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FIACAT News No. 78 - September 2012

September 2012

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FIACAT.News No. 78 provides information on the activities of FIACAT and ACATs during the first half of 2012.


At the meeting of FIACAT’s International Council in Brussels in June 2012, the ACAT representatives reflected deeply on their concern and commitment as Christians for human dignity to be respected always and everywhere – the human dignity that is shared by all, as stated in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR [1]) and which underlies the first and most famous article of the UDHR [2]. Thus in 1948, following the trend of Kantian thought, human dignity constituted a moral and legal reference point – although only expressed as a simple statement entailing no obligations – against abuses and excesses of power, and an aim to be achieved. It was established at that time as a fundamental value of democratic societies, and respect for human dignity was unconditional: dignity is inherent in the individual. Even if there is no authoritative definition of the concept of human dignity in international human rights law, it emerges from decisions by international authorities such as the European Court of Human Rights that respect for the equal dignity of all people constitutes the foundation of a democratic and pluralist society. The dignity of the individual is therefore one of the values of our societies, giving public life moral structure, coherence and stability.

For many years, the principle of human dignity has been regularly contested, while at the same time there have been more and more references to it. It is called into question by scientific innovations (particularly in genetics) the rise of economic and financial globalisation. ‘commercialisation’ of people, treating them as objects (modern-day slavery, economic and political migration, etc) and sophisticated methods of control (no longer just physical, but also mental and psychological). Nevertheless, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has pointed out ‘ an older imperative than any philosophical formulation’ which has always been that ‘something is owed to a human being simply for being human’.

The whole issue about dignity therefore is how to manage to reconcile its two fundamental dimensions, freedom of the individual on the one hand, and on the other hand, solidarity with others. The question of human dignity should be thought of as a social issue, so that social justice is taken into account. And the social issue sometimes requires the adoption of policy (not political) commitments in the Greek sense of the word ‘polis’, in the service of the city, for the common good. Recourse to the principle of human dignity thus forces us to hold two elements in balance: on the one hand, we cannot live in society, having confidence in our institutions, unless we know that human dignity is a basic, unconditional principle of this life that we share with others; on the other hand, for the sake of this very respect for dignity, our societies become pluralist, indeed we attach great importance to freedom of thought. We must be aware that we do not have an exhaustive definition, or a complete description, of human dignity. This can even be considered a positive thing to the extent that it leads us, as Christians, to persevere in working together and with others, who are sometimes very different from us, to lay the foundations for dignity and find out what are the specific issues today in our struggle to abolish torture and the death penalty.

Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual
President of FIACAT


[1] Extracts from the preamble of the UDHR: ‘… 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, … disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.’

[2] ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’

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