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  • Constitution-Making Under UN Auspices: Fostering Dependency in Sovereign Lands by Vijayashri Sripati
  • Ilana Rothkopf (bio)
Vijayashri Sripati, Constitution-Making Under UN Auspices: Fostering Dependency in Sovereign Lands (Oxford University Press, 2020), ISBN 9780199498024, 320 pages.

The United Nations Secretary General's 2009 Guidance Note on United Nations Assistance to Constitution-making Processes asserts that "UN assistance will need to include options and advice tailored to the specific country context and should recognize constitution-making as a sovereign national process, which, to be legitimate and successful, must be nationally owned and led."1 The act of writing a new constitution is the ultimate sovereign act—a reflection of the people's will and their vision for the state in which they live. Or is it always? At the heart of Vijayashri Sripati's new book, Constitution-Making Under UN Auspices: Fostering Dependency in Sovereign Lands is a challenge to this assumption.

Sripati's book is an enormous contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on direct international involvement in constitution-making, assistance programs for constitutional design, and constitution-making [End Page 423] as peacebuilding. At the core of the book is the argument that the United Nations, through the institution of UN Constitutional Assistance (UNCA), recommends and promotes a specific type of constitution: the Western Liberal Constitutional model. Sripati argues that through efforts to replace or tutor local actors on liberal constitutional best practices, and through conditionalities for foreign aid, UNCA in fact reflects a form of international trusteeship.

Regarding the framework for internationalized constitution-making, Sripati conceives of UNCA as an institution, that is an "established practice."2 In the first part of the book, she traces the history of UNCA from the end of the Second World War to the conclusion of the Cold War. These chapters provide much detailed description of the origins and evolution of constitutional assistance and foreign territorial administration, and provide an essential background to understanding the argument. Importantly, international support of constitution-making is often seen as a post-cold war phenomenon: Sripati demonstrates that the practice has a much longer history. Sripati illustrates—with reference to dozens of UNCA initiatives, that the UN promotes a particular constitutional model. This historical analysis of the UNCA as an institution is invaluable for understanding the development of constitutional assistance—its purpose, goals, and substance—over time. However, the most valuable contribution is arguably the second section of the book, which charts the revival of UNCA and the internationalization of the Western Liberal Constitution after 1989. Indeed, this section of the book provides a novel explanation for empirical findings on the convergence of constitutional substance over time. Although the Western Liberal model is considered by many scholars and policymakers to be universal, she presents historical evidence and a theoretical argument that suggests a key part of how this model came to be "universal": UNCA.

In part two of the book, Sripati provides excellent evidence for the argument that, although the UN emphasizes its provision of value-neutral "technical assistance," it does indeed push for the Western Liberal Constitutional model in both the process and substance of constitution-making. There is also an empirical fact that there are common constitutional provisions in UNCA recipient states. Chapter 6 undertakes the task of establishing UNCA projects as an institution, and describes the activities of all UNCA projects since 1989. As there have been UNCA in forty-one states and three territorial units, this is no small task. This attention to detail and the scope of UNCA sets the stage for Sripati's argument about the association between UNCA and constitutional outcomes. The book demonstrates that there is an association between UNCA and the implementation of liberal constitutional reforms. In other words, the book provides examples of cases where there was both UNCA and aid conditionality and where a liberal constitution (or amendments reflecting additional liberalization) was then adopted. An implication of this argument that is alluded to throughout, is that this external imposition causes the constitutional outcomes in recipient countries.

Chapter 7 is particularly compelling in its focus on the United Nations explanations for UNCA. In this chapter, [End Page 424] Sripati provides readers with evidence of the how...


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