Locating ‘Human Dignity’ in Cambodia Project Commences
Start Date of the Project: 1st January 2021
'Human dignity' is considered a foundational human rights concept, appearing in the UN Charter, the International Bill of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the concept's framing as 'universal' and its frequent use in human rights and development programmes around the world, in practice 'human dignity' does not easily translate into diverse cultural settings or languages.
Centring on the case study of Cambodia, this project interrogates how ‘human dignity’ is constructed, conceptualised and negotiated in a context where no direct or ‘official’ translation for the idea exists. The post-conflict context of the Southeast Asian country provides an illuminating site for exploring the ways in which understandings of ‘human dignity’ within various individual, cultural and societal frames could present opportunities and/or challenges for the prevention of violence, human rights education and practice, and sustainable, inclusive peace.
Over the next two years, the team will be exploring how language, heritage, religion and culture mediate understandings of ‘human dignity’ and related human rights discourse and practice in Cambodia. The project will feature interviews, focus groups, consultation workshops and analysis of religious texts and practices, performing arts, including storytelling, music and visual arts.
What are the expected outputs of the project?
The project aims to produce a teaching guide on ‘human dignity’ for use in existing university teaching and NGO training curricula, and a research policy brief for human rights and development organisations and practitioners working on the ground in Cambodia. In this way, the project expects to contribute to the development of culturally and contextually informed translation and understanding of foundational human rights concepts.
In the long-term, the project aspires to:
- enhance understanding among Cambodian youth, educators and civil society of the cultural and contextual relevance of the values underpinning human rights;
- raise awareness among international organizations and development actors of the importance of translation, culturally and linguistically, of key terminology used in human rights and sustainable development policies and programmes;
- cultivate a greater sense of local ownership over the human rights discourse in Cambodia
- contribute a valuable case study-informed contribution to the literature on human dignity and the ‘translation’ of foundational human rights concepts.
The project is a collaboration between academics from Queen’s University Belfast (Dr Rachel Killean, Prof. Hastings Donnan and Prof. Christopher McCrudden), the Centre for the Study of Humanitarian Law in the Royal University of Law and Economics (Mr Kimsan Soy and Ms Boravin Tann), and the University of Melbourne (Dr Christoph Sperfeldt).
Dr Rachel Killean