Human Dignity and Judicial Interpretation of Human Rights

Posted: 16 Oct 2008

See all articles by Christopher McCrudden

Christopher McCrudden

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

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Date Written: September 2008

Abstract

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was pivotal in popularizing the use of ‘dignity’ or ‘human dignity’ in human rights discourse. This article argues that the use of ‘dignity’, beyond a basic minimum core, does not provide a universalistic, principled basis for judicial decision-making in the human rights context, in the sense that there is little common understanding of what dignity requires substantively within or across jurisdictions. The meaning of dignity is therefore context-specific, varying significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and (often) over time within particular jurisdictions. Indeed, instead of providing a basis for principled decision-making, dignity seems open to significant judicial manipulation, increasing rather than decreasing judicial discretion. That is one of its significant attractions to both judges and litigators alike. Dignity provides a convenient language for the adoption of substantive interpretations of human rights guarantees which appear to be intentionally, not just coincidentally, highly contingent on local circumstances. Despite that, however, I argue that the concept of ‘human dignity’ plays an important role in the development of human rights adjudication, not in providing an agreed content to human rights but in contributing to particular methods of human rights interpretation and adjudication.

Suggested Citation

McCrudden, Christopher, Human Dignity and Judicial Interpretation of Human Rights (September 2008). European Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, Issue 4, pp. 655-724, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1281979 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ejil/chn043

Christopher McCrudden (Contact Author)

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law ( email )

School of Law
Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN
United Kingdom

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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