On 13 February, Constitutional Transitions, along with the United Nations University, the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, convened a high-level panel discussion, Managing Power-Sharing: Dealing with Challenges in Consociational Political Settlements. The event was held at the Permanent Canadian Mission to the United Nations, and was well-attended by senior diplomats, United Nations officials, academics, and the NGO community.
The panel addressed emerging challenges faced by constitutions organized around consociations— power-sharing arrangements used to manage ethno-nationalist, ethno-linguistic, and ethno-religious conflicts. H.E. Guillermo Rishchynski, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, opened the morning’s proceedings, and touched upon the complexity and significance of consociational political settlements. Jason Gluck, the Senior Political Affairs Officer and Constitutional Focal Point of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, offered a set of framing questions for the panelists to consider, pressing each one to remark on the success of consociational arrangements from a long-term perspective.
The floor was then handed over to Constitutional Transitions Director Sujit Choudhry, who introduced the panel and moderated the ensuing discussion. Joining Professor Choudhry on the panel were CT Visiting Fellows George Anderson and Professor Christopher McCrudden, as well as Professor Marie-Joelle Zahar of the Standby Team of the Mediation Support Unit for the UN-DPA.
McCrudden, a Professor of Constitutional Law and author of the recent book, Courts and Consociations: Human Rights versus Power-Sharing, drew upon his experience in Bosnia to emphasize the proper role of courts, including international courts, in the interpretation of consociational political arrangements. McCrudden emphasized the importance of a court’s understanding of the history and political volatility surrounding the original crafting of the settlement arrangement before using human rights norms to overturn them. Zahar emphasized the strategic benefits of inclusivity in consociational political settlements, stressing the importance of early and flexible inclusivity arrangements. Anderson brought his substantial expertise in federalism to the table to illustrate the ways in which consociational power arrangements are a regular and expected feature of a constitution building process.
The aim of the panel discussion was described by Professor Choudhry “to bridge the gap between theory and practice” on a complex reticula of issues concerning constitution building, including challenges regarding the application of human rights norms and the pressures of patronage politics. Choudhry stressed that particular attention should be paid to future downstream implications of these interactions and processes. Additionally, all of the panelists touched on issues pertaining to elites, ethnicity in conflict, roles of women in peace-making processes, and power-sharing arrangements and questions.