Democratizing Constitutions: The Promotion of International Democracy after the 2009 Honduran Coup

The 2009 Honduran constitutional crisis – in which a sitting president was removed from power and the country by military force – shows that, when it comes to the promotion of democracy, constitutions need to shift to the centre of debate and diplomatic practice in the Organization of American States (OAS). The undemocratic features of member states' actual constitutions cannot simply be ignored until there is a coup d'état. Although it is understandable that the first phase of OAS democracy promotion – undertaken as authoritarian regimes in the region waned – focused on preventing coups and the violent usurpation of democracy, the next phase ought to focus on ensuring that actual constitutions are aligned with, and supportive of, democracy.

A report published by a high-level panel should aim to shape the next generation of debate over how to make the region’s constitutions more democratic. This debate would be aimed primarily at policy makers, but should be broadly inclusive as well.
The Honduran crisis suggests that the future of democracy promotion should address the undemocratic aspects of many countries’ constitutions. International organizations such as the OAS should establish a high-level panel, in the spirit of the Bruntland Commission or the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, to examine the relationship between constitutions and democracy.
A key undemocratic aspect of many constitutions is the powers granted to the armed forces to guarantee the constitutional order. Making the military constitutional guarantors may have made sense in the distant past, when the constitutional order was weak, but is an undemocratic anachronism today. These powers should be a core concern in a broad debate about making constitutions more democratic.
International organizations that promote democracy, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), need to pay more attention to the sometimes problematic relationship between constitutions and democracy.