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The Concept of Human Dignity in International Law

Hoctor, Leah LU (2011) JIL702 20112
Department of Law
Abstract
As we have evolved, human beings have developed a wide range of disciplines and discourses through which we address, analyse, dissect, explore and seek to progress, various aspects of our lives and what it is to be a human person. When considered from the perspective of each of these individual disciplines or vantage points different human features and aspects become the focus, depending on the lens used to observe.

In medical terms human beings are comprised of cells, nervous systems, and skeletons. We have heartbeats and thought processes. We are born and we die. In the rubric of social sciences the focus is on our methods of communication with one another, our construction of family units and our creation of political and economic... (More)
As we have evolved, human beings have developed a wide range of disciplines and discourses through which we address, analyse, dissect, explore and seek to progress, various aspects of our lives and what it is to be a human person. When considered from the perspective of each of these individual disciplines or vantage points different human features and aspects become the focus, depending on the lens used to observe.

In medical terms human beings are comprised of cells, nervous systems, and skeletons. We have heartbeats and thought processes. We are born and we die. In the rubric of social sciences the focus is on our methods of communication with one another, our construction of family units and our creation of political and economic systems and structures. While in psychological discourse, we are the stuff of conscious and subconscious desires, expectations and habits.

Overtime, as our methods of research and communication develop, we deepen, expand and refine our knowledge of ourselves, as human beings, and of the systems and structures we have put in place. In turn each of the disciplines and discourses we have created grows in scope and sophistication.

Law and politics, and individual legal and political systems, are no different. They are simply the regimes that we as human beings have constructed in order to define and regulate certain aspects of our interactions and interplay, at the interpersonal, local, national, regional or international level. Meanwhile, as with other disciplines, we have developed terminology and discourse to complement their construction and which we use to describe and discuss them. Concepts such as nationality, government, democracy, rule of law, are examples of the frameworks through which we analyse these legal and political systems and structures. They are the constructs that allow us to deal objectively with these systems and the very human interests and modus operandi out of which they have been created and which enable their operation. Constructs that in many respects enable us to secede responsibility for the impacts that these human creations have on our own, and our fellow human beings’ lives.

In the terms we have allocated to it international law is created by abstract entities called States in order to regulate the conduct of, and between, States. In turn the legal system defines the concept of State with reference to elements such as territory, control, and recognition by other States. There is little or no recognition of the notion of State as a human construct – of the fact that if we shift the paradigm and acknowledge that ultimately States are created by, composed of and represented by, human beings, then we lift the veil on a myriad of human actors, interests and impacts.

Moreover, for a long time, international law did not consider itself to be, and those human beings who, behind the curtain, engaged in its design and negotiation, did not acknowledge it to be, relevant to the affairs or situations of individual human beings.

Relatively recently this changed as areas of international law that are explicitly and directly concerned with human beings, such as human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law, developed. Time and again, in the context of relevant law and materials, the concept of "human dignity" and "the dignity of the human person" have been referred to. Some of these references have been such that the concept’s place at the heart of these bodies of law cannot be questioned. It has been described as the rationale behind their existence and deemed to stand at their core.

It is submitted that in the context of the international legal system, the dignity of the human person has become the mechanism by which, that system takes account of what it means to be a human being and to share that humanity with all other human beings. To the extent to which the system engages with or conceives of human beings, this ‘dignity’ has thereby become the human element or aspect in focus. And although its boundaries remain within the framework of a positivistic legal system it has nonetheless enabled international law to develop in a manner that can expressly and openly conceive of and take account of human beings.

In this way, over-time, and in subtle understated ways, it has created holes in the smokescreen between the legal system and the human world out of which it was created. In so doing it has enabled the system, the discipline and the discourse to deepen and expand in scope and sophistication. Ultimately perhaps it contains the opportunity, and has slowly created the space, for international law to expand and develop in a manner consonant with the expansion and development of human beings’ understanding and conceptualisation of themselves. (Less)
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author
Hoctor, Leah LU
supervisor
organization
course
JIL702 20112
year
type
H1 - Master's Degree (One Year)
subject
keywords
Human Rights
language
English
id
2168213
date added to LUP
2011-11-03 14:30:40
date last changed
2011-11-09 09:47:02
@misc{2168213,
  abstract     = {As we have evolved, human beings have developed a wide range of disciplines and discourses through which we address, analyse, dissect, explore and seek to progress, various aspects of our lives and what it is to be a human person. When considered from the perspective of each of these individual disciplines or vantage points different human features and aspects become the focus, depending on the lens used to observe. 

In medical terms human beings are comprised of cells, nervous systems, and skeletons. We have heartbeats and thought processes. We are born and we die. In the rubric of social sciences the focus is on our methods of communication with one another, our construction of family units and our creation of political and economic systems and structures. While in psychological discourse, we are the stuff of conscious and subconscious desires, expectations and habits. 

Overtime, as our methods of research and communication develop, we deepen, expand and refine our knowledge of ourselves, as human beings, and of the systems and structures we have put in place. In turn each of the disciplines and discourses we have created grows in scope and sophistication.   

Law and politics, and individual legal and political systems, are no different. They are simply the regimes that we as human beings have constructed in order to define and regulate certain aspects of our interactions and interplay, at the interpersonal, local, national, regional or international level. Meanwhile, as with other disciplines, we have developed terminology and discourse to complement their construction and which we use to describe and discuss them. Concepts such as nationality, government, democracy, rule of law, are examples of the frameworks through which we analyse these legal and political systems and structures. They are the constructs that allow us to deal objectively with these systems and the very human interests and modus operandi out of which they have been created and which enable their operation. Constructs that in many respects enable us to secede responsibility for the impacts that these human creations have on our own, and our fellow human beings’ lives. 

In the terms we have allocated to it international law is created by abstract entities called States in order to regulate the conduct of, and between, States. In turn the legal system defines the concept of State with reference to elements such as territory, control, and recognition by other States.  There is little or no recognition of the notion of State as a human construct – of the fact that if we shift the paradigm and acknowledge that ultimately States are created by, composed of and represented by, human beings, then we lift the veil on a myriad of human actors, interests and impacts. 

Moreover, for a long time, international law did not consider itself to be, and those human beings who, behind the curtain, engaged in its design and negotiation, did not acknowledge it to be, relevant to the affairs or situations of individual human beings. 

Relatively recently this changed as areas of international law that are explicitly and directly concerned with human beings, such as human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law, developed. Time and again, in the context of relevant law and materials, the concept of "human dignity" and "the dignity of the human person" have been referred to. Some of these references have been such that the concept’s place at the heart of these bodies of law cannot be questioned. It has been described as the rationale behind their existence and deemed to stand at their core. 

It is submitted that in the context of the international legal system, the dignity of the human person has become the mechanism by which, that system takes account of what it means to be a human being and to share that humanity with all other human beings. To the extent to which the system engages with or conceives of human beings, this ‘dignity’ has thereby become the human element or aspect in focus. And although its boundaries remain within the framework of a positivistic legal system it has nonetheless enabled international law to develop in a manner that can expressly and openly conceive of and take account of human beings. 

In this way, over-time, and in subtle understated ways, it has created holes in the smokescreen between the legal system and the human world out of which it was created. In so doing it has enabled the system, the discipline and the discourse to deepen and expand in scope and sophistication. Ultimately perhaps it contains the opportunity, and has slowly created the space, for international law to expand and develop in a manner consonant with the expansion and development of human beings’ understanding and conceptualisation of themselves.},
  author       = {Hoctor, Leah},
  keyword      = {Human Rights},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {The Concept of Human Dignity in International Law},
  year         = {2011},
}