Dr Elaine Webster, leader of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde, has published a study which explores whether talking about ‘dignity’ shapes perceptions of international human rights law, and helps to build a positive human rights culture.
The study asked civil society stakeholders in Scotland about what dignity means to them, and whether talking about dignity could promote the relevance of international human rights law for their work and for the wider culture of human rights.
Dr Webster found that talking about dignity can have different impacts on different audiences, but that across all these audiences, the concept of ‘dignity’ was helpful in explaining concepts in human rights law. International human rights law is often seen as inaccessible to people outside the legal profession, but the concept of dignity can be understood and appreciated by everyone. Dignity language can be used in education to build wider knowledge of human rights, and in holding duty-bearers accountable to the standard of treating rights-holders with dignity.
As Scotland moves towards the incorporation of international human rights law into our domestic law, civil society organisations will play a significant role in helping duty-bearers and rights-holders to understand these changes, and build a human rights culture. Talking about dignity as an underpinning value of the law can be a gateway to that understanding.