Blog Series: Reference to Country’s History in the Preamble of Modern Constitutions

Tasnim Binta Mukhlis & Mohd Imran

In this article we will examine the contents of the preambles of 45 modern constitutions, adopted in the year 2000 onward. A preamble contains several elements such as, reference to country’s history, reference to God/deity, International Law, International Organizations, International Human Rights Treaties, political thought, environment etc. In this article we will only focus on the reference to country’s history. You can find here the comparative chart of those 45 constitutions which we have studied for this article.

Introduction

Preamble is the introductory part of a constitution or statute that usually states the reason for and intent of the law. The Supreme Court of India in re Berubari Case has observed that the preamble is a key to open the mind of the makers which may show the general purposes for which they made the several provisions in the Constitution. States practice varies on the questions of whether the preamble is part of the Constitution or not. There are very few constitutions which specifically declare the preamble to be part of their constitution. For examples, the preamble of the Constitution of Comoros declares, “…This preamble is an integral part of the Constitution.” Similarly, the preamble of the Constitutions of Niger declares, “…Preamble is an integral part.”  The preamble of Indian Constitutions is also considered as part of the Constitution, though not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

Preamble may or may not be integral part of the constitution, depending upon the practice of the States. However, a preamble is an epitome of the features of the Constitution. Usually, preamble is not the source of power or authority. However, we have found in our study that most of the constitutions have incorporated expressions in the preamble envisaging the source of constitutional authority. For examples, the preamble of India Constitution provides, “We, the People of India…..do hereby Adopt, Enact, and Give to Ourselves This Constitutions.” Similarly, the preamble of the Constitution of United States of America provides, “We the People of the United States….and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We will discuss more on this issue in our upcoming article.

Findings

Out of the 45 modern constitutions we studied, there are only four constitutions without a preamble. These are the Constitutions of Finland, Maldives, Qatar and Somalia. Out of 45 constitutions (excluding four constitutions without a preamble), the preambles of 26 constitutions have expression on the ‘reference to country’s history’ in their respective preambles. The preambles of 15 constitutions do not have any reference to country’s history.

While refereeing to the country’s history preambles use the words like- ‘liberation movement’, ‘freedom struggle’, ‘colonialism’, ‘anti-colonial uprising’ ‘independence’, ‘sacrifice of martyrs’ etc. The most common words used in the these preambles while referring to country’s history are- ‘national liberation’, ‘struggle’ for independence/freedom, fight/resistance/uprising against ‘colonialism/colonial domination’. There are references to previous injustices and miseries of the people of the countries, not necessarily caused by colonialism. For example, the Draft Constitution of Libya refers to the independence and liberation from tyranny and injustice. The Constitutions of Sudan refers to the struggle against the dictatorship and the Constitution of Afghanistan refers to the previous injustices, miseries and sacrifices of martyrs.

It must be noted here that most of these countries have been through colonial regime, dictatorial regime or civil war. This might be one of the compelling reasons for incorporating words on freedom struggle, liberation from colonial domination etc.  Meanwhile, we did not find in our study any modern constitution which has expression on ‘self-determination’.

Some preambles also refer to the country’s cultural and historical heritage. For example, the preamble of the Constitution of Iraq refers to the one of the oldest human civilizations i.e., Mesopotamia. It reads as follows, “We, the people of Mesopotamia…cradle of civilization, crafters of writing, and home of numeration. Upon our land the first law made by man was passed, and the oldest pact of just governance was inscribed, and upon our soil the saints and companions of the Prophet prayed, philosophers and scientists theorized, and writers and poets excelled.”

The preamble of Constitution of Egypt refers to Nile and prophets. It reads as follows, “…Egypt is the gift of the Nile …. It is the meeting point of its civilizations and cultures and the crossroads of its maritime transportation and communications…Egypt is the cradle of religions and the banner of glory of the revealed religions. On its land, Moses grew up, the light of God appeared, and the message descended on Mount Sinai. On its land, Egyptians welcomed Virgin Mary and her baby and offered up thousands of martyrs in defense of the Church of Jesus. When the Seal of the Messengers Mohamed (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) was sent to all mankind to perfect the sublime morals, our hearts and minds were opened to the light of Islam…”

Preambles of some modern constitutions also refer to previous government and previous constitutions. For examples, the Constitution of Guinea recalls the constitutional referendum of 1958 in following words, “By its vote of 28 September 1958, the People of Guinea opted for freedom and constituted, [on] 2 October 1958, a sovereign State…. The preamble of Constitution of Mozambique recalls two important instances when the fundamental rights and rule of law in the country was established; first, the end of Portuguese colonial regime in the year 1975 and second the end of the civil war in the year 1992.  The preamble of the Constitution of Thailand reminds of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Siam, B.E. 2475 (1932) proclaimed by King Phrabat Somdet Phra Paramintharamaha Prajadhipok Phra Pokklao Chaoyuhua . It also refers to the interim constitution of Kingdom of Thailand (2014). The preamble of the Constitution of Bolivia recalls the racist colonial discrimination in following words, “…we never knew racism until we were subjected to it during the terrible times of colonialism.”

Our ongoing study shows that there is an increase in the number constitutions referring to the country’s history. In our next article we will examine how modern constitutions are refereeing to God or deity in the preamble. In the initial study we have found that out of these 45 constitutions, none of the preambles declare country as a “Secular States”, except the preamble of the Constitution of East Timor which recalls the “secular resistance”.

Opinion expressed by the authors are personal.


3 thoughts on “Blog Series: Reference to Country’s History in the Preamble of Modern Constitutions

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