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About Dignity Rights

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.


Additional Resources

Here is a database of constitutional provisions referencing human dignity.

We will soon be launching our DIGNITY RIGHTS LAW LIBRARY, an online, free database of the global caselaw.

Selected Readings

Miguel Pérez, The Right to Dignity: Housing Struggles, City Making, and Citizenship in Urban Chile (forthcoming, Stanford Univ. Press, April 2022).
Judge Victoria Pratt, The Power of Dignity: How Transforming Justice Can Heal Our Communities (forthcoming, Seal Press, May 2022).
Zaynab El Bernoussi, Dignity in the Egyptian Revolution: Protest and Demand during the Arab Uprisings (2021).
Andrea Gattini et. al. (eds) Human Dignity and International Law (2021).
Angus J. L. Menuge, The Inherence of Human Dignity: Foundations of Human Dignity (2 volumes) (2021).
Anna Lise Purkey, Refugee Dignity in Protracted Exile (2021).
Dan Saxton, Fighting Machines: Autonomous Weapons and Human Dignity (2021).
Brett Scharffs & Ewelina Ochab, Dignity and International Human Rights Law: An Introduction to the Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere (2021).
Linda Barclay, Disability with Dignity: Justice, Human Rights and Equal Status (2020).
Erin Daly & James R. May, Dignity Law : Global Recognition, Cases, and Perspectives (2020).
James R. May & Erin Daly, Advanced Introduction to Human Dignity and Law (2020).
Zhibin Xie et. al. (ed) Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Social Justice: A Chinese Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Global Perspective (2020).
Richard Berquist, From Human Dignity to Natural Law: An Introduction (2019).
Erynn Masi de Casanova, Dust and Dignity: Domestic Employment in Contemporary Ecuador (2019).
Pablo Gilabert, Human Dignity and Human Rights (2019).
Hoda Mahmoudi, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Dignity and Human Rights (2019).
Frank M. McClellan, Healthcare and Human Dignity: Law Matters (2019).
Matthew McManus, Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law: A Critical Legal Argument (2019).
Laurie Ackerman, Human Dignity: Lodestar for Equality in South Africa, Juta & Co. (2012)
Christiaan W.J.M. Alting von Geusau, Human Dignity and the Law in Post-War Europe: Roots and Reality of an Ambiguous Concept. Wolf Legal Publishers (2013)
Aharon Barak, Human Dignity: The Constitutional Value and the Constitutional Right, Cambridge University Press (2015)
Yechiel Michael Barilan, Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility: The New Language of Global Bioethics and Biolaw, MIT Press (2012)
Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity, MIT Press (1996)
Patrick Capps, Human Dignity and the Foundations of International Law, Hart Publishing (2010)  
Sabine C. Carey and Mark Gibney, The Politics of Human Rights: The Quest for Dignity, Cambridge University Press (2010)
Drucilla Cornell, Law and Revolution in South Africa: uBuntu, Dignity, and the Struggle for Constitutional Transformation, Fordham University Press (2014)
Catherine Dupré, The Age of Dignity: Human Rights and Constitutionalism in Europe, Hart Publishing (2015)
Marcus Düwell and Jens Braarvig (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Human Dignity: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2014)
Edward J. Eberle, Dignity and Liberty: Constitutional Visions in Germany and the United States, Praeger (2002)
Charles Foster, Human Dignity in Bioethics and Law, Hart Publishing (2011)
Steven J. Heyman, Free Speech and Human Dignity,Yale University Press (2008)
Donna Hicks and Desmond Tutu, Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, Yale University Press (2012)
George Kateb, Human Dignity, Harvard University Press (2011)
Goldewijk B. Klein, Dignity and Human Rights: The Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Intersentia (2002)
Mark P. Lagon and Anthony Clark Arend, Human Dignity and the Future of Global Institutions, Georgetown University Press (2014)
David Luban, Legal Ethics and Human Dignity, Cambridge University Press (2009)
Jeff Malpas and Norelle Lickiss. Perspectives on Human Dignity: A Conversation, Springer (2007)
Aniceto Masferrer and Sánchez E. García, Human Dignity of the Vulnerable in the Age of Rights: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Springer (2016)
Christopher McCrudden (ed.), Understanding Human Dignity (Proceedings of the British Academy) (2013)
Edmund D. Pellegrino, Adam Schulman, and Thomas W. Merrill. Human Dignity and Bioethics, University of Notre Dame Press (2009)
Michael L. Perlin, A Prescription for Dignity: Rethinking Criminal Justice and Mental Disability Law, Routledge (2016)
Michael Rosen, Dignity: Its History and Meaning, Harvard University Press (2012)
Jeremy Waldron and Meir Dan-Cohen, Dignity, Rank, and Rights, Oxford University Press (2012)
Jacob Weinrib, Dimensions of Dignity: The Theory and Practice of Modern Constitutional Law, Cambridge University Press (2016)
Alicia Ely Yamin, Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter, University of Pennsylvania Press (2016)