Dignity & Democracy
  • HRDF logo
  • Dignity & Democracy

    A HRDF Blog


    Since it was codified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, human dignity has been recognised in almost all human rights instruments adopted in its wake. Human dignity is also codified in most constitutions adopted around the world. You will find here a range of resources including relevant treaty and constitution provisions, international European and domestic case law, academic publications about human dignity and human rights. Resources will also include a range of non-academic and non legal materials drawing from the wider field of arts . This database of resources is put together with existing resources (and the original source is indicated) and with resources that the Dignity&Democracy Blog is developing.

    Watch this space for next resource

    Implementation Behaviours and a Strength-Based Approach to Equality and Human Rights Implementation, by David Barrett (Industrial Law Journal 2023)

    The introduction of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and the Human Rights Act were intended to establish an equality and human rights culture within public authorities. However, so far this culture has failed to take hold. Both utilise an enforcement pyramid model of regulation, where penalties increasingly progress until non-compliers comply. Using original empirical data this article explores the implementation of equality and human rights law within public authorities via semi-structured interviews. It finds three different implementation profiles: strong implementation (where individuals make the most of the resources they have and drive ever deeper implementation), mixed implementation (where individuals oscillate between deeper and perfunctory implementation), and weak implementation (where individuals avoid taking meaningful action due to feeling overwhelmed and in need of rescue). On the basis of these behaviours, it is argued that an alternative strength-based model of regulation is needed to supplement the enforcement pyramid and truly establish an equality and human rights culture within public authorities. Read the full article.

    Dignity, Democracy, Civilisation, by Catherine Dupre (Liverpool Law Review, 2013)

    This paper contributes to international discussion about the difficulty of defining human dignity as a legal concept by locating it at the heart of (European) democracy and human rights. Focusing on emerging dignity case law in the United Kingdom, the paper explores the connections among dignity, human rights and democracy, and the uses of dignity to enhance and refine democracy. While judges are key actors in the construction of dignity, they operate within the boundaries of a particular democratic ‚Äėcivilisation‚Äô anchored in the core prohibitions of art 2, 3 and 4 European Convention on Human Rights, combined with those of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (art. 2, 3, 4 and 5). This normative core, the paper argues, is to be understood in the wider time frame of democracy and dignity, which is equally important for refining and thickening human dignity‚Äôs conceptual and normative definition, as well as for reflecting on the legitimacy of its (judicial) uses. Read the full article

    Transformative capacity building around a right to a healthy environment: what role for dignity as a human rights value?, by Elaine Webster and Elisa Morgera

    For decades, scholars have explored the potential merits and risks of a formal, self-standing human right to a healthy environment. While some have advocated this right in a way that may be perceived as too ‘thin’ to connect to local experiences, others have critiqued it in a way that may be perceived as too disconnected from the benefits of human rights processes. In this article we discuss ongoing experiences in Scotland, where a new national human rights framework is being developed. Drawing on this experience, we highlight methods of capacity building as a different channel for thinking about the potential merits of new articulations of a right to a healthy environment, and for developing understandings of this right’s substance applied to specific contexts. Specifically, we reflect on the potential role of the foundational human rights value of respect for dignity as an anchor in capacity building around the right to a healthy environment. We explore an idea of capacity building which facilitates local-level ownership over international human rights law and underpinning values and is focused on implementation. We suggest that this kind of ethos as part of mutual learning and alliance building should be further explored as a means of creating lasting, positive engagement with a rights-based perspective on environmental protection. Read more

    The age of dignity: human rights and constitutionalism in Europe, (Hart/Bloomsbury, 2015), by Catherine Dupre

    Human dignity is one of the most challenging and exciting ideas for lawyers and political philosophers in the twenty-first century. Even though it is rapidly emerging as a core concept across legal systems, and is the first foundational value of the European Union and its overarching human rights commitment under the Lisbon Treaty, human dignity is still little understood and often mistrusted. Based on extensive comparative and cross-disciplinary research, this path-breaking monograph provides an innovative and critical investigation of human dignity’s origins, development and above all its potential at the heart of European constitutionalism today. Grounding its analysis in the connections among human dignity, human rights, constitutional law and democracy, this book argues that human dignity’s varied and increasing uses point to a deep transformation of European constitutionalism. At its heart are the construction and protection of constitutional time, and the multi-dimensional definition of humanity as human beings, citizens and workers. Anchored in a detailed comparative study of case law, including the two European supranational courts and domestic constitutional courts, especially those of Germany, the UK, France and Hungary, this monograph argues for a new understanding of European constitutionalism as a form of humanism. Find out more.

    Human dignity and democracy in Europe: Synergies, tensions and crises, edited by D Bedford, C Dupre, G Halmai, and P Kapotas (Edward Elgar 2021)

    This collection identifies and discusses the connections between human dignity and democracy from theoretical, substantive, and comparative perspectives. Drawing on detailed analyses of national and transnational law, it provides timely insights into uses of human dignity to promote and challenge ideas of identity and solidarity.
    Highlighting human dignity’s significance for inclusive democracy, the book’s thirteen chapters underline how threats to human dignity can also be a danger to democracy itself. Critical analysis of the commitment to protect the dignity of all human beings following the rise of nationalism, illiberalism and identity politics are thoroughly reviewed. The volume further addresses urgent questions about today’s democratic societies in the context of Europe’s multiple crises. Read more.

    “I Know It When I See It”: Can Talking About ‘Dignity’ Support the Growth of a Human Rights Culture? [Final Report], by Elaine Webster

    The 2021 report of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership recommended a new legal framework that will bring into law a range of internationally recognised human rights, as well as additional protections for older people and LGBTI people and a right to a healthy environment. The aim is to strengthen the enjoyment of human rights in Scotland. The Scottish Government accepted all of the recommendations of the National Taskforce. The Taskforce report included a recommendation that the framework recognise human dignity as the underpinning value of all human rights. This research explores the extent to which the ‚Äėanchor‚Äô of dignity language in the underpinning principles of forthcoming human rights framework legislation can influence stakeholders‚Äô perceptions of the international legal standards to which the legislation aims to give effect. Read more

    Importing the law in post-communist transitions: the Hungarian constitutional court and the right to human dignity, by Catherine Dupre (Hart Publishing, 2003)

    Published 20 years ago, this book is of renewed relevance today for making sense of the current crisis of democracy. It provides a detailed analysis of how liberal democratic constitutional standards were deliberately and strategically imported from Germany to lay the foundations of the post-communist Hungarian democracy. It also provides a unique account of the development of the concept of human dignity as a new and liberal foundation for human rights. At a time when Hungary is no longer considered as a democracy by the European Union Parliament, this book illuminates the complex origins of constitutional democracy in Hungary between 1989 and 1998.

    Academic article

    Populism, Executive Power, and “Constitutional Impatience”, by Raphael Girard (Constitutional Studies, 2022)

    Populists are typically impatient with intermediaries, institutions (including legislatures and courts) and liberal-democratic procedures, which are seen as illegitimately thwarting the direct expression of the authentic ‚Äúwill of the people.‚ÄĚ Taking advantage of the spatio-temporal contours of liberal democracy, populism puts forward an alternative conception of democratic representation, one that not only aims to reduce the distance between gouvernants and gouvern√©s but also is, as populists would indirectly claim, better suited to the contemporary imperatives of temporal efficiency and rapidity. Yet, it is precisely in this context‚ÄĒwhich I call ‚Äúconstitutional impatience‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthat courts can provide a judicial response to populism. Read the full article.


    House of Commons Women and Equality Committee 2021 Report on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act

    In 2016, the Women and Equalities Committee (‘WEC’) recommended reform to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and, following the findings of the National LGBT Survey, the UK Government announced a public consultation into reform of the Act. This 2021 Report by the WEC Committee explores and interrogates the UK Government’s response to that public consultation and the limited reform proposed as a result. The Report provides useful background information to the consultation and calls to reform, and the problems which remain for trans and non-binary people who want to receive legal recognition. 

    International treaty

    1951 Refugee Convention

    The 1951 Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol) is the main legal instrument governing international refugee law. The Convention was adopted by the United Nations in Geneva in July 1951 in response to the aftermath of World War II. The Convention defines the term ‚Äėrefugee‚Äô and sets down the minimum obligations of contracting states to refugees. One of the main elements contained in the Convention is the principle of non-refoulement, which means that no contracting state shall return someone to a state where their life may be at risk.

    Dignity in Practice: American Bar Association (ABA)

    How can you use the arguments of dignity and rights in a wide range of issues such as consumer bankruptcy, corporate law and criminal proceedings? Find out more about the ABA Dignity Rights Initiative

    Dignity in constitutions around the world (ABA Dignity Rights Initiative)

    The argument of human dignity has often been made before courts about a wide range of issues. The American Bar Association Dignity Rights Initiative features a world-wide data base of dignity provisions in constitutions.

    Dignity used by courts around the world: a data base of case law (ABA Dignity Rights Initiative)

    The argument of human dignity has often been made before courts about a wide range of issues. Judges have played a key role in developing meanings and uses for human dignity and rights all around the world. The ABA Dignity Rights Initiative features a world-wide dignity rights case library.

    This case library is designed to be used by lawyers, scholars, policy-makers and others, and it is fully searchable and contains direct links to dignity cases from around the world on all topics, as well as abstracts and key words. If you want to contribute to it or provide feedback, please contact Professor Erin Daly: edaly@widener.edu.