The External Dimensions of Constitutions

19 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2017 Last revised: 23 Jan 2018

See all articles by Eyal Benvenisti

Eyal Benvenisti

University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: January 14, 2017


Constitutions are traditionally seen as inherently domestic documents, written by the people, for the people, and reflecting the nation’s highest values. Yet, constitutions also have important external dimensions. Constitutions define the territory of the nation. They articulate the requirements for citizenship. They define war-powers, treaty-making powers, and structure foreign affairs. They commonly demand that governments protect nationals that reside abroad. In some cases, they extend protections to foreigners in need, especially when they are seeking admission.

In a globalized world, this external face of constitutions is changing, reflecting the technological, political, economic, social and cultural changes that continuously reshape a variety of boundaries and determine their nature and level of permeability. Hence questions arise as to whether national constitutions take account of their impact on strangers, whether they should do so, and if so, how do they accommodate their concerns. Our aim in this Introduction Essay and in this Symposium is to draw attention to the external dimensions of constitutions, to the role constitutions play in the global sphere and, ultimately, to the question of responsibility of constitution drafters and interpreters to the outside world. While constitutions are traditionally understood as domestic documents, their significant and multifarious external dimensions raise moral and perhaps also legal questions about the respect that is due to outsiders and their human entitlement to equal concern and respect. We hope that this Symposium serves as the opening for such a debate also among constitutional lawyers.

Suggested Citation

Benvenisti, Eyal and Versteeg, Mila, The External Dimensions of Constitutions (January 14, 2017). Virginia Journal of International Law, Forthcoming, GloablTrust Working Paper 02-2017, University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 15/2018, Available at SSRN: or

Eyal Benvenisti (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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