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Landmark Declaration Calls for Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere

In the face of growing challenges to traditional views about human rights, an international group of policy leaders and thinkers has issued an urgent call to refocus the conversation. Dr. Ganoune Diop, Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association, was among those who gathered in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in early December, to consider how a renewed emphasis on “human dignity” could help strengthen the international human rights narrative.

“Within the international community, there’s a need to reaffirm that human rights are not just for some people, at the expense of the rights of others,” said Diop, who chaired the first session of the event. “When we speak about universal human rights we are saying, unequivocally, that every person—regardless of their background or circumstances—has an equal right to that which promotes and guards their dignity as a human being.”

On the final day of the conference, the group issued the Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere, a document aimed at broadening support of human rights and emphasizing their universal and reciprocal character. The conference also commemorated the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.
Ján Figeľ, European Union Special Envoy on Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief and a driving force behind the initiative, stated, “Despite the achievements of the landmark document that the UDHR is, it is clear that we need a positive change to the human rights climate. The Declaration is an active step to trigger this transformation.” He views the Declaration as an invitation to the global community for an enriched conversation about dignity.

Article 1 of the Declaration affirms that the inherent dignity of all people and that respecting, promoting and protecting human dignity for everyone everywhere is the foundational principle and the key objective of human rights. The Declaration also states, “Dignity is an essential part of what it means to be human.”

Diop was one of the presenters at the conference, and he told attendees that the concept of human dignity may help establish common ground between those who approach human rights from different philosophical frameworks.”Dignity, while being impossible to reduce into an empirical property, is nonetheless the foundation and justification for our global universal values,” said Diop. “And in this, it’s not difficult to observe an overlapping of consensus between both religious and non-religious thinkers.”

Discussing the Declaration, Brett G. Scharffs, Professor of Law and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, observed, “We live in the world where human rights are too politicized and not widely enough viewed as being truly universal. The Declaration aims to address this issue by emphasizing the many ways that human dignity is a useful concept.” is powerful, such as in defining and specifying human rights, emphasizing both rights and duties,

Carmen Asiaín Pereira, Professor of Law and Religion at the University of Montevideo and Alternate Senator at the Parliament of Uruguay, welcomed the participants to the country and praised the efforts and accomplishments of the conference as a timely and significant contribution to strategies on implementation of human rights.

W. Cole Durham, Jr., Professor of Law and Founding Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, said “The Punta del Este conference has brought together a remarkable and diverse group of legal and policy thinkers committed to tapping the aspirational potential of the concept of human dignity.”

The Punta del Este Declaration also recognizes that just as the principle of human dignity for everyone everywhere was the key idea that helped generate agreement that made the UDHR possible in the aftermath of World War II, so today it remains a vital tool for building common understanding about human rights. In this regard, the Declaration emphasizes that the universal and reciprocal character of human dignity is a corrective to positions claiming that dignity supports rights for some but not for others.

The Declaration further emphasizes that focusing on human dignity for all also “helps to defuse the hostility that is often associated with human rights controversies and to foster constructive dialogue.”

Conference delegates plan to introduce the Declaration to a wide range of government, parliament, civil society, religious and academic groups with the aim of achieving a broad consensus about the centrality of human dignity. Over the next year, conference participants will engage in several initiatives at global, regional, and national levels to present and discuss the Declaration and re-energize the commitment to human rights by way of reinforcing the inherent and inalienable human dignity for everyone everywhere.

IRLA Staff