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The First Line of Rights Defense in Germany: The Concept of Human Dignity in the Basic Law

June 14 from 15:00 - 16:30 BMT

CPG Constitutional Law Series

on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the German Basic Law

June 14, 2024, 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (GMT+7), online via Zoom video teleconferencing

organized in collaboration with the Asian Governance Foundation


75 years ago, on May 23, 1949, the German constitution, widely known as the Basic Law, entered into force, following its passage in the Parliamentary Council on May 8 and subsequent approval by the occupying Western Allies of World War II. Since then, the Basic Law has developed into a mainstay of democratic governance, rule of law, and human rights protection in Germany, while inspiring the development and creation of constitutions in many countries around the world. To celebrate the Basic Law’s 75th anniversary and its enduring impact on democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in the heart of Europe and beyond, CPG is hosting a series of online events as part of the “CPG Constitutional Law Series” to explore and discuss some of the many facets of the Basic Law.  

The series will commence with an online talk on 17 June 2024, 3:00-4:30 pm (GMT+7), titled “The First Line of Rights Defense in Germany: The Concept of Human Dignity in the Basic Law” and to be given by Professor Dr. Dr. Rainer Hofmann, Goethe University Frankfurt/Main.  

On 24 May 2024, the Federal Republic of Germany celebrated the 75th anniversary of the entry into force of its constitution, the Basic Law. Drafted in the aftermath of World War II and, in particular, the end of the Nazi regime with its unspeakable horrors including the most severe human rights violations culminating in the Holocaust, it carries a number of specific elements which can only be understood in the light of this history: Amongst them is its Article 1 which, unlike most constitutions which usually refer in their respective Article(s) 1 to central structural elements of their constitutional order, determines that “Human dignity shall be inviolable” and “To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority”. The central structural elements of the German State are laid down in Article 20 Basic Law whereas Articles 2 -19 list (most of) the human rights protected by the Basic Law as directly applicable law – and not as programmatic declarations of objectives of public policy to be implemented by the legislature and other state organs as was the situation under the Weimar Constitution of 1919.

The concept of human dignity is generally considered to constitute the most foundational principle of the Basic Law. As such it is, by virtue of Article 79 (3) Basic Law, protected against any encroachment by any state authority and must not be abrogated. In addition to this very strong formal position, the concept of human dignity has acquired, through the pertinent jurisprudence of the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the Federal Constitutional Tribunal, a most considerable substantive importance which limits the exercise of all state power including the legislature: Its central element is that no state action may deprive a human being of its status as a legal subject by turning him/her into a sheer object of state action.

Against this background, the expert talk will present and discuss the main features of the concept of human dignity as developed by the relevant jurisprudence of the Federal Constitutional Tribunal including its impact on issues such as the guarantee of basic legal equality irrespective of e.g. color, gender, race or religion, life imprisonment and the rights of persons in the criminal justice system, embryo research, and biogenetics, the shooting down by state authorities of a hijacked aircraft resulting in the death of the passenger, regulation of assisted suicide, to name but a few. Finally, the lecture will shortly address a development that led to the concept of human dignity becoming part of some of the more recent constitutions of European States and of Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU).


Professor Dr. Dr. Rainer Hofmann is a Senior Professor of Public Law, International and European Law at the Faculty of Law of Goethe University Frankfurt am Main where he also serves as Co-Director of the Wilhelm Merton Center for European Integration and International Economic Order. He received both his PhD and habilitation from the University of Heidelberg. Among other academic positions formerly held, he was a research assistant at the German Federal Constitutional Court, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney, and a research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg. His research areas include fundamental rights and constitutional jurisdiction, citizenship, aliens and asylum law general international law, in particular human, refugee, and minority law, as well as institutional issues of the European integration process, fundamental rights, and freedoms. Professor Hofmann is a member of the CPG Supervisory Board, representing Goethe University that together with the University of Münster and Thammasat University forms CPG.


Dr. Duc Quang Ly, Project Manager, CPG


Webinar Recap and Appreciation

This afternoon, CPG, in collaboration with the Asian Governance Foundation (AGF), hosted the online expert talk “The First Line of Rights Defense in Germany: The Concept of Human Dignity in the Basic Law.” It opened a series of online events in the CPG Series of Constitutional Law organizes on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the German Basic.

The event featured Professor Dr. Dr. Rainer Hofmann from Goethe University Frankfurt am Main as a speaker who explored the elements of the concept of human dignity in the Basic Law by presenting landmark decisions of the German Constitutional Court. His highly insightful discussion shed light on how the Basic Law has become a mainstay of human rights, democratic governance, and the rule of law in Germany.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Professor Hofmann and also to all participants who actively engaged and posed valuable questions during the open forum session. Special thanks go to AGF Board Members in attendance, including Pol. Lt-Gen. Suthin Khiewratana, former Commander of the Thai Border Patrol Police, as well as CPG Senior Research Fellows H.E. Kasit Piromya, former foreign minister of Thailand, and Ambassador Tomwit Jarnson.

Stay tuned for more events in CPG’s Constitutional Law Series!

Contact Information

Contact Dr. Duc Quang Ly at duc.quang.ly@cpg-online.de for program content.

Contact Ms. Venus Phuangkom at events@cpg-online.de for administrative matters.


June 14
15:00 - 16:30 BMT
Event Category:




Event Type
Panel Discussion / Roundtable