The Search for an International Legal Concept of Democracy: Lessons from the Post-Conflict Reconstruction of Sierra Leone

By Saul, Matthew | Melbourne Journal of International Law, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Search for an International Legal Concept of Democracy: Lessons from the Post-Conflict Reconstruction of Sierra Leone


Saul, Matthew, Melbourne Journal of International Law


This article explores the treatment of democracy in the formulation of United Nations resolutions, peace agreements and external aid agreements related to the post-conflict reconstruction of Sierra Leone. It seeks to contribute towards a fuller understanding of the relevance of the practice of post-conflict reconstruction for the debate on democracy in international law. The analysis takes account of not only whether democracy was treated as an international legal concept, but also how the approach taken to the definition of democracy relates to the effectiveness of the reconstruction process, d central argument is that internationally facilitated post-conflict reconstruction can appear to be conducive to the articulation, by states, of democracy in international legal terms. However, it is also contended that the willingness of states to take this step can be seen as dependent on the existence of an appropriate forum. On this basis, it is concluded that the significance, from an international legal perspective, of the reluctance of states to take various opportunities to raise democracy in international legal terms during the reconstruction of Sierra Leone should not be overstated.

CONTENTS

I    Introduction
II   Democracy and International Law
III  Post-Conflict Situations and the Articulation of an
     International Legal Concept of Democracy
IV   The Sierra Leone Context
V    Debating Democracy at the UN
VI   Democracy in Sierra Leone's Peace Agreements
VII  Democracy and Aid Agreements
VIII Conclusion

I INTRODUCTION

The debate about the existence of an international legal concept of democracy is now a long standing part of the discourse on international law. (1) This article identifies the practice of post-conflict reconstruction as an aspect of international affairs that one might expect to include instances of states being forthcoming on how they view democracy in international legal terms. This premise is based upon a number of considerations, including the high level of commonality in the way that democracy has been approached across all of the prominent examples of internationally facilitated post-conflict reconstruction from the last twenty years. (2) Such commonality helps to explain why attention has already been given to the practice from the perspective of an emerging right to democracy. (3) But this literature has not addressed in a sustained manner whether or not democracy has in fact been articulated in international legal terms during the processes surrounding post-conflict reconstruction.

In the interest of developing a fuller understanding of the relevance of the practice of post-conflict reconstruction for the debate on democracy in international law, this article explores the treatment of democracy during the formulation of United Nations resolutions, peace agreements, and external aid agreements related to the post-conflict reconstruction of Sierra Leone. The analysis takes account of not only whether democracy was treated as an international legal concept, but also how the approach taken to the definition of democracy relates to the effectiveness of the reconstruction process. This latter aspect of the analysis is intended to bring the significance of any absence of comment by states on the nature of democracy as an international legal concept into a clearer focus. It does so by helping to clarify whether an absence of comment is more likely to stem from the way a state views the position of democracy in international law or from considerations external to international law.

Research for this article began before the recent events in Libya, where an established dictatorship was overthrown by a rebel movement. Such circumstances are somewhat different to those found in the recent past of Sierra Leone where there was only a very short passage of time between the election of a government in 1996 and its removal from authority by a rebel movement, followed by extensive international involvement in support of the elected government. …

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