Thursday, July 21, 2005

Play nice, you crazy kids...

A leaked early draft of the new Iraqi Bill of Rights has been made available by those lovely Carnegie Endowment people. people (PDF).

We don't know how accurate it is and obviously everything is subject to change, but so far it seems it is being treated with some degree of credibility.

When the Iraq War was in its early stages I was hopeful that we could make something good out of it and I still think that's quite possible. That said, I always thought that some of the more glowing projections were rather naive, especially those coming from those people who seemed to be of the view that Iraq was going to magically become pro-Israeli (yes, yes, I know, it would have if only we'd given Ahmed Chalabi his own private army of exiles and set him up as an Iraqi Charles de Gaulle. It's all the fault of the CIA, the State Department, the Turks and the British, blah, blah, blah...).

Well clearly that's one thing that, predictably, hasn't happened. Some other things haven't happened too and it's enough to make me somewhat concerned, even as somebody who didn't expect magical change overnight.

First there seems to be a lot of guff about vague economic aspirations that have no serious real-world underpinning. Second - and far more worrying - a lot of the rights set out in the Draft Bill are very heavily hedged about. If X is a right, but only as long as the government doesn't decide it's "deviant" or "immoral", or Y is a right, just as long as it isn't decided that it comes into conflict with Shari'a law... well it isn't really a right at all, is it? The commentary by the Carnegie Endowment notes that in many ways this is similar to constitutional practice in much of continental Europe but that it has perhaps worked imperfectly in the EU and has, in Arab states traditionally resulted in rights being "defined out of existence".

I'm not a solicitor or a constitutional expert but it's pretty plain that documents like this are meant to provide clear, unequivocal personal entitlements that the government is not free to tinker with. It's meant to restrict government intrusion. A lot of this seems to give the government massive get-out clauses and as such it - at best - means next to nothing.

Of course we can go too far with this criticism. It's a product of work by committee. The final product may be substantially different. Additionally, much will depend upon how the judicial system works (and some of the provisions for that seem quite encouraging). But, at least in my view, it's not an encouraging start. It very much strikes me that it may well rapidly unravel under pressure or in the face of a change in governing circumstances

If anyone out there is in a position to provide expert commentary, I'd be more than happy to hear it..

UPDATE: It seems that in the latest available draft the exclusionary references to Israel have been removed. Whether this represents a change in attitude I don't know but it's certainly an improvement at least.


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