Human dignity stands for the simple and undeniable proposition that all human beings have inherent equal worth. This means that each person’s life is equally valuable, that each person is equally entitled to live a life of dignity, to have agency over their own life choices, and to be able to live in social and political communities with others.
The United Nations Charter identified human dignity as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights incorporated this language in finding that all members of the human family are “born equal in dignity and rights.” This language is radical, and has potentially revolutionary implications. First, by positioning human dignity as the foundation and the purpose of the human rights enterprise, it recognizes the centrality of human flourishing as the touchstone of rule of law and the best protection against warfare and violence. Second, by extending human worth to all persons equally, it rejected millennia of hierarchy and supremacy, thus annihilating the justification for oppression or discrimination based on gender, race, or any other human-made classification. Third, it affirms that dignity is an inherent quality, that does not wait for any government or organization to recognize it, and therefore permits nothing to deny or diminish it. And, fourth, by deriving from the recognition of human dignity an obligation to treat one another in a spirit of siblinghood, it associates dignity with universal human rights, for present and future generations. In succeeding sections, the UDHR identified the rights that flow from the recognition of human dignity.
These rights would be elaborated on and extended in scores of instruments of international and regional human rights law, in the constitutions of more than 160 nations, and in countless laws and regulations. Every constitution adopted since 2003 has included at least one reference to human dignity and in many modern constitutions, it appears more than 5 or 10 times. In countries as diverse as India, Israel, and South Africa, it is a foundational value; in Germany and Colombia and Pakistan, it is an actionable right; in Canada it is an interpretive factor; in Kenya, it is the very purpose of protecting human rights, and in Peru it is the very purpose of the state. In other places, such as the United States and in Europe, it has been inferred from other provisions, including the rights to equal protection, due process, and family life and privacy. To support the conclusion that dignity is an inherent part of the fabric of law, the American Bar Association in 2019 adopted a resolution affirming that dignity rights are the foundation of a “just rule of law.”
Given the widespread recognition of dignity as foundational to law, it is not surprising that it has also been instrumental in thousands of juridical decisions from international and regional tribunals and from domestic courts on every continent.
Because of these provisions, and of the global movement to appreciate the fundamental role that recognition of dignity plays in the application of human rights, more and more cases are being brought before courts around the world demanding the protection of human dignity. And jurists are increasingly embracing the opportunity to give meaning to dignity, even in cases where it is not absolutely needed for the resolution of the case; that is, they are choosing to address the human dignity dimensions of the claims.
Notable examples include: Argentina, where dignity is the foundation for freedom of speech and right of association; South Africa, where civic dignity protects voting rights and other rights associated with the political process; Israel, where it is a “mother right” whose “daughters” include the right of family unity as well as the right of prisoners to be treated humanely, among many other rights; Colombia, where dignity is a measure of the state’s obligation to provide health care; Germany, where the level of pension benefits must allow a person to live in dignity; Nigeria, where the right to live with dignity includes the right to a clean and stable environment; Pakistan, where the concept of dignity includes climate and water justice; and India, where dignity guarantees the right to travel.
These cases reveal that human dignity – while an intrinsic and universal human quality – is also a right that governments are bound to respect and that courts are bound to enforce. They show that dignity is a concept that has a defined meaning in law to strengthen democratic institutions while empowering individuals to demarcate the limits of governmental power and expand their own liberty. Courts have used dignity to elucidate when rights are violated and to remedy personal harms. Recognizing dignity does not mean that plaintiffs always win, of course; yet it draws attention to the what is at stake in these cases, provides a framework for addressing competing values, and ultimately improves the prospects of achieving justice.
 United Nations Charter, Preamble; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble and Article 1..
 See e.g. ICCPR, and ICESCR Preambles; Convention on the Rights of the Child; UNDRIP; The Stockholm Declaration (1972) asserted that “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.” http://www.un-documents.net/unchedec.htm; The Sustainable Development Goals (2015) “envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity,” recognize “that the dignity of the human person is fundamental,” and establishes a goal to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.” https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300.
 Asociación Lucha por la Identidad Travesti-Transexual v. Inspección General de Justicia, Argentina Supreme Court of Justice (21 November 2006).
 August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99)  ZACC 3; 1999 (3) SA 1; 1999 (4) BCLR 363 (1 April 1999).
 Golan v. Prison Services (1996) IsrSC 50 (4) 136; Gal-On v. Attorney General, HCJ 466/07 (2012).
 Sentencia T-292/09 (Constitutional Court of Colombia).
 BVerfG, Judgment of the First Senate of 09 February 2010 – 1 BvL 1/09 – paras. (1-220),
 Nigeria: Gbemre v. Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited and Others (2005) AHRLR 151 (NgHC 2005).
 Ashgar Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan (Lahore High Court, Pakistan, 2018).
 Maneka Ghandi v. Union of India (1978) 2 SCR 621.
Source by DRI