Indiana Daily Student

IU to aid with Liberia amendments

IU’s Center for Constitutional Democracy has been asked to aid the government of Liberia in designing proposed amendments to the country’s constitution.

“The CCD has been involved in Liberia for many years now,” Susan Williams, IU Maurer School of Law professor and CCD director, said. “We have established relationships of trust with many people in the government of Liberia, and have been advising them on a variety of subjects related to constitutional reform.”

Liberia was established in 1847 after freed slaves sent back to Africa from the U.S. declared independence and founded the state. Although its government draws heavily on U.S. ideas of freedom and democracy, Liberia has struggled in recent years with civil unrest, using blood diamonds to fund the Sierra Leone Civil War while fighting multiple civil wars of its own.

The most recent Liberian civil war ended in 2003.

The center has worked with Liberia on reforming its constitution since 2005. Williams and her husband David, who is also an IU law professor and the creator and executive director of the center, have worked on constitutional law around the world, including places such as Burma and Vietnam.

David Williams said that while Liberia has always dealt with issues of excessive executive supremacy, current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is actually willing to limit her own power.

“Chief executives typically are not prepared to do this, but she is, and that means that if we can actually within the next few years limit the power of the Liberian president, the risk of a civil war, of an insurrection, goes way, way down,” he said. “So we may be talking about thousands of lives saved.”

Both professors expressed enthusiasm for the reform.

“We have the opportunity to think this through in an academic way, rather than serving narrower political agendas, and we think that it is to the credit of the Liberian government that they are so prepared to do this,” David Williams said.

The center’s aid will consist of four parts: informing the Liberian public about the current constitution, holding public meetings to determine their wants and needs, using the information gathered in the drafting of the actual amendments and informing the public about the proposed changes.

“The public consultation process will last through about June of 2014,” Susan Williams said. “At that point the proposed amendments go to the president for her approval, and then to the legislature for their approval.”

After a year, the amendments will be put to a vote in a referendum.

The center will train and accompany the teams holding the public consultations. They plan to focus on fostering discourse from all parts of the Liberian public, especially women, youth and rural peoples who do not speak English.

David Williams said that Liberia has had its share of troubles but remained hopeful about the amendments.

“Liberia has suffered for so many years, and when people suffer typically they go on killing each other,” he said. “To actually call a halt to the violence, to step back and think about ways to construct a better future, this is a miracle that humans are capable of and that we are witnessing in Liberia right now. It’s a great, great privilege for us to be able to be a part of it.”

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