RN Seminar: Constitutionalism – Justice in transition


RN held its second seminar on 9 August 2012 in its offices in Beirut, devoted to constitutionalism and justice in transition in the Middle East revolution, with a strong participation of youth involved in the process of change. RN’s program director for MECF  Tobias Peyerl and Research Associate Leonard Ghione presented — in advance of the seminar — a paper on constitutionalism and  justice in transition respectively.

RN Chairman Chibli Mallat also provided a background paper against secession offering the example of Sudan as a failure to find the appropriate social contract and forcing cascading problems within and between the two independent states. In the presentation by Peyerl, he presented forcefully the problem of sectarianism as a particular issue for the region. Participants discussed the possibilities in constitutional law to transcend the century-long problem through a number of measures that could be tested in the constitutional processes underway. The example of federalism in the constitution in Iraq, so far not rising to its original promises, was offered. Strict quotas based on sectarianism in Lebanon were seen as a dead end for the constitutional right of the citizen to be elected to any government position, a fundamental right of citizenship.

Several participants emphasized the need to consider constitution making as a process that does not require the immediate agreement on a final text. The difficulty of conceptualizing the stages was noted and it was proposed to consider an approach that seeks an agreement on the basic rights of citizens and their effective protection in the court system rather than the top down issue of governance.

Wissam Saliby, a human rights and humanitarian law researcher/trainer, raised the issue of regional courts as a way to support fledgling domestic court systems after the revolution, but it was noted that such a process is a decade-long effort at best.

The issue of remedies in justice during the transition served as the appropriate point the second session chaired by Claudio Cordone, Program Director and Special Advisor to the President of the International Center for Transition Justice (ICTJ) who was visiting Beirut. Ghione summarized his findings in the paper about the need to enlarge accountability after the revolution with a model that sees to be holding some promises in Tunisia. Prof. Ibrahim Warde from Tufts University explained the difficulty of bringing corrupt cases in a system that led to vast corruption within Tunisia and with international donors and partners, with leading figures from the ancien régime. Prof. Warde also highlighted the more structural problem rising from 30 years of Western advocacy of ‘greed is good’ and the consequent worldwide atmosphere of an absence of accountability despite obvious corruption schemes, often veiled by a patina of legitimacy by expensive and powerful lawyers.

A discussion followed on the search for a concept akin to “serious violation of international human rights” in the field of corruption, which would trigger investigation and criminal accountability if it were obvious that large-scale corruption had prevailed amongst the leaders toppled by the revolution.

Of note, in the seminar was the intervention by leading Chinese dissident and RN Board Member Dr. Yang Jianli, who emphasized the importance of the Arab Spring for change in China especially with regard to RN’s work on nonviolent advocacy, the replacement of secessionist tendencies by sophisticated forms of legal autonomy in China, and efforts towards defining the constitutional moment as the authoritarian regime loses ground. This unique connection between the Middle East nonviolent revolutionary movement and China’s future leadership is acknowledged as an unprecedented coming together, a meeting of minds and actions of the respective nonviolent movements.

Engraving Aspirations: Constitutionalizing the Revolutions in the Middle East, Tobias Peyerl

Constitutionalism- The Specter of Secession in the ME revolution, Chibli Mallat

Justice in Transition and Corruption, Leonard Ghione

Links to audio podcasts:

Part I – Constitutionalism: The End of the Revolution

Part II – Justice in Transition and Corruption: Changing the Agenda


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