Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Revolution and Pro-Democracy Aspirations

What the People Want from the Constitution

Abdolkarim Lahidji and Shirin Ebadi / Translation by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
June 21, 1979
Report

Lahiji, at a meeting of the Seminar entitled “What the People Want from the Constitution”: The Legislative Branch must be the Basis of Power:

*We raise our voices and declare that in drafting the Constitution, we must put all courtesies and niceties aside and write in a clear, incisive, and unambiguous manner, leaving no room for interpretations.

*A President would have to be innocent and immaculate not to turn into a dictator.

The sixth meeting of the Seminar entitled “What People Want from the Constitution” under the auspices of the Iranian Jurists Association, took place yesterday before noon to continue its discussion of the Constitution and the perspectives of various groups in that regard. The following people spoke at the meeting: Dr. Lahiji from the Iranian Jurists Association gave a speech entitled “The Legislative Branch and its Relations with the Parliament”; Seifollah Rafee’ee from the Iranian Jurists Association’s speech was entitled “The Parliamentary System and the Assembly System”; Esma’eel Zahed, a Bar Association Board member, spoke about “The Judicial Independence of General and Specialized Courts”; Shirin Ebadi of the Iranian Women Judges Association’s speech was “The Independence of the Judiciary Branch”; and Major Hossein Dabir Moghaddam, from the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, spoke regarding “Islamic Courts”.

Dr. Lahiji was the first speaker. He stated: “There was an interview with the Interior Minister in one of the morning newspapers or weekly magazines in which four or five individuals were named as the drafting board of the current Constitution. I must clarify certain points in this regard. Two months ago, we voluntarily wrote a draft Constitution, without any person, group, or the government soliciting us to do so, and submitted it to the government. I personally wrote a letter accompanying the draft, and proposed that it be immediately published in the press as a draft Constitution prepared by a number of individuals, so that the people can give their favorable as well as opposing views within a month. Political and social groups would then be invited to establish a board to hear criticisms, questions, favorable and opposing viewpoints, and draft a Constitution on the basis of the original text, taking into account favorable and opposing viewpoints. Then the draft prepared by this board would go directly to the Constitutional Assembly; not the government, not the Revolutionary Council, nor any other place. But I must say frankly, that many of the parts of the published text have been deleted and many others have been added. Many of the provisions have drastically changed, and some of the articles, that are unfortunately not many, (or perhaps fortunately from the perspective of the drafters of said text) remain [intact].”

In the [Constitutional] draft that was presented, national sovereignty was stated to belong to all the people and must be exercised for the good of the general public, and no single individual or group can expropriate it for its own purposes

Lahiji added: “In describing the legislative branch and its role, I remember we had stated (in one of the Iranian Jurists Association’s first declarations) that the legislative is the national center for ideas, thoughts, and planning. We believe that the legislative branch is not there solely to make laws; it is a symbol of the principle of national sovereignty. The legislative branch is more of a supervisory authority over the functioning of the government; the basis of power, therefore, lies with the legislative. Why is that so? Because the people are the sole source of governing, it is the people who delegate the power of governing to their representatives. And these representatives govern on behalf of the people. Therefore, national sovereignty means the legislative branch at the head of the power structure. We know that national sovereignty is exercised either directly – in smaller communities – or indirectly, through the parliament. In the majority of societies, there is, of course, a semi-direct format as well, that is, in certain instances, in addition to the parliament, the executive branch is authorized to intervene in law-making by referring directly to public opinion. We talked of national sovereignty. In the draft that was presented, national sovereignty was stated to belong to all the people and must be exercised for the good of the general public, and no single individual or group can expropriate it for its own purposes. If you look at Principle 15 in the current text, you will notice that certain amendments have been added to the definition which are completely unnecessary, and things like that are not few in that text, unfortunately.”

Most importantly, it is jurists and legal scholars who must address these matters, those legal scholars whose experience and history of fighting oppression and dictatorship gives them not only the authority but the duty to address these issues

He added elsewhere in his speech: “A president would have to be innocent and immaculate not to turn into a dictator. I don’t know any innocents in the current environment. The experience of the Constitutional Monarchy is more than enough for us. Reza Khan [demeaning term to refer to Reza Shah the Great, first king of the Pahlavi dynasty] and his son reigned over 50 years in this country calling themselves “Constitutional Monarchs” in brazen insolence. Why is that? Because of those same ambiguities and vague sentences, and the same conflicts that existed between the clergy and the more modern forces from day one. Each group wanted to put one over on the other group. This is where we raise our voices and say that when it comes to the Constitution, we must do away with niceties and courtesies; the Constitution must be so clear and so unambiguous and so well-defined as not to leave any room for interpretation, so that any ordinary person could understand what it says and what it means. Who is supposed to bring up these subjects? Thinkers and intellectuals; not the “King of Kings'’” [referring to Mohammad Reza Shah, second king of the Pahlavi Dynasty] intellectuals, but revolutionary intellectuals; and we are not lacking in that area. And most importantly, it is jurists and legal scholars who must address these matters, those legal scholars whose experience and history of fighting oppression and dictatorship gives them not only the authority but the duty to address these issues. Now is not the time for niceties and courtesies. Now is the time to draft the document evidencing the country’s revolution, that is, the Constitution. The blood of our martyrs has not yet dried; each and every one of this country’s specialists has great responsibility and carries a heavy load on their shoulders. Be fearful of future generations; be fearful of history’s lessons and history’s judgment, of the day history will judge [our deeds].”

Unfortunately, we have never had an independent judiciary branch and this branch has always functioned under the supervision of the executive branch

Esma’eel Zahed said in his speech: “The material and spiritual circumstances of our time require us to have a modern and progressive, yet independent and powerful, judicial system. It is only through the establishment of such a judiciary that we can, on the one hand, gain the trust of our people and their belief in real justice, and on the other hand, convince the world to believe that there is justice and a judicial system in an Islamic country.”

Shirin Ebadi, from the Women Judges’ Association, then spoke of the judiciary branch’s independence, and added: “Unfortunately, we have never had an independent judiciary branch and this branch has always functioned under the supervision of the executive branch.” Ebadi then added: “How can we expect a council that is selected [only] from among the members of the legislative to protect the Constitution?” She proposed that the council be composed of five high-ranking judges with at least twenty years’ experience on the bench, two representatives selected by the President, and two representatives from the National Consultative Assembly (Parliament).

She also criticized the fact that women judicial trainees were not allowed to become judges in the current environment.