Dignity and human rights
Dignity has become an elemental part of most international human rights instruments, including in conventions to protect children, indigenous people and to protect all peoples from torture and discrimination, among others and it is recognized in the regional human rights documents in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. In more than 160 constitutions around the world,1 it is found “sometimes as a right, sometimes as a value, sometimes in ways that make it hard to distinguish between the two.”2 Where it is not an actionable right – and in some places where it is – it has been read into the constitutional foundations by courts in countless decisions from all regions of the world in all legal and cultural traditions.3 And in the United States, it has recently been adopted by the American Bar Association – representing the nation’s 400,000 lawyers – as the foundation of a “just rule of law.”4
This chapter traces the evolution of dignity from its status as a philosophical notion to its integration in legal instruments at the international, regional, and national levels. Throughout this journey, it has kept much the same shape – namely, serving to distinguish humans from other animals and on the basis of the rationality that marks the species. On the other hand, there has been a monumental shift in dignity thinking from a mark of distinction for certain men to a universal and inherent trait, and with that, the integration of equality into the concept of dignity. The treatment of...
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