Officials from the newly formed country of South Sudan are considering, among other proposals, a constitutional draft written by four Cornell law students under the supervision of Prof. Muna Ndulo, law.
South Sudan became an independent state on July 9 after a referendum for secession from the rest of Sudan won overwhelming support in January. On July 14, South Sudan joined the United Nations as a member state.
Still, the new government faces many challenges — including writing a formal constitution — said Ndulo, who guided the law students’ project.
“The expectation would be that [the new constitution] is democratic, responsive toward the needs of southern Sudan and inclusive of South Sudan’s diversity,” Ndulo said.
The National Democratic Institute, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., asked Ndulo for his expertise on possible components of a new constitution for South Sudan earlier this year. Ndulo has already helped draft the constitutions of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Afghanistan.
The four students who participated were Calli Ferreira J.D. ’11, Lilian Balasanian J.D. ’11, Ejemen Ofoman J.D. ’11, and Kamilka Malwatte J.D. ’11.
Ndulo emphasized that the draft constitution was meant to serve an advisory role rather than an imposition.
“We are not deciding things for anybody. We are offering our services to say that these are the best practices,” Ndulo said. “The thing about constitution negotiations is that you have to be mindful of not prescribing.”
Ndulo also highlighted the importance of the constitution for South Sudan. Ndulo said that the formation of a new government and drafting of a constitution are positive changes to an area that has been ravaged by war for decades.
The four law students divided the work among themselves according to their varying interests in different components of the constitution. They held weekly meetings and carried out extensive research about Sudan, according to Ndulo.
“I opted to focus mainly on the constitutional provisions pertaining to the executive branch,” Malwatte said in an email. “However, input from every member of our group on every section was a key part of the project because each section had to fit into a larger constitutional framework.”
Malwatte said the students sought to adapt the best features of other countries’ constitutions to the new state of South Sudan.
“We started off by doing comparative research on the constitutions of other states in search of best practices,” Malwatte said. “Then [we] tried to refine and adapt those lessons learned to the specific historical, political and social context [of the country].”
The students came from diverse backgrounds, including South Africa, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and the United States. Although it was unrelated to their selection, Ndulo said this helped provide the draft with international perspective.
Ndulo added that by participating in the “clinical study” — legal research with a direct effect on society — students would gain exposure to how a constitution is drafted.
“It is a good opportunity for students to get engaged in practical things,” Ndulo said. “They get exposed to real world issues and their interest in such international matters enhances Cornell’s impact worldwide.”
Malwatte called the project the “capstone” of her studies at the law school.
“Clinical courses that offer practical, hands-on, project-oriented experience are a great addition to the theory presented in other law classes,” Malwatte said. “I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity at Cornell.”