The nation which sparked the Arab Spring is engaged in a national conversation as to what should be the basic legal rules and structure for the nation. As part of this, the draft Tunisian constitution (pdf) is being discussed in a series of meetings across the country and, in that draft form, has many articles and elements presented with alternative versions that make clear this draft is not the finished product. Noting that I am far from an expert in international constitutional law, glancing through this draft uncovers many intriguing elements.
Two clauses are of particular interest/relevance for the subject matter of this blog.
- Article 33 asserts “sustainable development” and makes “protection of [the] environment” a “responsbility of the state, institutions, and people.”
- Article 34 focuses on water, asserting that everyone has “the right to water” and making this a state responsibility to “protect water resources” and assure competent management of water resources and the fair distribution of water.
In part to put substance behind these, article 130 creates the “Authority of Sustainable Development and Rights of Future Generations”. This authority “shall have cognisance over the general policies of the state, at the economic, social and environmental levels, with a view to attaining sustainable development that can guarantee the rights of future generations.” The Authority will have the responsibility to review all draft laws and government development plans. As part of this, all of “the Authority’s opinions … shall be published” along with, if the Authority’s recommendations weren’t implemented, explanations as to why the Authority’s recommendations were not followed.
If these articles make it through to the actual constitution, Tunisia will join several other nations with such core constitutional protections for the envrionment.
In ecologically diverse Ecuador, which encompasses the Galapagos Islands as well as parts of the Amazon rainforest, rights for nature were added to its constitution in 2008. Just [in 20111], in Bolivia, eleven new rights for nature were added to the constitution, protecting it from pollution, massive development, and genetic alteration.
Kenya did so, as well, in 2011.
Every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right a) to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures, particularly those contemplated in Article 69, and b) to have obligations relating to the environment fulfilled under Article 70.
While many countries (pdf) around the world have glowing words related to environmental protection in their Constitutions, oft-times these words are difficult to comport with reality. And, this is certainly true in sustainability arenas. The South African constitution, for example, provides a right
‘to have the environment protected… through reasonable legislative and other measures that secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development’
Just the ‘smallest’ example: How does the South African government’s drive to build coal-fired power plants “secure ecologically sustainability development”?
Recognizing that Constitutional measures do not necessarily, in all nations, align with actual policies, these elements of the Tunisian draft constitution do provide some hope for that nation’s future governmental policy when it comes to energy, climate, water, and other environmental issues.
More broadly, many nations could benefit from the inclusion of such words into their Constitutions and basic governance.
The full text of the referenced three articles from the draft Tunisian constitution (pdf).
Each person shall have the right to live in a peaceful and balanced environment and shall be entitled to sustainable development.
Protection of environment and wise utilisation of natural resources shall be the responsibility of the state, institutions and people.
Every person shall have the right to water.
The state shall protect water resources and rationalise the use thereof and distribute them fairly.
Article (130) Authority of Sustainable Development and Rights of Future Generations
The Authority shall have cognisance over the general policies of the state, at the economic, social and environmental levels, with a view to attaining sustainable development that can guarantee the rights of future generations.
The Authority shall be consulted on draft laws related to the areas under the jurisdiction thereof and on the development plans. The Authority’s opinions, as well as the justification for non-adoption of such opinions by the Legislative Power, shall be published.
Some other articles that might be of interest:
All citizens, males and females alike, shall have equal rights and obligations and shall be equal before the law, without discrimination of any kind.
The state shall, to all citizens, guarantee individual and normal rights and shall furnish means to the good livelihood thereof.
The state shall guarantee the protection of the rights of women and shall support the gains thereof.
Academic freedoms and freedom of scientific research shall be guaranteed.
The state shall furnish all means necessary for the advancement of academic work and scientific research.
Health shall be a fundamental right to all persons.
Prevention from diseases and provision of health care shall be guaranteed by the state to all citizens without discrimination.
Free health treatment shall be guaranteed by the state to underprivileged persons.
The state shall guarantee the right of every person to social coverage, including social security, as provided for by law
All persons shall pay taxes and contribute to public expenditures based on a fair and just tax system.
The state shall develop mechanisms suitable for the extraction of public funds and for the optimal use of such funds as well as mechanisms to fight against corruption and tax evasion.
The state shall guarantee the provision of equal opportunities between men and women in the bearing of various responsibilities.
The state shall guarantee the elimination of all forms of violence against women.