Leste)

External influence may come in a variety of different forms. One, which is common and on which this theme focused is the provision of knowledge and advice by external actors on both the substance and process of constitutional change.

External advisers come with their own understandings and assumptions about constitution building, informed by their own societal and constitutional cultures. Those with long experience in the field may have understandings and assumptions shaped by other constitution building projects as well. They may also be influenced by the international ‘guidelines’ or ‘standards’ that are beginning to shape action across the field as well.

Mr Rohan Edrasinha (UN-DPA)

If culture is significant for effective constitution building, questions arise about how external actors engage with it, in order to grasp it and to evaluate it in providing advice and options on constitution building substance and process.

The case studies explored different aspects of this challenge. Two consider it from the perspective of countries engaged in constitution building receiving external assistance (Timor Leste and Afghanistan). One explains the challenges for an outsider individual or organisation when engaging with another societal or constitutional culture. A fourth tackled the issue from the standpoint of the United Nations, as a frequent vehicle for external advice, also committed to implementation of international norms and standards.

Mr Aderito Soares (Timor Leste)

The questions at which this theme is generally directed are:

  • How necessary is it for external actors to understand local societal and constitutional culture as it impacts on the process and substance of constitution building? Does the answer depend on the role that external actors play?
  • What methods or techniques have been used, or might be used, to assist external actors in this regard?
  • To what extent do international guidelines and standards that have been developed for external assistance to constitution building projects and related activities by the United Nations and other actors leave sufficient room for culture to be taken appropriately into account?

Case studies: