The Center for Constitutional Transitions

Minority Rights in Culturally Diverse Societies

By George Anderson and Sujit Choudhry, with David Vitale

Countries that are seeking to establish constitutional democracy after a history of dictatorial or oppressive government confront the challenge cultural diversity—which may be linguistic, religious, tribal, ethnic, or even “national” (if the more than one group within the country calls itself a nation). How should this diversity be reflected in their constitution and governmental arrangements? Minority groups may seek special arrangements to protect their basic human rights as well as constitutional provisions providing specific rights to protect their cultural identities, to ensure their symbolic recognition, to protect them against economic marginalization, and to ensure their effective role in government.   How to pursue these objectives while also creating a common citizenship, social harmony and effective government is a central challenge in framing a constitution. This Working Paper discusses the nature of different minorities that may be politically important, and then considers different approaches to dealing with the constitutional recognition of minorities, the protection of their basic human rights and the entrenchment of specific minority rights, as well as the participation of minorities in government.

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About the Working Paper Series

This Working Paper is part of the series “Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy”, focusing on specific challenges that confront constitution-makers in new democracies. The Working Papers are intended primarily as a resource for practitioners working in the field in countries undergoing constitutional transition and in new democracies where efforts are being made to consolidate the transition to democracy. The four substantive papers in the series consider constitutional mechanisms to protect of minority rights in culturally diverse societies, whether meaningful electoral democracy can be achieved without a political party system, the advantages and dangers of semi-presidential government in the post-authoritarian context, and the creation of constituent or sub-national territorial units in federal systems. The last of these papers is supplemented by two data-rich annexes and a shorter “practitioners manual”.

About the Center

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.