Some are more equal than others

  • Affront to human dignity and rights poses a challenge to the identity of any person
- Madhab Regmi

Dec 9, 2016-

International Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10 to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The United Nations has set ‘Stand up for someone’s rights’ as the theme for this year’s Human Rights Day. While the world is observing the 68th International Human Rights Day, the overall human rights situation in Nepal is not satisfactory, largely because not everyone’s right to equal human dignity and respect is recognised. 

Human rights are rights inherent to every person by virtue of being a human. However, effective realisation of human rights is not possible without equal dignity for all. Human dignity is the most important human right from which all other fundamental rights are derived. The dignity of a person is not only the basis for fundamental human rights, but it also serves as the source for international human rights law such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Markers of dignity

In our context, not everyone is accorded equal dignity and respect. For example, the poor, the marginalised, persons with disability, senior citizens and members of other vulnerable groups are not recognised as having the same dignity as other people. They are deprived of their right to fair social treatment and full participation in public life, and are treated in many situations like second class citizens or incompetent persons. They do not enjoy equal access to resources, choices, opportunities, security, etc necessary for an acceptable standard of living, including the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. As a result, they live in a state of insecurity, exclusion, marginalisation and powerlessness. 

Dignity of a person is often associated with their profession, education level, economic status, political power, social prestige, and so forth. This has unwittingly engendered discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, caste, gender, creed, status, position, power, etc, resulting in a hierarchy among people, who are supposed to be equal by birth. For instance, there are differences in dignity and recognition among staff in the same office. Many senior officials do not treat their juniors with respect. Some do not even respond to the greetings of junior staff, undermining their right to equal dignity, recognition and treatment. Likewise, we all have noticed that poor people in general, such as peasants, labourers or landless squatters are treated with less respect than wealthy or powerful people, though both are entitled to equal dignity by virtue of being humans. This leaves many of them feeling humiliated and frustrated. 

Article 1 of the UDHR states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Its preamble states, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Every individual has equal dignity, value and respect regardless of gender, caste, culture, ethnicity, and economic, social and cultural status. Equal human dignity is of paramount importance as enshrined in the UDHR, which is considered the founding document for all human rights laws, 

policies and treaties. 

Unequal and undignified treatment ruptures the core values of human rights such as equality, non-discrimination, transparency, accountability, participation, inclusion and rule of law. Similarly, when the dignity of the marginalised, deprived and vulnerable groups is not recognised, their participation and inclusion in decision-making processes are not given due consideration which, in turn, hinders the full realisation of their human rights. Also, government institutions become reluctant to be transparent and accountable towards people for the protection of their rights in accordance with laws, policies and the constitution. In other words, the lack of equal dignity among people gets in the way of the promotion, protection and fulfilment of their human rights. 

Government’s role

Human dignity is at the heart of human identity and human rights. Lack of dignity acts as a challenge to the identity of any person. Without dignity, none of the human rights mechanism, systems and institutions can have real meaning. So it is crucial to formulate human rights protection and promotion frameworks, systems and 

mechanisms in such a way that they promote human dignity and worth.  

The government is the primary entity responsible for designing and implementing laws and policies to uphold human dignity so that people can lead respectful and meaningful lives. The government is also liable to discourage and end practices that perpetuate discrimination in any form. 

Human dignity and rights are complementary to each other. Everyone should have equal dignity, regardless of power, position, prestige, status, gender etc for the full realisation of human rights. Every individual has a duty to respect the dignity and rights of every other person for the development and realisation of human rights. So let’s stand up for ours as well as others’ rights.


Regmi is a researcher on human rights, justice and social issues

Published: 09-12-2016 09:43

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