Promoting democracy — one e-mail at a time

first_img Promoting democracy — one e-mail at a time Theresa E. Davis Assistant Editor Hundreds of thousands of people use the Internet every day. They complete mundane tasks like paying bills, purchasing items, and conducting tedious research. They also use the Internet to communicate with many different people in far-flung places.In that respect, Florida Coastal School of Law Professor John C. Knechtle is no different from the rest of us.Except for one small thing: Knechtle used the Internet to help bring democracy to Iraq one e-mail at a time.Using his knowledge of constitutional, international, and comparative law, Knechtle served as an adviser last year to the drafters of the new Iraqi constitution. After the constitution was adopted in October, Knechtle was asked to stay on in an advisory capacity to the new Iraqi Parliament.“I’m very excited,” said Knechtle. “It’s a tremendous honor to be a part of the process.”Knechtle was one of about 20 members of the international advisory panel to the Iraqi Constitutional Committee. The International Advisory Group was selected by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs — a nonprofit organization funded by the U.S. Department of State — that chose the international advisory group members based on their level of expertise in various aspects of international law. Knechtle was one of 13 members from the United States, and he came highly recommended because two of his specialties are constitutional and comparative law.This is not the first time Knechtle has assisted with drafting a constitution, having played an important role in offering his talents in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the Cold War.Knechtle said that he consulted with countries that were “looking to move toward more democratic forms of government and free-market economies.” These countries were springing up out of the old Soviet Union and wanted to start over with a new form of government.Knechtle wants to make one thing abundantly clear: Neither he nor his group actually wrote any part of the Iraqi Constitution.“We wrote no language,” said Knechtle. “We felt that it would have been inappropriate.”Knechtle and the other group members served only as consultants and advisers to the Iraqi Constitutional Committee. Their role was simply to answer questions or make recommendations about text pertaining to constitutional law. The group would then critique what drafters had written and offer suggestions to make the document tighter, Knechtle said.A typical exchange between the advisory group and the constitutional committee, he said, would go something like this: One of the Iraqi drafters would have a question about, or take issue with, the legality of a section or a particular statement within the draft constitution. Then Knechtle and the other group members would lend their knowledge of international and constitutional law to answer those questions and leave it to the Iraqis to make the final decisions.Modern technology made it all possible for Knechtle to foster change without setting foot in Iraq. E-mail was the main source of communication between the advisors and the drafting committee. NDI set up an office in Baghdad with translators who kept the lines of communication open between the members of the advisory group and those on the constitutional committee, many of whom spoke little English.NDI requested that Knechtle travel to Iraq as recently as a month ago, but he declined because of the continuing turmoil in the area. Married with two young children, Knechtle said safety was his most immediate concern. Although Knechtle offered to fly to a more peaceful country nearby, so far that has not been necessary.Knechtle isn’t sure what’s going to happen next. The constitution was approved, but so far only the Kurds and the Shi’as are close to being satisfied with the outcome.What makes Iraq different from the other countries he’s worked with? The countries he assisted prior to Iraq “sought change from within,” said Knechtle. The democratic process in Iraq was initiated by the U.S. military’s forceful removal of Saddam Hussein.Knechtle also has worked closely with the ABA and its Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, offering them legal expertise in constitutional, international, comparative, and constitutional comparative law.He was a Fulbright Scholar and visiting professor of international and comparative law at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Uzbekistan in 2004. Knechtle also is the president of the American and Caribbean Law Initiative, and he is a law faculty affiliate member of the Bar’s International Law Section.“I’m still active,” said Knechtle, adding he has agreed to continue to advise the new Iraqi Parliament and those who are drafting amendments or any other issues they want to address.“It’s a learning process for me and the drafters. It’s an ongoing dialog.” April 1, 2006 Regular News Promoting democracy — one e-mail at a timelast_img

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