Empowerment
December 14, 2021
Human dignity: A foundational principle at the heart of human rights

HUMAN DIGNITY IS a foundational principle at the heart of human rights. It is mentioned in numerous international treaties, and the domestic laws of many countries.

According to the preamble of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “…rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person”. Moreover, this principle is also referenced in the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (“SVG’s Constitution”). Under the preamble of SVG’s Constitution, Vincentians, amongst other things, affirm that the “Nation is founded on…the freedom and dignity of man”.

The very fact that we are human beings means that we are born with dignity. It is because of this inherent dignity why all human beings have rights, should be treated equally with respect, and should not be unjustly discriminated against based on characteristics such as race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, health status, age, disability and/or other status.

But what exactly is human dignity? According to the Canadian Supreme Court in Law v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration) [1999]: “Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment.

Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to the individual needs, capacities or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying their differences. Human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored, or devalued, and is enhanced when laws recognize the full place of all individuals and groups within Canadian society”. Unfortunately, throughout human history some peoples’ rights and lives have been given more worth or value based on various ascribed or achieved characteristics, whilst other persons who did not meet those standards or who did not have those characteristics were looked down upon, ostracized, violently attacked, tortured, or even worst, brutally murdered.

This has resulted in many wars and revolutions in which groups that feel oppressed stand up for themselves against the status quo. It is a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself throughout human history.

A society where everyone is treated equally with dignity and respect is a society that benefits everyone. Disrespecting and devaluing others does not only affect the targeted persons, but it has a direct and indirect domino effect on others who may be close to them.

Persons can only truly self-actualize to their fullest potential, make great contributions to society and live dignified lives when human dignity is placed at the centre of development and progress, not backward ideologies or fear-mongering propaganda that devalues and disrespects certain groups of people in society.

Today, I encourage us to respect and value all human beings, because all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights and should be treated with respect.

Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister- at-law and Solicitor.
He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc.
He can be contacted via email at [email protected]