As another new year is upon us, many governments around the world take this opportunity to re-evaluate the laws, policies, goals and missions of the constitutions of their respective countries. As a matter of fact, every year “approximately five new constitutions are written and as many as 30 are amended or revised. More than 900 have been written since 1789.” Just this year, Zimbabwe voted on a new constitution, while Somalia, Syria and six other nations made amendments or adopted new legal documents.
Up until recently, rewriting a constitution was an arduous task. But like everything else these days, you can find something online that can make the work of creating a constitution less stressful.
In September, Google launched a new website called Constitute, a digital archive of constitutions and other legal documents from over 189 countries. The project was developed by the Comparative Constitutions Project, a collaboration between researchers at the University of Texas, the University of Chicago and University College London. The main purpose of Constitute is to support countries with new or changing governments like in Egypt or South Sudan create a framework to guide their countries.
The goal is to provide this comprehensive information to not only constitution drafters, but also to history/foreign policy buffs and students who can browse constitutions by country and year, or cross-compare whole or parts of documents. Site users can also search for specific words and phrases, or use the topics menu to drill down into specific themes. There are over 350 topics tagged in the database.
Here are some gems we found in Constitute:
Did you know that five countries have the “right to bear arms” in their constitution – Guatemala, Haiti, Iran, Mexico and the United States.
149 countries have “freedom of press” in their constitution, including Eritrea. The troubled East African country lists the following in its constitution: “Every person shall have the freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of the press and other media.” Eritrea came in dead last in Reporters Without Borders 2013 Press Freedom Index.
131 countries have “right to health care” in their constitutions, including Switzerland, “The Confederation and the Cantons shall strive to ensure that every person shall be insured against the economic consequences of old age, disability, illness, accidents, unemployment, maternity, orphanhood, and widowhood,” according to the Swiss constitution.
Five countries have guaranteed “right to equality regardless of sexual orientation” – Bolivia, Kosovo, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden
Many countries actually have some interesting laws on the books ranging from Sweden’s protection of reindeers to Cambodia’s protection of women in the workplace during pregnancy.
Constitute is a fascinating look into how the world really works and a major contribution to human progress!