“We didn’t sit down and look at a map or read a newspaper and say ‘Oh, that’s a good place,’” says Susan, the Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law who directs Indiana University’s Center for Constitutional Democracy with her husband, David, the center’s executive director and the John S. Hastings Professor of Law. “We were invited by people inside the democracy movements in those countries,” she says. “They chose us.”
The CCD studies and promotes constitutional democracy in countries marked by ethnic, religious, and linguistic divisions. It remains one of the only centers in the world to do active constitutional design consulting.
The November 2010 elections in Burma and the release of democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after 20 years of house arrest called on David Williams’ expertise. A principal Burma advisor to the U.S. Department of State, he visits the country regularly to meet with resistance leaders and has brought them to Washington to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the first-ever meeting of its kind.
Williams has long been critical of the junta’s approach to the elections. In 2009, he told the Senate East Asia Subcommittee that the elections would not be free and fair, adding that the constitution was one of the worst he had ever seen. “This constitution is not a good faith gesture toward democracy; it’s a cynical attempt to buy off international pressure,” he testified.
Now that the elections have taken place, the United States is watching developments closely. “The U.S. is building lines of communication between Washington and Burma so we can seize the opportunity to step in and help when the time is right,” Williams explained. “You have to know the players on the ground and keep building a coalition among the ethnic minorities.”
Williams placed hope in Aung San Suu Kyi as a unifying force. “She is one of the leaders that the ethnic minorities trust,” he said on Al-Jazeera’s Riz Khan Show. “She could be a great unifier, but I don’t think she’ll be allowed to do so. The fundamental issue in the election is ethnic conflict,” Williams concluded. “Unless and until that is addressed, there won’t be peace in Burma.”
The Law School offers a degree for LLM or PhD students interested in global constitutional reforms. The degree provides intense exposure to constitutional studies for students who are likely international reformers, want to work in non-governmental organizations, or are members of international organizations that are involved in reconstruction projects in other countries. The Center has also developed an interdisciplinary PhD program in Law and Democracy designed to prepare students to work on constitutional reform in a broad range of contexts. Click here to learn more about these degrees.