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The Legal Right to Human Dignity

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Human dignity 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. It is integral to public law, private law, criminal law, and administrative law in areas ranging from environmental protection to housing to procedural rights of political participation and access to justice.

"As constitutions explicitly protect human dignity, and courts [give it] meaning, people around the world increasingly develop a feeling of dignity – an internalized awareness of their own worth and of the power it carries."

-Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person


"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


"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)


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.