Towards a Dignified Discourse on Human Rights?
The universal respect for human rights should be the tie that binds, not divides our societies. Unfortunately, the currently raging conflict in Ukraine, the rising global tensions as well as the increasing shift in how the world views human rights makes this discourse unavoidable. In recent years, we have experienced the expropriation of interpretation in several legal questions. Albeit diversity and freedom of opinion are core values, interpretative tendencies that are locked into certain institutions or dynamics without giving any merit to outside input might lead – in our context – to the weaponization of human rights in various social and political situations instead of protecting individuals on legal grounds – as they should. One-size-fits-all legal interpretation minimizes the need and space for open discourse and exchange of views and, therefore, fastens political and societal polarization as well. This creates divide when it comes to individual needs, worldviews and interpretations not being heard, which contributes to ever-rising tensions. As a result, questions related to human dignity, fundamental rights, and values are becoming wedges rather than essential ties among us, actual tools for social cohesion.
The Authors of ‘Human Dignity and Law: Studies on the Dignity of Human Life’ (Guillermo F. Arquero Caballero, Grzegorz J. Blicharz, Carlos Espaliú Berdud, María Luisa Gómez Jiménez, Franciszek Longchamps de Bérier, Javier Martínez-Torrón, Federico de Montalvo Jääskeläinen, Liviu Olteanu, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, José María Puyol Montero, Hugo S. Ramírez-García, Francesc Torralba and Luca Valera) recognized that unilateral interpretation in human rights advocacy is a zero-sum game, where no win-win scenario could be achieved. There is a need for competition in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ in order to respect our diversity and preserve alternative and valid legal interpretations in different cases. This book serves as a set of ideas on the various aspects of human dignity.
The Authors’ valuable contribution shows that we need new, renewed, and alternative ways to approach social conflicts to prevent driving society into disintegration. Hyper-judicialization of human rights and applying only one solution for all cases only lead to injustice. Therefore, based on our human dignity, we should rebuild a culture of respect for those who think and live differently. In this process, retrieving and rediscovering the concept and content of human dignity is crucial. The Authors provide an introduction into the ‘know-how’, by discussing the importance of the many aspects of upholding human dignity.
The current trend of monopolization in legal interpretation, where only one viewpoint is accepted, as they argue, leads to the weaponization of human rights and ultimately polarizes society. The Authors propose that there should be competition in the “marketplace of ideas” in order to allow for the respect of diversity and the consideration of alternative (concurrent) legal interpretations. The book draws on the concept of persona in Roman law, which posits that law exists to serve humans rather than the other way around. The authors argue that a return to this principle is necessary in order to rebuild a culture of respect for those who think and live differently.
In our understanding, the erosion of human dignity seems to be a result of intensifying migratory movements, changes in the reasons for migration, and the emergence of new technologies that challenge traditional definitions of humanity. The creation of artificial life and the modification of human bodies raise both social and legal questions about human dignity and the legal status of humanoid robots.
Step by Step
José María Puyol Montero, the author of the first chapter discussing these issues highlights the case of Sophia, a humanoid robot that was granted Saudi citizenship and appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme, and discusses the impact on international relations and the consideration of robots as persons or objects under the law. The chapter also discusses the views of moralists in the 16th to 18th centuries on the dignity of Native Americans and enslaved Africans in the Spanish Crown and the efforts to protect their human dignity on moral and religious grounds. The author concludes that human dignity is an inherent aspect of being human that should be exercised as a responsibility for both personal development and the betterment of society. This is why the birth of social rights was such an impactful development, particularly when it came to labor law.
In addition to AI and emerging (disruptive) technologies, the gig (sharing) economy poses challenges to the protection of human dignity and labor rights due to the lack of clear legal categorization and the influence of algorithms and artificial intelligence on the measurement of trust. Grzegorz J. Blicharz argues that universal moral assumptions should be applied in these relationships due to the fact that contractors are human beings with dignity and human rights, regardless of the legal classification. This is where the issue of the wage-gap between men and women also comes up, as a potential threat to the betterment of society.
The next chapter discusses the concept of ecological citizenship, which involves the obligation to protect the environment, and the importance of reshaping the relationship between morality and law in order to address humanity’s vulnerability and ensure the preservation of the planet. Hugo S. Ramírez-García also mentions the need to redefine concepts such as citizenship in the face of technological advances, wars, and pandemics.
The following chapter discusses the impact of COVID-19 on human dignity and the projection of the “Red Queen Effect” (i.e. the constant need to adapt and evolve in order to survive) on public health policies. María Luisa Gómez Jiménez discusses the importance of human dignity in the design and implementation of health policies and the need to consider the long-term effects on the public’s trust and the sustainable development of the health system.
The final chapter discusses the concept of “dignity in the end of life“, including the right to a dignified death, the role of palliative care, and the legal regulation of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Francesc Torralba discusses the need to respect the autonomy and dignity of individuals in end-of-life decisions and the importance of providing appropriate palliative care.
Seeing how many different threats our society has to face, the motto of the European Union, “Unity in Diversity,” has been called into question in recent years. Are we really ‘united in our diversity’? Or our diversity became a ground for distinguishing and dividing us? We are living in a very controversial world where our personal features and values have become our own enemies and they can be weaponized against us by the click of a button. As a result, societies became very polarized; politics and extreme rhetoric are circulating ideological themes wrapped in trendy new layers of the concepts of ‘human rights’ and ‘dignity’. Human rights are supposed to provide cohesion at the social level due to their universality. However, the interpretation of human rights content and applicability might vary in each state or region, so due respect should be given to particularity. Instead, this trivial truth led to reshaped processes designed to tilt the role of human rights and dignity, transforming then into political weapons to fight ideological battles. A new layer of this is the digitalization and the evolution of certain technological solutions, which all affect human nature, human dignity, and its legal and social evolution.
The book bravely deals with these sensitive issues and express their professional opinion about human dignity and its conceptual elements based on the lessons learned from Roman Law. The fact that most of these chapters deal heavily with Artificial Intelligence and digitalization as part of the broader conversation about human dignity conveys a message about the state of human rights and which direction we should move. If we wish to preserve our environment and maximize our chances of avoiding another pandemic and uphold our rights in the digital age, new perspectives must appear in conversations about the place law holds in today’s society. However, we have to keep an eye on the original concepts and from time to time, we should go back to the roots, reinterpret and rethink those in the light of our present.
‘Human Dignity and Law. Studies on the Dignity of Human Life’ starts an overdue conversation about new aspects of the challenges we are facing and, in our opinion, does a very good job. It is an intriguing work that presents revolutionary ideas grounded in extensive and in-depth research. Its 306 pages and 12 longer chapters contain intriguing data, necessary for the new generation of thinkers to prepare for the unique challenges to come. Since the Authors recognized that unilateral interpretation of human rights is a zero-sum game, where no win-win could be achieved, we applaud that they opened the floor for a fresh and much needed debate on human dignity, human rights, and their protection.
Human rights issues are often complex and multifaceted, requiring a nuanced and respectful approach. Unilateral interpretation and one-size-fits-all solutions can lead to injustice and further polarize society. In order to achieve a win-win solution, it is important to consider multiple perspectives and engage in open and respectful dialogue. Only by approaching human rights issues with an open mind and a willingness to find mutually beneficial solutions can we hope to uphold the universal respect for human rights and prevent societal disintegration.
Lilla Nóra Kiss, PhD, Visiting Scholar and Adjunct Faculty, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, USA; Founding Member, Freedom and Identity in Central Europe (FICE). Email: email@example.com
Mónika Mercz, JD, specialized in English legal translation, Professional Coordinator at the Public Law Center of Mathias Corvinus Collegium Foundation while completing a PhD in Law and Political Sciences at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Budapest, Hungary. Mónika’s past and present research focuses on constitutional identity in EU member states, data protection aspects of DNA testing, environment protection, children’s rights and Artificial Intelligence. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 The concept of Environment as a Public Concern is underlined by Elliott and Esty’s paper on this issue, “imposition of a credible risk of a risk without someone’s informed consent, not merely provable actual injury, should be cognizable as a harm that environmental law should address to the extent practical”.