May 1, 2012

Students Revise Somalian Law

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Cornell law students are making revisions to a new constitution for Somalia that will be drafted by the end of the summer –– changes that they say will help the country shift from a transitional government to a permanent one.

Of all the nations in the world, Somalia has remained ungoverned for the longest amount of time in modern history. In February, however, the Somalian Civil War, a conflict dating back to the 1980’s, came to an end with an agreement reached by the United Nations, which, along with the Cornell law students, will help draft a new constitution for the country.

Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, who is a consultant for United Nations Development Program, assigned his five graduate research students to work on revising Somalia’s constitution. Ndulo’s graduate students are currently analyzing the country’s existing constitution and offering their commentary on it before the end of the summer, when Somalia’s Constituent Assembly hopes to meet to adopt the constitution.

Ian Brekke law, a member of Ndulo’s research team, is comparing the different strategies adopted by political parties to advance policies in a constitutional democracy.

“While we take our political parties for granted, other countries regulate what political systems they will have,” Brekke said. “Some are enshrined, [while] some depend on legislation for Congress to pass laws to regulate political parties.”

Brekke observed differences in the degree to which African governments turned to their constitution for guidance and how much decision-making they left to legislators. By studying the culture, politics and history of African countries, Brekke hopes to make suggestions that will most greatly benefit Somalia in the development of its new constitution, he said.

Brekke also noted that while it is rare for a government to include warlords and clan leaders as part of the political bargaining process, they must have a stake in revising Somalia’s political system for the process to proceed in a stable manner.

“It is important that the constitution is culturally-oriented,” Brekke said. “Clans are a big deal there, and there needs to be a place for them politically in order to peacefully transition from a temporary to a legitimate Somalian democracy.”

The report that Brekke and his fellow research students are preparing will be sent to the United Nations Development Program to guide future negotiations in the political reform process in Somalia, Brekke said.

Brekke thanked Ndulo for giving him the opportunity, saying that working with Ndulo has opened his eyes to the many possibilities that exist in legal work.

“You think about preparing to be a lawyer, but then you realize the scope of work you can do,” Brekke said.

Genevieve Ballinger law, another student involved in research with Ndulo, also said that conducting research comparing different law systems was “really interesting by itself … the fact that our research memos were sent to the UN committee in charge of the constitution drafting process in Somalia was just surreal.”

Many of Ndulo’s students noted his enthusiasm for getting students involved in the work that he does for the UN. For many of them, Ndulo has piqued an interest in careers in international law.

“I was really honored to be able to work with … Ndulo on this project,” Ballinger said. “Through working with him, I could see the wealth of experience and knowledge he has on international law generally, as well as specifically on constitution drafting processes. He really is Cornell Law’s rockstar on international law and the UN.”

Gabriella Bensur ’12, a philosophy and government major who will be a first-year law student at Cornell Law School next year, said she was impressed by Ndulo’s work on constitutional law and his efforts to provide his students with a hands-on experience.

“Obviously, Ndulo is the expert and had the ultimate control over the Somalian constitution, but giving law students the chance to participate in international shows that he is willing to take fresh perspectives into consideration,” Bensur said. “I find that very admirable, and truly amazing that members of the Cornell community are able to affect lives in the global community.”

Bensur said that Ndulo and his students’ work drafting the Somalian constitution shows how Cornellians can have a global impact with their research.

“In America, the word ‘constitution’ brings to mind George Washington, minutemen and Paul Revere — not modern-day struggles for independence and self-reliance. I would be honored to be a part of such an amazing formation opportunity,” Bensur said.

Original Author: Lucy Mehrabyan