"I Know It When I See It": Can Talking About 'Dignity' Support the Growth of a Human Rights Culture? [Final Report]

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The 2021 report of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership recommended a new legal framework that will bring into law a range of internationally recognised human rights, as well as additional protections for older people and LGBTI people and a right to a healthy environment. The aim is to strengthen the enjoyment of human rights in Scotland. The Scottish Government accepted all of the recommendations of the National Taskforce. The Taskforce report included a recommendation that the framework recognise human dignity as the underpinning value of all human rights. This research explores the extent to which the ‘anchor’ of dignity language in the underpinning principles of forthcoming human rights framework legislation can influence stakeholders’ perceptions of the international legal standards to which the legislation aims to give effect. The research thereby helps to understand risks and potential in engaging with dignity language in public and civil society discourse around the new framework. The findings are based on research with civil society stakeholders in Scotland. The research sought stakeholders’ views about the idea of dignity, and their views on whether ‘dignity’ is a useful value for promoting the relevance of international human rights law, for themselves, for their work and for the wider culture of human rights in Scotland. The research, which took place in 2020 and 2021, consisted of participant observation and individual interviews. The findings point towards three key themes. These relate to how the civil society research participants saw the value of talking about ‘dignity’ for different audiences (general public, community based organisations/stakeholders, and duty bearers), how they perceived ‘law’ versus how they perceived ‘dignity’, and how they saw the relevance of the international human rights law regime. Within these themes, the findings indicate that talking about ‘dignity’ as an underpinning value of internationally recognised, legal human rights standards, would have a different impact for different audiences. At the same time, the findings indicate that engagements with dignity language as an underpinning value across these audiences could contribute positively to the goal in Scotland of developing a human rights culture because ‘dignity’ is an idea that is accessible to people, more so than legalistic talk around human rights law. Indeterminacy in the meaning of ‘dignity’ is not a barrier. The findings also suggest that there is confidence in engaging with ‘law’ within parts of civil society, but this confidence and knowledge could benefit from investment in future. In particular within civil society and duty bearer communities, there would be value in working productively with ‘law’, through respectful contention as part of human rights implementation processes. Finally, the research findings suggest that there is space to engage further with the origins and scope of the international human rights law regime and its foundation in respect for ‘dignity’. This could usefully provide a touchpoint for local use of dignity language in the context of Scotland’s changing human rights framework. The research contributes to an evidence base that can be used to inform strategies seeking to support a transformed and sustainable human rights culture.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022


  • human rights
  • human dignity
  • human rights culture
  • localisation
  • Scotland
  • human rights incorporation


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