Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
11 October 2022

Diversity and Constitutional Rights in Brazil, India, and the US

Peggy Cooper Davis, Jamil Chade and Milan Vaishnav open the Institute’s programme for the Geneva Democracy Week.

The Geneva Graduate Institute’s programme for the 2022 edition of Democracy Week opened on 3 October with a keynote lecture and panel discussion that spoke directly to this year’s theme, “Constructing Democracy”. Indeed, the event explored the pivotal role of constitutions and policies in promoting diversity and human rights in Brazil, India, and the United States—a timely conversation given the tight result of the Brazilian elections the day before.

In opening remarks, AHCD Executive Director Christine Lutringer gave thanks to the US Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, whose support made the event possible. Michèle Righetti, State Chancellor for the Geneva canton, then noted the centrality of the event’s theme: she underlined, among others, that democracy is being challenged by democratically elected authoritarian leaders, and that it must be actively “cultivated”.

Peggy Cooper Davis, John S. R. Shad Professor of Lawyering and Ethics Director, New York University, and the Institute’s special guest for the week, gave a keynote lecture on the US case that showcased how competing subcultures and competing national stories affect the way the US has constructed and constructs its constitutional system. She traced these stories, among others, to the postcolonial history of the US, noted the founding words of the US Constitution were not given force of law, and suggested post-civil war statutes should be thought of as having reformed the Constitution to be consistent with its ideas.

In a panel moderated by Ravinder Bhavnani, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Geneva Graduate Institute, Director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Milan Vaishnav and Brazilian journalist Jamil Chade then, respectively, commented on the Indian and Brazilian cases.

Milan Vaishnav highlighted that religion has become the overriding condition for citizenship in India and that, while India’s constitution is the longest, it nonetheless features important gaps between de jure and de facto. Jamil Chade, in turn, drew on his experience covering the Brazilian elections to note the importance of narratives and disinformation in providing support to authoritarian leaders. “In Brazil”, he underlined, “we [once] thought that these narratives did not have space because we have a constitution”.

Diversity and constitutional rights in Brazil, India and the United States