Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere – Introduction

The Punta del Este Declaration commemorates the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), celebrating its recognition of human dignity at the core of the panoply of human rights and recommitting to protecting it for everyone everywhere. The Declaration was adopted at a conference convened in Punta del Este, Uruguay from December 2-4, 2018, shortly before the formal 70th anniversary of the UDHR (December 10, 2018).

The conference was the culmination of a series of conferences held over the course of 2018 that explored the notion of human dignity, its relation to freedom of religion or belief, and the important role it has played in forming, guiding, and sustaining consensus on core human rights values despite tensions in a highly pluralized world. The hope is that the Punta del Este Declaration will serve as a spur to further discussion and debate, and that it can be supplemented and elaborated by individual comments, responses from other conferences or group efforts, and other initiatives that seek to build on the Declaration.

The Punta del Este conference was convened under the auspices of the European Academy of Religion, with the leadership of Ján Figel’, Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the European Union, and with the support of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University. The Punta del Este Conference and the preparatory conferences held earlier in 2018 benefited from the thought, recommendations, and assistance of an informal organizing committee including Carmen Asiaín Pereira (Uruguay), Alternate Senator in the Parliament of Uruguay, former President of the Latin American Consortium for Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Professor of Law and the University of Montevideo (Uruguay); Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) , former UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief; Tahir Mahmood (India), Chairman, Amity University Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Former Chair, Minorities Commission of India; Christopher McCrudden (Northern Ireland), Queens University, Belfast; Alberto Melloni (Italy), UNESCO Chair on Religious Pluralism and Peace; Dicky Sofjan (Indonesia), Professor of the Core Doctoral Faculty of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, University of Gadjah Mada University (Yogyakarta); Renata Uitz (Hungary), Chair, Constitutional Law Program, Central European University; and Robin Fretwell Wilson (USA), Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law.

The Declaration’s focus on dignity derives from the language of the Preamble of the UDHR itself: “Whereas 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 . . .” and from Article 1 of the UDHR, which proclaims, “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.” This simple idea—human dignity for everyone everywhere—is the central idea of human rights.

Events that helped prepare for the Punta del Este Conference were held throughout 2018.  On June 1-2, 2018, the conference Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere: From Tensions and Conflict to Reconciliation was convened in cooperation with Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. On August 3-4, a conference on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere: Founding Figures, Foundations, and the Uses of Human Dignity was held at Christ Church College, Oxford University. And on October 7-9, the 25th Annual Law and Religion Symposium at BYU Law School was devoted to Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.

The long-term aim of this project, extending beyond the 2018 Budapest, Oxford, and BYU conferences, is to identify and provide in-depth explanations for a set of dignity-based principles that can help anchor protection of dignity for everyone everywhere. Such principles can be found at the level of foundations, objectives, and criteria for evaluating human rights. But they can also address building common understanding, finding better ways to implement or realize human rights, including finding principles for reconciling or adjudicating human rights claims in plural societies.

The CEU conference brought together a small group of experts from a variety of backgrounds to launch the project, in presentations and discussions elucidating linkages between the idea of dignity and particular human rights claims, exploring in particular whether a more nuanced understanding of dignity can provide a basis for principled reconciliation or at least mutual protection of otherwise conflicting rights claims.

The Oxford Conference was co-sponsored with the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion; the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government, University of Oxford Faculty of Law; and the Religion, Law and International Relations Programme at the Centre for Christianity and Culture, Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Approximately 40 conference participants were invited to consider the ideas that motivated and illuminated the human rights project 70 years ago:

  • Can the idea of human dignity for everyone everywhere help with the implementation of human rights, through progressive measures?
  • Can it enable the vision of human rights to become a common standard of achievement for all people and nations?
  • Can the idea of human dignity help reconcile competing human rights claims, and resolve tensions with other important national and social interests?
  • Can the idea of human dignity provide insight into the nature of dignitary harms and identity politics in the midst of the conscience wars?

The hope is that answers to such questions hold the key to finding solutions for building stable and just communities in an inevitably highly pluralistic world.  To this end, participants in the 2018 Oxford Conference (1) reviewed specific thinking about human dignity of some of the founding figures of the UDHR; (2) considered conceptual and ideological foundations of human dignity, including a variety of religious and philosophical approaches to human dignity (including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and concepts based upon Confucianism); and (3) explored specific ways that the fecundity of the concept of human dignity can be tapped in fruitful and practical ways.

The rich presentations and intense conversations of the Oxford Human Dignity Conference revealed perspectives and raised issues, including candid recognition of the risk that the notion of human dignity can be weaponized in certain contexts.  Recognition of this risk moved the discussion forward in useful ways, leading to a more comprehensive framing of principles built upon shared notions of human needs in plural societies, with human dignity as common ground.

The BYU ConferenceHuman Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70, brought together more than 100 delegates – religious and civic leaders, legal scholars, members of the judiciary, and representatives of governments, NGOs, and the media from roughly fifty countries to gather global perspectives on the theme.  This provided an opportunity to help distill insights about the role dignity principles can play in fostering respect for dignity of everyone everywhere

These conferences, and additional meetings and consultations laid the groundwork for the preparation of the culminating event of 2018, the December 2-4 Conference and the Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere.

For further information about opportunities for joining in and furthering this initiative, contact the Human Dignity for Everyone Initiative at [email protected].