Human dignity recognizes the equal, inherent, and inalienable value of every person. It touches every important aspect of the human experience, from sexual and gender identity, to citizenship, equality and privacy, education and employment, healthcare, and more. In every aspect of life, people have the right to be treated with dignity. The field of dignity rights grew out of Erin Daly’s book, Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person, which is the first book to catalogue the emerging jurisprudence of dignity on a fully global scale and to describe dignity’s acceptance in law as a matter of actionable rights.
Human dignity is now so important in law that it is recognized a foundational value and as a legal right in international law from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the Sustainable Development Goals (2015) and in most of the world's constitutions, as well as by the American Bar Association as the foundation of a just rule of law. Because it deals with the value and quality of human life and with how people interact with one another, it is integral to all aspects of law, both public and private. The ABA’s Dignity in Practice Project includes essays drafted by Delaware Law School students on dignity in corporate law, bankruptcy law, employment law, intellectual property, real estate law, and criminal proceedings.
Learn more about the place of dignity in law from these Handbooks for judges and civil society drafted by Delaware Law School students.
"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…"
-Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Preamble
"The defense of the human person and respect for his dignity are the supreme purpose of the society and the State."
-Constitution of Peru 1993, Title I, Chapter I, Article I
“Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”
-Basic Law of Germany, Article I
"To preserve human dignity and to respect free development of the personality is the core value of the constitutional structure of free democracy."
-Constitutional Court of Taiwan, J.Y. Interpretation No. 603 (2005.9.28)
“The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts.”
-August and Another v. Electoral Commission, South Africa (1999)
Human dignity refers to the inherent humanness of each person. It is not an attribute or an interest to be protected or advanced, like liberty or equality or a house or free speech. Rather, human dignity is the essence of our being, without which we would not be human. Human dignity recognizes and reflects the equal worth of each and every member of the human family, regardless of gender, race, social or political status, talents, merit, or any other differentiator.
As rendered in constitutions and enforced by constitutional courts, it is a legal right that can be and often is asserted against the state or others and enforced by a court. The right to dignity is recognized in more than 150 of the world's constitutions from all regions of the world: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and North America, and the Pacific. Today, few constitutions are adopted or meaningfully amended without adding a reference to human dignity. The modern concept of dignity applies to all persons. It functions as an equalizer: if everyone has dignity, then everyone is subject to the same obligations and is entitled to the same benefits under the law.
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