The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments.
The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law.
In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.
Research on constitutional law has come in different waves mirroring the development of states in recent decades. While the decolonization period of the 1960s still kept the old ties of constitutional “families,” comparison based on such ties has become ever less persuasive since the 1980s wave of constitution making following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research about de facto and de jure constitutional law now tends to embrace institutional details like judicial review powers and procedures of direct democracy. The field of comparative constitutional law is controversial both in methods and substance. It still lacks a consistent framework of comparative tools and is criticized as illegitimate by scholars who insist on the interpretive autonomy within each constitutional system.
Research in the area of fundamental rights has to deal with long-lasting controversies like the constitutionality of the death penalty. Bioethical regulation is another new field where constitutional positions tend to diverge rather than converge. Embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and surrogate motherhood are examples from biotechnology and reproductive medicine where constitutional scholars disagree about what, if anything, constitutional law can contribute to provide a basis or limit for regulation. With the worldwide rise of constitutional courts and judicial review, the standards for the interpretation of fundamental rights become more important. Legal scholarship has worked out the differences between the rule-oriented approach associated with Anglo-American legal systems versus the principle-based approach common to continental Europe.
In the aftermath of the third wave of democratization, Latin American courts left behind decades of subservience, conservatism, and irrelevance to become central political players. They now serve as arbiters in struggles between the elected branches, and increasingly affirm fundamental rights. Indeed, some rulings champion highly controversial rights and have huge budgetary implications, sending shock waves across these new democracies. What explains this unprecedented expansion of judicial power? In trying to answer this fundamental question about the functioning of contemporary democracies, scholars of Latin America have developed a truly vibrant and theoretically dynamic body of work, one that makes essential contributions to our knowledge of judicial politics more generally. Some scholars emphasize the importance of formal judicial reforms initiated by politicians, which resulted in more autonomous and politically insulated courts. In so doing, they address a central puzzle in political science: under what conditions are politicians willing to accept limits to their power? Inspired by rational choice theory, other authors zoom in on the dynamics of inter-branch interactions, to arrive at a series of propositions about the type of political environment in which courts are more capable to assert their power. Whereas this approach focuses on the ability of judges to exercise power, a third line of scholarship looks at how ideas about the law and judicial role conceptions affect judges’ willingness to intervene in high-stakes political struggles, championing some values and interests at the expense of others. Finally, more recent work asks whether assertions of judicial power make a difference in terms of rights effectiveness. Understanding the consequences of judicial decisions is essential to establishing the extent to which more assertive courts are actually capable of transforming the world around them.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.
Enlargement has always been an essential part of the European integration. Each enlargement round has left its mark on the integration project. However, it was the expansion of the European Union (EU) with the 10 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), Cyprus, and Malta, unprecedented in scope and scale, which presented the EU with an opportunity to develop a multifaceted set of instruments and transformed enlargement into one of the EU’s most successful policies. The numerous challenges of the accession process, along with the immensity of the historical mission to unify Europe, lent speed to the emergence of the study of EU enlargement as a key research area. The early studies investigated the puzzle of the EU’s decision to enlarge with the CEECs, and the costs and benefits of the Eastern expansion. However, the questions about the impact of EU enlargement policy inspired a new research agenda. Studies of the influence of the EU on candidate and potential candidate countries have not only widened the research focus of Europeanization studies (beyond the member states of the Union), but also stimulated and shaped the debates on the scope and effectiveness of EU conditionality. Most of the analytical frameworks developed in the context of the Eastern enlargement have favored rational institutionalist approaches highlighting a credible membership perspective as the key explanatory variable. However, studies analyzing the impact of enlargement policy on the Western Balkan countries and Turkey have shed light on some of the limitations of the rationalist approaches and sought to identify new explanatory factors.
After the completion of the fifth enlargement with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, the research shifted to analyzing the continuity and change of EU enlargement policy and its impact on the candidate and potential candidate countries. There is also a growing number of studies examining the sustainability of the impact of EU conditionality after accession by looking into new members’ compliance with EU rules. The impact of EU enlargement policy on the development of European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and comparative evaluations of the Union’s performance across the two policy frameworks have also shaped and expanded the debate on the mechanisms and effectiveness of the EU’s influence. The impact of the Eastern enlargement on EU institutions and policymaking is another area of research that has emerged over the last decade. In less than two decades, the study of EU enlargement policy has produced a rich and diverse body of literature that has shaped the broader research agendas on Europeanization, implementation, and compliance and EU policymaking. Comprehensive theoretical and empirical studies have allowed us to develop a detailed understanding of the impact of the EU on the political and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. The ongoing accession process provides more opportunities to study the evolving nature of EU enlargement policy, its impact on candidate countries, the development of EU policies, and the advancement of the integration project.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has generated considerable controversy since it came into force in 2002, principally because of its overriding focus on African conflict situations and suspects. This has led to accusations that the ICC is a neocolonial meddler in African affairs, wielding undue and unaccountable influence over the domestic political arena. Drawing on the author’s field research in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006 this article contends that the neocolonialism critique of the ICC exaggerates the power of the Court while underestimating the capacity of African states to use the ICC to their own ends. Delivering distanced justice from The Hague with limited expertise on African societies and spending scant time in the field, the ICC has failed to grapple sufficiently with complex political dynamics “on the ground.” Combined with the Court’s heavy reliance on state cooperation, these factors have enabled African governments to use the ICC to target their political and military enemies while protecting themselves from prosecution. This has also emboldened African states in continuing to commit atrocity crimes against civilians, especially during periods of mass conflict and fraught national elections. While claiming to hover above the political fray, the ICC has become heavily politicized and instrumentalized by African states, with lasting and damaging consequences for the practice of national politics across Africa. To avoid being willfully used by African governments, the ICC must bolster its political expertise and become politically savvier. Rather than claiming to be neutral while hovering above the domestic terrain, the ICC must embrace its inherently political nature and deliver justice in a way that improves rather than undermines the practice of national and community-level politics across Africa.
Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.
Nathan C. Walker
A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Referendums are puzzling because they are ubiquitous. Described in the theoretical literature as “veto-player institutions,” referendums are used as frequently by autocratic dictators as they are employed in constitutional democracies. As an institution championed by both Hitler and Churchill, as well as Augusto Pinochet and Woodrow Wilson it is not surprising that political scientists of an earlier generation felt that they defied all attempts to develop testable hypotheses and that referendums—in the words of Arend Lijphart from his 1984 book Democracies—“fail to fit any clear universal pattern.”
More recently, beginning in the 1990s, however scholars from both historical institutional as well as rational choice schools have begun to develop testable propositions as well as they have advanced explanations as to the origins, practice and consequences of the increased use of referendums. Further, in addition to general theories of voting behaviour in referendums, an emerging literature has been established, which has investigated the policy consequences of referendums. These consequences include, lower levels of inequality, higher levels of trust in government and lower levels of public spending. Compared to an earlier period characterised by ideographic single country studies, and a general pessimism regarding the prospect of developing general theories, the study of referendums has entered a ‘revolutionary’ phase in the Kuhnian sense of the word. While no general paradigm has emerged, scholars are increasingly confident that general recurrent patterns exist and that it is possible to develop law-like statements about the emergence, use, and implications of the use of the referendum.
Subnational policymaking is central to LGBT politics and law, in contrast to other arenas of policymaking for marginalized groups. With barriers to national policymaking in Congress and in the federal courts, LGBT rights activists have leveraged opportunities at the state and local levels to create LGBT-supportive policies. Opponents have also used subnational politics to further their agenda, particularly direct democracy, while LGBT rights activists have used elite politics, such as state courts, effectively. Subnational LGBT politics is also marked by a significant variety in policy outcomes, with a notable urban and suburban versus rural divide in policymaking and in the presence of openly LGBT elected officials. The case of LGBT policy and law has caused scholars to rethink questions such as the role of public opinion in state policymaking, morality politics, and courts and social change.
Cyanne E. Loyle
Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing.
Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles.
As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power).
Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.