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Incorporating Human Dignity Concepts into Legal Pledges and Defenses

On 26 April 2008, a joint meeting was held between the Palestinian Bar Association and Institute of Law (IoL) at Birzeit University. A number of senior Palestinian lawyers, members on the Administrative Board of the Bar Association and representatives of the IoL Initiative on Judicial Independence and Human Dignity (KARAMAH) attended the meeting.
Having launched the meeting, Mr. Ali Muhanna, Head of the Palestinian Bar Association stressed that concepts of human dignity should be promoted in the Palestinian justice system in line with developed societies. Mr. Muhanna also confirmed that these concepts cannot be consolidated without first safeguarding dignity of all judges, lawyers and citizens.
Dr. Ghassan Faramand, IoL Director, presented an overview of the historic role played by the Palestinian Bar Association. Palestinian lawyers have established pillars and concepts of human dignity and rights.
Dr. Mudar Kassis also made a presentation on the concept of human dignity, stating that it is an applied, rather than a philosophical, concept. Dr. Kassis overviewed the chronological development of the human dignity concept from Ancient China, Islamic period, towards the Christian theological intellect in the Middle Ages. As it is priceless and invaluable, the human dignity concept has attained a global human dimension. Modern international conventions and a number of developed constitutions provide for safeguarding human dignity. In addition, concepts of human dignity were employed in the German Constitution in order to eliminate consequences of the Nazi regime. In South Africa, human dignity concepts were also in place so as to surpass effects of the apartheid era. In this context, Palestinians can effectively incorporate concepts of human dignity as a tool of reform and change on the short term as well as to remove consequences of the colonial occupation and settlement on the long term.
Dr. Mustafa Mar'i presented comparative applications of the human dignity concept on the national, regional and international levels. Judges are most capable of reflecting legal weight on the concept of human dignity and transferring it from mere legal provisions and discretion to practical application. Human dignity is indispensable as it essentially links human rights concepts in the West. As such, violation of human dignity is indeed a breach of human rights. Constitutions of some states, including Libya, South Africa and Germany, explicitly provide that court decisions must aim at protecting human dignity. In some of these States, human dignity is parallel to, or even precedes the right to life. Therefore, protection of human dignity may not be suspended, even in states of emergency.
Despite the fact that explicit constitutional provisions are lacking in some States such as Canada, France and Italy, Dr. Mar'i explained that judges employ human dignity as a basic criterion in their discretion and interpretation of legal provisions.
Lawyer Rock Rock stated that human dignity is in existence from the dawn of mankind. However, current interest in the concept of human dignity has emerged due to breaches committed against it. Invaluable as it is, a human being cannot be as such without dignity. Mr. Rock also highlighted the role played by the Israeli occupation in breaching the dignity of Palestinian citizens. Although Palestinian laws do not explicitly provide for safeguarding human dignity, they contain many provisions and indications that all emphasise importance of respecting citizens and their rights.
Mr. Fahed Shuweiki made clear that citizens cannot enjoy respect of their dignity unless judges' dignity and self-respect are preserved. Judges should be immune from external interference. Since dignity of the society as a whole derives from that of judges, decent living standards should be secured for the latter. Mr. Shuweiki also stressed that the culture of due respect of judges and prohibition of aggressions against them in any form and by any party should be disseminated.
Addressing lawyers' dignity, Mr. Saleh Abu 'Eideh elaborated on further duties to be borne by lawyers as they are an essential component of the process aiming to establish justice and dignity for citizens. Accordingly, lawyers are forbidden from holding public or private functions or any other career, which may violate lawyers' independence and dignity. Mr. Abu 'Eideh also cited a number of legal provisions that all prohibit the detention or searching of lawyers except under certain conditions.
Furthermore, Mr. Abu 'Eideh explained that lawyers' conduct should embody human dignity through their respect of the court and judges, as well as through their appearance and discipline. Mr. Abu 'Eideh also demanded that lawyers disseminate the concept of human dignity in their families and parties, confront relevant violations, and fight all forms of injustice and persecution. Lawyers should also insist that a just and impartial judicial system be built. Additionally, they must master modern laws and aspects relating to the judiciary.
From the perspective of modern laws, Lawyer Ahmed ad Damanhouri presented a number of provisions which establish citizens' dignity and equality as well as safeguard their fundamental rights and freedoms. Citizens may not be subjected to torture and their dignity may not be degraded. Mr. Ad Damanhouri also cited real-life cases and examples in which citizens' dignity is breached in litigation proceedings. Indeed, such cases need be addressed.
In respect of civil litigation, Lawyer Ziyad Jasser stressed that Palestinian laws must include explicit provisions regarding human dignity. Human dignity is a spontaneous feeling that denotes one's humanity and sense of social stability and security. In addition, Mr. Jasser emphasised that both judges and lawyers should consolidate their efforts as to further promote concepts of human dignity.
An ensuring, elaborate discussion addressed the mechanisms that lawyers should implement to establish the concept of human dignity. Discussants highlighted that a combination of justice-related institutions, including the Palestinian Bar Association, High Judicial Council, Palestinian Legislative Council and civil society organisations, should unite their efforts in the course of promoting human dignity in Palestine.
Dignity of judges and lawyers should also be established as a vehicle to promote citizens' dignity. In this context, judges and lawyers should be trained and qualified so that they can acquire the relevant, expedient experience.
This activity is a culmination of a series of preparatory joint meetings between the Bar Association and IoL. Targeting both trainee and practicing lawyers, this event aims to commence a number of activities throughout the Palestinian governorates that elaborate on the concept and applications of human dignity in the Palestinian context through the mission of the legal profession.
It is worth noting that the Initiative on Judicial Independence and Human Dignity (KARAMAH) is a project implemented by IoL in partnership with the Faculty of Law at Windsor University in Canada. KARAMAH benefits from financial support provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).