Human Dignity in Legal Procedures
The following course aims at providing an overview of the conceptual debates around the concept “human dignity” by relying on different approaches to this controversial term and by showing how human dignity has been used in judicial adjudication.
First we will start with conceptual accounts of human dignity from different disciplines. Human dignity has the peculiarity of being at the heart of a number of, very different, ways of considering what is in general a human being (“the inherent dignity of all human beings”, Charles Taylor, 1994). Therefore, the concept of human dignity demands an interdisciplinary approach that will help to identify “human dignity’s parameters” previously to analyze “human dignity in action”. We will study the axiology and history of the concept from a philosophical, anthropology and legal point of view. Then, we will address dignity in the contemporary discourse of human rights.
The second part of the course will discuss how the concept has been shaped into legal references across different constitutional normative texts (Spanish, German, South Africa, Israel and China) as well as in international human rights law. I have selected some countries where the concept of human dignity plays some role, but of course the examples do not mean to be exhaustive.
The third part will show the range of interpretation by judges and courts. The ambition of this part will be fulfilled if the student develops an understand of the potential possibilities of human dignity when judges need to adjudicate and interpret human rights. In order to offer a pragmatic approach that covers a broad range of rights: the right to life and the end of life, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, right to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, prohibition of slavery and forced labour, health-related cases and biomedical issues, immigration and human trafficking, non- discrimination, the prohibition of abuse of rights, etc., we will focus primarily on the dignity cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The student will analyze if the concept of human dignity has been useful, meaningful, vague or problematic concept for judges.
Taking into consideration the emergence of new concepts of dignity, such as “posthuman dignity”, the course follows a structure that combines a pragmatic attitude with an attempt to cover the main perspectives on human dignity applied in courts. There is not an encyclopedic ambition to encompass all the moral, legal and religious positions in the comprehensive discussion of human dignity by legal scholars and judges but the goal of highlighting a variety of perspectives that I think are central for an understanding of a blurred and essential concept when the enforceability of human rights comes to the fore.