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Emerging Multilateral Fora to Advance Human Dignity

Author: Mark P. Lagon, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Human Rights
October 24, 2013
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

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When the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs launched this online edition, I suggested that it address "human rights and human dignity." Why dignity? As Anthony Clark Arend and I explore in a forthcoming 2014 Georgetown University Press book, Human Dignity and the Future of Global Institutions, governments and global institutions such as the United Nations have done a great job articulating norms for human rights. There are many resolutions, treaties, and laws on paper, but capacity and will to implement these is lagging. Too many marginalized people—from bonded laborers in India to those without land rights in Africa—have no access to justice in practice.

To advance human rights, we need to reach back to a broader concept of human dignity—enshrined in the UN Charter's first 45 words and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights—with the potential to build global consensus on (1) what dignity is; (2) how to make it a reality programmatically; and (3) how to resolve priorities and tradeoffs, such as those between the political and economic rights that "human dignity" conceptually bridges.

A variety of global institutions could play a particularly valuable role in a global dialogue in all three dimensions. First, beyond regional organizations primarily comprised of democracies—such as the EU, NATO, and the Organization of American States—other regional organizations could serve as better building blocks of dialogue among traditional intergovernmental organizations than universal membership bodies such as the UN.

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