Developing human dignity's potential to protect migrants' human rights

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: School of Law


The proposed research examines the value that human dignity contributes to migrants' human rights protection. This research is designed to be ambitious and novel by combining a critical comparative approach to study the range of international human rights law relevant to migrants, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights ('ECtHR'), the Court of Justice of the European Union ('CJEU') and the United Nations Human Rights Committee ('CCPR'), and qualitative empirical research methods.

The central research question is how far can the protection offered by human dignity benefit migrants' rights protection? To tackle this, a comparative approach will be adopted to analyse the case law of the ECtHR, CJEU and CCPR. This raises a number of sub-questions.

Firstly, has a codified right to human dignity in the CFREU resulted in better protection of migrants' rights by the CJEU compared to the ECtHR and CCPR? If so, what is the level of protection provided?
Secondly, what can be determined about the substance of human dignity and how this is distinct from other human rights provisions such as the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment? The need
to address this question has been raised in existing literature.
Finally, by examining this case law through a human dignity lens, what can be learnt about the dialogue between these courts? Specifically, in the absence of codification, does this dialogue promote a consistent construction of human dignity and a consistent standard of protection for migrants?

Areas of application: To go beyond the current focus on asylum seekers and refugees, this research will identify other areas of human dignity application. Human dignity has the potential to offer more inclusive protection for migrants in two key areas in which existing human rights measures do not provide sufficient protection. Firstly, for irregular migrants resisting expulsion on medical grounds. This is particularly relevant considering the high threshold required in medical return cases. Secondly, for those resisting expulsion due to climate change impacts. Presently there is a gap in protection as the definition of a refugee does not encompass those displaced due to climate change and the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement is limited.

Practical perspectives: There is a lack of understanding of human dignity by practitioners. A research sub-question is therefore what information or dignity-based legal arguments do practitioners need in order to be able to utilise human dignity more regularly and successfully?

This research is methodologically novel because it combines a comparative approach with empirical research methods, an approach that has thus far been lacking in existing scholarship on migrants' human

Comparative approach: This approach is appropriate because the research is concerned with international and regional human rights protections relevant to migrants in the UK: the ECHR, CFREU
and ICCPR. The ICCPR and ECHR are directly applicable to the UK, as the UK is a state party to these treaties. The CFREU is included in this analysis not only because of the dialogue between the CJEU and
ECtHR in their case law but also due to the contrasting codification of human dignity in the CFREU and lack of codification in the ECHR and ICCPR, which informs the research questions highlighted.

Empirical research methods: A small number of interviews will be conducted to gather qualitative data. This provides a novel perspective on the research questions raised and will inform the construction of
human dignity developed in this research.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2595942 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Saskia Maria Hardcastle