Reading the Constitution: In Search of Rights

Publication Author: 
Sohail Akbar Warracih, Shirkat Gah
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There are various models of Constitutions in the world. This write-up is not looking at the technicalities of different models or offering a comparative analysis of those. It is an attempt to facilitate the reading of a Constitution, in search of Fundamental Rights, no matter what particular system of democratic governance, presidential or parliamentary, it has adopted.

A Constitution is the supreme law of a state and sets the framework for the development and functioning of both the legislature and administration. The object of the Constitution is to limit the arbitrary action of the government, subject it to judicial review, to guarantee rights of the governed and to define the position of the sovereign power.

Different Constitutions have different forms, which present the Fundamental Rights they guarantee, e.g. a separate chapter on Fundamental Rights, or a chapter on the rights and duties of citizens. These specific provisions shape the content of specific rights; however, the general philosophy of these rights is anchored in the Preamble of the Constitution. The Preamble is very important as it establishes a direction by describing the fundamental values of a nation, upon which the Constitution rests. These values, which include history, basic philosophy and ideology, are termed ‘Constitutionalism’ and serve as the basic norm for a harmonious reading and interpretation of the Constitution and contribute to the development of Constitutional law.

Issues have been discussed in a question-and-answer format for easy comprehension and points been illustrated with examples from different Constitutions primarily of the countries of South Asia and of South Africa.

This publication is produced as part of the Women Law & Status Program of Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre in Pakistan, WLUML Asia regional coordination office.