Constitution Writing & Conflict Resolution
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Eritrea 1997

The Eritrean constitution of 1997 was intended to serve as the founding document for Africa’s newest state. Eritrea became independent after the military defeat of the Derg government in Ethiopia, a defeat in which the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) played a major role. Independence was confirmed in a referendum held in 1993. The EPLF controlled Eritrean territory at the end of the war and became the provisional government; it was also the only legal party. It established the procedures used to draft the Eritrean constitution by decree. The EPLF also declared a Transitional Charter that served as an interim constitution.

The main authority over the draft of the new constitution was the transitional National Assembly, a body consisting of 75 members of the EPLF central committee and 75 representatives elected by regional assemblies. Most of the work on the constitution, however, was done by a 50-member Constitutional Commission appointed by the National Assembly. This commission included representatives of the EPLF, major economic and social groups, women, and the diaspora. The commission began its work with an extensive public education campaign including open meetings, radio broadcasts, additions to school curricula, and the opportunity to submit comments. Public input was gathered in at least three stages: during the initial education process, after the creation of position papers on key issues, and after the completion of the initial draft. Drafting was done initially by the 10-member executive committee and then by the commission as a whole; drafting sessions were not open to the public. The ELF, a rival to the EPLF during the war with the Derg, complained that it did not have representation on the commission, although it is not apparent how much popular support it had.

After 27 months of hearings and drafting, the commission submitted its report to the National Assembly. There is little information about the proceedings in this body; meetings are closed and no records are published. The text emerged from the National Assembly with few amendments. It was submitted for ratification to a Constituent Assembly, consisting of 75 unelected national legislators, 398 elected regional legislators, and 75 members elected by members of the diaspora. The Constituent Assembly was able to make changes in the draft, and met for two days in Asmara. The final vote in favor of the constitution was unanimous. The constitution approved in 1997, however, made no provision for its entry into force, and as of the beginning of 2003 has yet to be implemented.

 

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