Data Spotlight: Constitutions

Constitutions are vital pieces of cultural and legal history, offering us the ability to understand the structure of societies, both living and dead. For these reasons, today’s data spotlight will put the focus on national constitutions archived on the permaweb!

Credit for the majority of these constitutions goes to the Constitute Project, which is which is dedicated to collecting and cleverly indexing the world’s constitutions. The Constitute Project’s web interface also allows for direct comparison between constitutions, which is worth noting isn’t possible with each PDF in isolation. Also, additional information and documentation has been collected from across the web to supplement the Constitute Project’s excellent array of documents.

We have uploaded all of these important documents to the permaweb, where they will be preserved forever, to be explored and educate future generations.

Constitutions: The basics

Constitutions are a set of laws, rules, or precedents defining how a nation is to be governed. Constitutional documents vary wildly in format and content between nations, as you might expect.

Codified Constitutions

First page of the constitution of the United States (1787)

Some nations have a fully ‘codified’ constitution, which means all of these rules and descriptions have been condensed into a single document. The United States of America, for example, has the world’s oldest fully codified constitution, originally written in 1787, with the most recent amendment being ratified in 1992. Even a fully codified constitution like the USA is therefore not a static document, but is subject to revision and addition.

Uncodified Constitutions

However, other nations like the United Kingdom or New Zealand have largely uncodified constitutions (i.e. ‘unwritten’ constitutions). This means that there is no single document that comprises constitutional law, but rather these rules are spread over a wide range of documents typically written over a long period of time.

The Magna Carta (1215), the first known charter of rights in the UK

For example the UK constitution includes all of the following: parts of the Magna Carta (written in 1215!), Acts of Parliament, and even unspoken and unwritten conventions and rules. As you might imagine, this can get confusing! If the UK constitution interests you, check out this 2015 UK Parliament report discussing it further, including some reform proposals.

Reinstated Constitutions


Interestingly, there are several constitutions in this archive collection that have been suspended at some point and then later reinstated. I thought it would be interesting to dive into some of these to find out why a constitution might be suspended, why it might be reinstated, and what happens to the country in the meantime.

Austria’s current coat of arms, note the broken chains

Let’s take Austria’s current constitution, which was first created in 1920. When Austria was annexed by the German Nazi regime in 1938, Austria itself ceased to become an independent, sovereign nation. As such, Austria’s own national constitution was automatically suspended, only being reinstated when Austria once again declared itself an independent nation and separated from Nazi rule in May 1945. The nation was also required to suspend their national coat of arms whilst under Nazi control. When reinstated, a pair of broken chains were added to the feet of the icon’s eagle, representing the nation’s liberation from National Socialism. So, with Austria, the suspension of the constitution was directly related to the suspension of national sovereignty as a whole.

I noticed a common theme in many reinstated constitutions in this collection — national governments being ousted by military coups. The new governing force then often immediately suspends the old constitution, usually planning to put a new one in place that reflects their own ideology. For example, Bangladesh experienced a military coup, a presidential assassination, multiple periods of martial law, the dissolution of parliament, the banning of political parties, and the suspension of constitutional law in the 1970s and ’80s. Bangladesh’s constitution was finally reinstated for good in 1986, though it has had several alterations since then, including the inclusion of Islam as the national religion in 1988.


Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic flag (top) & Latvia’s current flag (below)

One nation that experienced both constitutional interference from a foreign power and also a military coup affecting their constitution is Latvia. Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, when it became the ‘Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic’ a new Soviet-style constitution was enacted. In 1990 the occupation was deemed illegal because it ignored the Latvian constitution itself at the time. This opened the door to reinstating the non-Soviet Latvian constitution in 1991.

Other reinstated constitutions in this archive collection include: Algeria, 1989, reinstated 1996; Argentina, 1853, reinstated 1983; Grenada, 1973, reinstated 1991; Indonesia, 1945, reinstated 1959; Kuwait, 1962, reinstated 1992; Pakistan, 1973, reinstated 2002; Sierra Leone, 1991, reinstated 1996; and Uruguay, 1966, reinstated 1985.

Historical Constitutions

The Dominican Republic

Current flag of the Dominican Republic

One of the historical constitutions now archived on the permaweb is that of the Dominican Republic in 2010. Interestingly, the Dominican Republic has had 39 different constitutions since its independence in 1844, which is more than any other nation! This fits within an overall pattern, as South American nations generally have a high total number of constitutions in their history.

Although most historical changes to the Dominican Republic’s constitution have been fairly minor, the 2010 constitution is a different matter entirely. The 2010 constitution was extremely controversial, including a clause explicitly against same-sex marriage which reads, “The State shall promote and protect the family organization based on the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.(article 55 of the 2010 constitution). It also explicitly outlawed abortion for any reason, including in cases of rape and or threat to the mother’s life or health. To this day, abortion for any reason remains illegal in the Dominican Republic. For a more detailed discussion of the 2010 constitution, check out this article from Freedom House written shortly after it was ratified.

Other historical constitutions archived in this collection include: the Central African Republic constitutions of 2004 and 2013; Chad 1996; Republic of the Congo, 2001; Côte d’Ivoire, 2000; Egypt, 2012; Nepal, 2006; Thailand, 2007 and 2014; and Tunisia, 1959.

Constitutions in Law vs. in Practice

It is certainly worth taking a moment to acknowledge that sometimes what’s written in a country’s constitution is not what is upheld in practice. Although some countries aggressively uphold the protections in their constitutions, others fail to do so, and may even act in contradiction to their constitutional articles.


The ‘Five-starred Red Flag’, of the People’s Republic of China

Article 36 in China’s constitution states, “No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.”. However, China’s government strictly dictates how religion can and cannot be practiced in China. The state officially sanctions only five religious organisations, and further controls behaviour and practices inside of those five organisations. Additionally, members of the Community Party in China are required to be atheist. Many will be familiar with China’s persecution of the Falun Gong faith and its practitioners, with the government attempting to eradicate the belief system from China entirely, even setting up a security agency dedicated to this goal.

So, although constitutions are certainly interesting cultural artifacts, it’s vital to consider them in their wider societal context to fully understand their impact on a country and its citizens.

While talking about China’s constitution, I feel obliged to draw your attention to the 2018 amendments to the document, as they represent a further consolidation of power with the ruling party. In fact, in 2018 for the first time the constitution includes explicit reference to the Community Party of China and its leadership of the country. For those interested, I would strongly recommend this Library of Congress piece diving deeper into China’s 2018 constitutional amendments. It is also worth noting that the Constitute Project’s archived version of the Chinese constitution only includes amendments through 2004. Here is a translation with the 2018 amendments included.

A Micronation Constitution

The Principality of Sealand

Current flag of the Principality of Sealand

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation located on ‘Roughs Tower’, a small artificial structure positioned around eight miles off the coast of England. Originally, the tower was an anti-aircraft platform used by the British armed forces during the second world war. After the war, the tower was decommissioned and remained unused until occupation by pirate radio broadcasters in the 1960s. Later, Paddy Roy Bates (later known as Prince Roy of Sealand) claimed it as his own, declaring its status as an independent nation in 1975.

Although formally unrecognised by any (other!) sovereign nation, the Principality of Sealand takes its statehood very seriously, and has published two national constitutions since proclaiming its independence. The first constitution, written in 1975, can be found here, and the second written in 1989 can be found here.

Sealand’s coat of arms, motto is translated as ‘From the sea, liberty’

Although Sealand’s history as a nation has been relatively short, it has not been without intrigue, drama, and even treason. For a colourful overview of British military forces attempts to deny Sealand its statehood, check out the Sealand government’s own website here. Furthermore, in 1978, the then-Prime Minister of Sealand, Alexander Achenbach, organised a mercenary force to attack and occupy Sealand while its other leaders were on the mainland. This failed, and ultimately resulted in Achenbach being charged with treason against Sealand, and held by Sealand forces. As Achenbach held both a German and a Sealand passport, a German diplomat was dispatched to Sealand, and successfully negotiated his release. Later, Achenbach declared that he led a government in exile from Sealand, and has made continuous efforts to regain control of the micronation since then.

Regarding Sealand’s current constitution, it contains many familiar articles, such as the guarantee of equal treatment under the law regardless of sex, religion, race, language, etc., defining a line of succession, enshrinement of national languages (English and German), a currency, and the national flag. The second Sealand constitution was written in 1989 primarily to , primarily written to enshrine a constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one, though Prince Roy retained the right to define his heirs. To explore Sealand’s constitution yourself check it out right here!

Comparing Constitutions

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea

Current flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

I think it is worth spending some time comparing the constitutions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Korea. These nations often go by different informal names in the west of course — North Korea and South Korea, respectively.

For me personally, one unexpected aspect of both Korean constitutions was the clearly stated goal of (re)unifying Korea as a single nation, rather than the two independent states that exist today. See the preamble of both constitutions for confirmation of this. I was surprised both nations outwardly seem to share this goal, though it is perhaps more well known that this is a long-standing North Korean objective. Prior to the First World War, Korea was a single unified state for centuries, and after the Second World War Korea was divided into two nations, one (North Korea) administrated by the Soviet Union, and one (South Korea) administrated by the United States. Since that point, the two nations have become radically different places politically, economically, technologically, and in citizens’ quality of life. For instance, in 2015 North Korea’s GDP was estimated at $40 billion, compared to South Korea’s was $1.92 trillion in the same year.

One pattern I noticed was some very specific articles in the South Korean constitution that seemed to be a deliberate counterpoint to the North Korean regime. For example, the South Korean constitution makes sure to state that all individuals, regardless of social status, will be equal under the law, and that no privileged caste shall ever be recognised or established (article 11). Conversely, the North Korean constitution explicitly states that the working class and the working people are “masters of everything” and everything in society serves them (article 8, see also articles 4 and 10).

Current flag of the Republic of Korea

It is also worth noting, perhaps, that the South Korean constitution explicitly outlaws kin punishment — punishment by the state of one person for the crimes of a family member (article 13, part 3). It’s difficult to believe this isn’t a direct reaction to the ‘three generations rule’, enacted by North Korea in 1972. Under this law, when a person is convicted of more serious crimes, not only themselves but also their children and grandchildren will be punished — typically by being sent to forced labour camps.

I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to take a look at some constitutions you’re unfamiliar with. You’ll certainly get a novel insight into how certain nations are run, how they wish to define themselves to the world, and how, in practice, these things can differ greatly.

I enjoyed my deep dive into this dataset greatly, and I’m sure you will too!

Follow the Decentralised Public Library here on Medium and over on Twitter for future data spotlights! Remember, feel free to drop us an email if you have a particular dataset or collection you’d like us to archive!


Assorted archived constitutional documents in this post:

The evolution of Austria’s coat of arms:

Austria’s current system of parliamentary democracy:

‘On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia’, finding the occupation of Latvia illegal:

The 1975 constitution of the Principality of Sealand:

The preamble to the 1989 constitution of the Principality of Sealand:

The 1989 constitution of the Principality of Sealand:

Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

United Kingdom’s original full text of the Magna Carta (1215):

A list of permaweb URLs for the constitution documents in this dataset, originally sourced from the Constitute Project:

Afghanistan, 2004:

Albania, 1998, revised 2016:

Algeria, 1989, reinstated 1996, revised 2016:

Andorra, 1993:

Angola, 2010:

Antigua and Barbuda, 1981:

Argentina, 1853, reinstated 1983, revised 1994:

Armenia, 1995 , revised 2015:

Australia, 1901, revised 1985:

Austria, 1920, reinstated 1945, revised 2013:

Azerbaijan, 1995, revised 2016:

(The) Bahamas, 1973:

Bahrain, 2002, revised 2017:

Bangladesh, 1972, reinstated 1986, revised 2014:

Barbados, 1966, revised 2007:

Belarus 1994, revised 2004:

Belgium, 1831, revised 2014:

Belize 1981, revised 2011:

Benin, 1990:

Bhutan, 2008:

(Plurinational State of) Bolivia, 2009:

Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1995, revised 2009:

Botswana, 1966, revised 2005:

Brazil, 1988, revised 2007:

Brunei Darussalam, 1959, revised 2006:

Bulgaria, 1991, revised 2015:

Burkina Faso, 1991, revised 2012:

Burundi, 2005:

Cambodia, 1993, revised 2008:

Cameroon, 1972, revised 2008:

Canada, 1867, revised 2011:

Cape Verde,1980, revised 1992:

Central African Republic, 2016:

Chile, 1980, revised 2015:

(People’s Republic of) China, 1982, revised 2004:

Colombia, 1991, revised 2015:

Comoros, 2001, revised 2009:

(Democratic Republic of the) Congo, 2005, revised 2011:

(Republic of the) Congo, 2015:

Costa Rica, 1949, revised 2015:

Côte d’Ivoire, 2016:

Croatia, 1991, revised 2013:

Cuba, 1976, revised 2002:

Cuba, 2018 (draft of 22nd July 2018):

Cuba, 2019 (draft of 5th January 2019):

Cyprus, 1960, revised 2013:

Czech Republic, 1993, revised 2013:

Denmark, 1953:

Djibouti, 1992, revised 2010:

Dominica, 1978, revised 2014:

Dominican Republic, 2015:

Ecuador, 2008, revised 2015:

Egypt, 2014:

El Salvador, 1983, revised 2014:

Equatorial Guinea, 1991, revised 2012:

Eritrea, 1997:

Estonia, 1992, revised 2015:

Ethiopia, 1994:

Fiji, 2013:

Finland, 1999, revised 2011:

France, 1958, revised 2008:

Gabon, 1991, revised 2011:

(The) Gambia, 1996, revised 2004:

Georgia, 1995, revised 2013:

Germany, 1949, revised 2014:

Ghana, 1992, revised 1996:

Greece, 1975, revised 2008:

Grenada, 1972, reinstated 1991, revised 1992:

Guatemala, 1985, revised 1993:

Guinea, 2010:

Guinea-Bissau, 1984, revised 1996:

Guyana, 1980, revised 2016:

Haiti, 1987, revised 2012:

Honduras, 1982, revised 2013:

Hungary, 2011, revised 2016:

Iceland, 1944, revised 2013:

Iceland, 2011 (draft of 29th July 2011):

India, 1949, revised 2016:

Indonesia, 1945, reinstated 1959, revised 2002:

(Islamic Republic of) Iran, 1979, revised 1989:

Iraq, 2005:

Ireland, 1937, revised 2015:

Israel, 1958, revised 2013:

Italy, 1947, revised 2002:

Jamaica, 1952, revised 2016:

Japan, 1946:

Jordan, 1952, revised 2016:

Kazakhstan, 1995, revised 2017:

Kenya, 2010:

Kiribati, 1979, revised 2013:

(Democratic People’s Republic of) Korea, 1972, revised 2016:

(Republic of) Korea, 1948, revised 1987:

Kosovo, 2008, revised 2016:

Kuwait, 1962, reinstated 1992:

Kyrgyzstan, 2010, revised 2016:

Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 1991, revised 2003:

Latvia, 1922, reinstated 1991, revised 2016:

Lebanon, 1926, revised 2004:

Lesotho, 1993, revised 2011:

Liberia, 1986:

Libya, 2011, revised 2012:

Libya, 2016 (draft of 2nd March 2016):

Liechtenstein, 1921, revised 2011:

Lithuania, 1992, revised 2006:

Luxembourg, 1868, revised 2009:

(Republic of) Macedonia, 1991, revised 2011:

Madagascar, 2010:

Malawi, 1994, revised 2017:

Malaysia, 1957, revised 2007:

Maldives, 2008:

Mali, 1992:

Malta, 1964, revised 2016:

Marshall Islands, 1979, revised 1995:

Mauritania, 1991, revised 2012:

Mauritius, 1968, revised 2016:

Mexico, 1917, revised 2015:

(Federated States of) Micronesia, 1978, revised 1990:

(Republic of) Moldova, 1994, revised 2016:

Monaco, 1962, revised 2002: xlImkR8Gst2g8UV00jD2QZORqHW9UrijVxyD3iFdB4Q

Mongolia, 1992, revised 2001:

Montenegro, 2007, revised 2013:

Morocco, 2011:

Mozambique, 2004, revised 2007:

Myanmar, 2008:

Namibia, 1990, revised 2014:

Nauru, 1968, revised 2015:

Nepal, 2015, revised 2016:

Netherlands, 1815, revised 2008:

New Zealand, 1852, revised 2014:

Nicaragua, 1987, revised 2014:

Niger, 2010, revised 2017:

Nigeria, 1999, revised 2011:

Norway, 1814, revised 2016:

Oman, 1996, revised 2011:

Pakistan, 1973, reinstated 2002, revised 2017:

Palau, 1981, revised 1992:

Palestine, 2003, revised 2005:

Panama, 1972, revised 2004:

Papua New Guinea, 1975, revised 2016:

Paraguay, 1992, revised 2011:

Peru, 1993, revised 2009:

Philippines, 1987:

Poland, 1997, revised 2009:

Portugal, 1976, revised 2005:

Qatar, 2003:

Romania, 1991, revised 2003:

Russian Federation, 1993: revised 2014:

Rwanda, 2003, revised 2015:

Saint Kitts and Nevis, 1983:

Saint Lucia, 1978:

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 1979:

Samoa, 1962, revised 2017:

Sao Tome and Principe, 1975, revised 2003:

Saudi Arabia, 1992, revised 2013:

Senegal, 2001, revised 2016:

Serbia, 2006:

Seychelles, 1993, revised 2017:

Sierra Leone, 1991, reinstated 1996, revised 2013:

Singapore, 1963, revised 2016:

Slovakia, 1992, revised 2017:

Slovenia, 1991, revised 2016:

Solomon Islands, 1978, revised 2014:

Somalia, 2012:

South Africa, 1996, revised 2012:

(The Republic of) South Sudan, 2011, revised 2013:

Spain, 1978, revised 2011:

Sri Lanka, 1978, revised 2015:

Sudan, 2005:

Suriname, 1987, revised 1992:

Swaziland, 2005:

Sweden, 1974, revised 2012:

Switzerland, 1999, revised 2014:

Syrian Arab Republic, 2012:

Syrian Arab Republic, 2017 (draft of 23rd January 2017):

Taiwan (Republic of China), 1947, revised 2005:

Tajikistan, 1994, revised 2003:

(United Republic of) Tanzania, 1977, revised 2005:

Thailand, 2017:

Timor-Leste, 2002:

Togo, 1992, revised 2007:

Tonga, 1875, revised 2013:

Trinidad and Tobago, 1976, revised 2007:

Tunisia, 2014:

Turkey, 1982, revised 2017:

Turkmenistan, 2008, revised 2016:

Tuvalu, 1986, revised 2010:

Uganda, 1995, revised 2017:

Ukraine, 1996, revised 2016:

United Arab Emirates, 1971, revised 2009:

United States of America, 1789, revised 1992:

Uruguay, 1966, reinstated 1985, revised 2004:

Uzbekistan, 1992, revised 2011:

Vanuatu, 1980, revised 2013:

(Bolivarian Republic of) Venezuela, 1999, revised 2009:

(Socialist Republic of) Vietnam, 1992, revised 2013:

Yemen, 1991, revised 2015:

Yemen, 2015 (draft of 15th January 2015):

Zambia, 1991, revised 2016:

Zimbabwe, 2013, revised 2017:

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