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March 01, 2009

ABA ROLI Contributes to Constitution-Drafting Process in Nepal

March 2009

 In mid-February, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) conducted a series of three workshops on key aspects of Nepal’s ongoing constitution-drafting process. The workshops, which were attended by members of Nepal’s national legislature, the Constituent Assembly (CA), as well as Nepal Bar Association (NBA) district leaders, provided information about international norms for human rights and judicial independence.

ABA ROLI first conducted two consecutive three-day workshops (one in partnership with the National Democratic Institute) aimed at promoting women’s participation in the constitution-drafting process. These Kathmandu workshops were attended by more than 40 female CA members, who discussed methods for improving the 2007 interim constitution. ABA ROLI Asia Advisory Board member and 15-year veteran of the Hawaii Family Court, Judge Evelyn Lance, served as a pro bono volunteer by leading the workshops along with consultant Keith Leslie, a Nepal-based human rights expert with more than 20 years of experience.

One key focus of the workshops was judicial independence and a comparative analysis of judicial systems. To foster discussion, ABA ROLI provided participants with models from various countries that support institutional independence of the judiciary. During her presentation on this subject, Judge Lance illustrated how judicial independence can be preserved by an effective discipline system that provides an avenue for public complaints and that ensures judges who violate accepted norms are properly investigated and sanctioned. The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct were provided and discussed as an international model of such norms.

“Initially, many of the workshop participants were not able to grasp how judicial independence makes rule of law operational in protecting fundamental constitutional rights,” said Judge Lance. She went on to note that the CA members’ understanding of these issues broadened as the discussions became more in-depth. 

Mr. Leslie’s presentations on integrating human rights and social inclusion into the new constitution prompted lively discussion.

“I think the attendees gained greater knowledge about social inclusion issues, as well as some insight into international treaty documents and the state of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission—all of which are valuable,” said Mr. Leslie.

A third workshop, a two-day event hosted by ABA ROLI and the NBA, focused on communication skills, human rights and judicial independence. Judge Lance and Mr. Leslie conducted portions of the workshop, which was attended by 20 leaders of local district bar associations and the NBA president. The goal of the workshop was to train the local bar leaders to accompany CA members and to effectively moderate constitution-focused town hall meetings throughout the country.

“As the workshop’s primary goal was to prepare NBA district leaders to assist CA members with their outreach efforts, I attempted to present the information [related to judicial independence] in user-friendly terms,” Judge Lance said. “For example: what is a constitution and what is it not; the relationship between judicial independence, rule of law and human rights; the role of the judge in a democratic society; as well as specifics of judicial organization, selection and accountability.”

Since 2006, ABA ROLI has conducted a civic education program to build grassroots support for democratic and legal reform in Nepal. ABA ROLI programs have aimed to develop the rule of law through increased public support of the reform and peace processes during a time of great change for the nation. More specifically, ABA ROLI has worked in partnership with the NBA to build informed citizen networks at the community level, to engage in broad-based public awareness campaigns and to ensure grassroots participation in the April 2008 CA elections and current constitution-drafting process.

While the content of the new Nepali constitution will not be known for some time, it is likely that ABA ROLI’s efforts to educate both policymakers and those charged with citizen outreach will have both a positive impact on the language of this essential document and the manner in which it is received and understood by Nepali citizens.

To learn more about our programs in Nepal, e-mail us at [email protected]