The WORLD Policy Analysis Center aims to create quantitatively comparable measures for all countries’ approaches to ensuring equality and non-discrimination for different groups. Foundational to this effort is an analysis of constitutional rights around the globe.
Governments establish human rights through national and sub-national legislation, targeted programs and policies, and national constitutions. Among these tools, constitutions fulfill several unique and important functions:
Constitutions often outline broad rights that require complementary legislation or policies to be fully effective. For example, legislation that guarantees free secondary school helps realize the constitutional right to education. Nevertheless, constitutions’ critical role in formally establishing countries’ fundamental values makes them an important unit of analysis on their own.
WORLD’s analysis was designed with two goals in mind: 1) to evaluate the extent to which constitutions guarantee equal rights across a wide range of human domains; and 2) to understand the evolution of economic, social, and equal rights over time. Beyond their normative importance, equal rights are embedded within numerous international agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Additionally, within the past few decades, the global community has aimed to strengthen the individual rights of members of historically marginalized groups through a series of widely ratified treaties specifically focused on these populations.
For each right mentioned in a constitution we captured the specific right protected, the level of protection, the social group to which it applies, whether the language specifically referred to citizens, and the relevant article number(s). Based on 37 international conventions and on fundamental equity principles, a framework of relevant rights was developed in the following categories:
For each of these areas, WORLD has performed a comprehensive analysis of constitutional protections of rights and non-discrimination across 15 social groups:
In order to evaluate the level of protection afforded under constitutions we recorded the quality of the language used to describe rights.
Constitutional articles that unambiguously protected a right or phrased its implementation as a duty or obligation of the state were coded as guaranteed rights. We also coded a guarantee when constitutions declared violations of particular rights to be prohibited or illegal.
Rights phrased in non-authoritative language or described as state objectives were categorized as aspirational protections. Examples of this occurred when the enforcement of a right was limited by the state’s resources or the constitution specified that the right could not be claimed in court. If the constitution only granted a right in its preamble, and did not specify that the preamble was an integral part of the constitution, we also coded protection as aspirational.
We separately captured constitutional provisions that explicitly described a right as subject to progressive realization or that stated that a right would be realized within a certain time period.
Restrictions or Denials of Rights
We also reviewed constitutions for any clauses that explicitly restricted or denied rights to a particular group or groups. These included, for example, denials of the rights of same-sex couples to marry, statements restricting rights on the basis of citizenship, and any disqualifications for elected office.
Rights with Exceptions
When a constitution granted a right, but allowed for possible restrictions to that right on the basis of an individual’s membership in some identifiable group in specific circumstances, we categorized the relevant provisions as rights with exceptions.
Finally, we captured cases in which constitutions permitted, promoted, or mandated positive measures to advance equality in general or in family, economic, social, or political life.
The following procedure was used to identify both the main constitutional texts and all amendments as of May 2017:
If any constitution explicitly designated other sources of law as having constitutional status, these additional laws were identified and coded as well. This was the only case in which laws that were not included directly in the constitutional text were coded in this phase of the project. For those countries with federal systems, only federal constitutions were considered and not those of the provincial, state, or local jurisdictions.
Given the scope of the project, we were also unable to include case law relevant to the constitutional rights identified in each of the UN member countries. Case law can be vast, frequently changing, and, for some countries, not regularly translated into U.N. languages. This is an important limitation because case law can play an important role in clarifying the extent to which a right is granted and to whom. Although constitutional protections are more constant than case law, this database should not be interpreted as a full representation of the protections and restrictions on rights in any specific country but rather only as a reflection of what is explicitly written in constitutions.
While the vast majority of countries have codified written constitutions, there are a few countries that either have no written codified constitution or that have a series of laws that function similarly to a constitution, rather than a single text (these include the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Israel). In these cases, we identified those documents or laws that are considered to be constitutional either by the country itself or by the legal community.
For more information about WORLD’s approach to building globally comparative databases on policies affecting human health, development, well-being, and equity, please visit our Methodology page.
For a more complete view on how constitutions can help support and protect equal rights, you can download a free version of Advancing Equality: How Constitutional Rights Can Make a Difference Worldwide at AdvanceEquality.org