U.S. Constitution doesn't rate tops as a blueprint International Bill of Rights preferred

April 28, 1991|By Cox News Service

The U.S. Constitution may be the world's oldest, and the Founding Fathers did keep their thoughts succinct, but those helping South Africa, Germany and the Soviet Union write new constitutions say reformers exercising their newfound freedoms should look elsewhere for guidance.

"The myth is that the United States has had this one document for 200 years, and everything's been hunky-dory," said Melanie Beth Oliviero, a consultant and former director of the Comparative Constitutional Project of the New York-based American Council of Learned Societies. "The reality is, we fought a bloody civil war that almost tore our country apart, and the Constitution has been modified several times."

Experts at a symposium on constitutions at Emory University Law School in Atlanta say that for inspiration, less developed countries should look to the 25-year-old International Bill of Human Rights.

"In the new world, any government with any kind of decent legal advice is going to be looking at the International Bill of Human Rights," said Frank C. Newman, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

Legal and constitutional experts discussed how best to frame an effective national charter with representatives from the Soviet Union, South Africa and the African National Congress.

Although the Constitution seems to work for the United States, some Third World countries reject the notion of adopting Western concepts embraced by former colonial masters, Dr. Oliviero said. Others find its values incompatible with their country's culture and history.

One part of the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights -- often is copied. Basic human rights are included in some form in most contemporary constitutions.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.