Law has served as a medium of regulating and comprehending societal aims, values and priorities since humans started to live together in groups. It has served as the main factor in regulating the overall conduct of its subjects and as a medium of settlement of disputes that may arise between/among members of the society. History teaches us that societies with strong and respected laws are successful at maintaining their cohesion and realizing their vision. However, it should be noted that the efficacy of laws depends, among others, on whether these laws reflect the actual needs and values of the society.
Society is a unit established by the assembly of people. As such, its essence is determined by the people enclosed therein. In the process of creating and branding an identity for the society, the role of humanity is prime. The identity of the people in a society is determined through the society they belong to. Identity and the sense of ownership in a certain society are the main elements in the building of one’s humanity.
The right to identity is one of the various ways one’s dignity is expressed. One who doesn’t know the history of his or her ancestry is likely to be faced with the problem of identity crisis. And a person without identity fails to share the heritage of the society and becomes unsuccessful in shaping his or her future. Hence, the question of the relationship of these two bodies — an individual and the society to which the individual belongs — are intricate, symbiotic and mutually constitutive, and one cannot claim to comprehend one without the other.
Human dignity plays a big role in securing the benefits and maintaining the continuation of the interests of these two bodies. Because of his natural essence and being, it is rational for a human individual to get a special care from other creatures in this world. It is self-evident that the life of an individual is inherently precious without any accessory to it. As the political, economic and social situations in a society affect this precious ‘human life’, it is important to engage while paving ways that sustain its dignity. Considering the phenomenal role of law in creating an equilibrium with the alliance of human dignity and sectoral development, it is indispensable to study the role of law.
Values are those principles that people adhere to because of their importance in their life. They can have social, religious, moral, historical and political roots. Values are not mere principles that human beings perceive.
They go further than that to shape the everyday activities of human beings. Values can be that of an individual and/ or a community (society) at large. Because the values that individuals have is shaped by their specific history, culture, political experience and economic living status, individual values are seen in the context of the collective values. In short, values are the definition of the identity of one society.
The societal values of the Eritrean people have a high degree of acceptance because they are rooted in the culture and history of the society. They have a wide range of influence as they touch upon the overall aspects of the life of the members of the society. They abhor crime and other unacceptable behaviors; they call for the attainment of religious duties; they strongly condemn inequity and asperity; they set rules for the healthy interactions among people; they call for people to be generous and truthful; they attach high standards to work, social welfare and cooperation. Generally, it can be said that values are the directing gear of all aspects of human life.
Without being confined to prescribing a list of rights and duties, law serves in establishing a system of values whereby a nation can influence the actions of its citizens and residents. Instead of punishing each and every transgression and negative occurrences, values can play a positive role in fostering prudent leadership and cohesive body politic. And this is the reason why values are important.
The vision is to make Eritrea a country where justice and equality reign and important elements of human life are not diluted to any specific measurement. Using social values as springboard, the vision aspires to achieve nation building endeavors in general. Where justice is a principle and the law is culture, serializing articles in the name of human rights, which only promote individualism, can only derail countries, especially developing countries, from their development objectives and plunge them into social crisis. Instead of transplanting the so-called “best values” of other societies as they are, the pre-existing civilized values of the local community should be preserved. It is only when the society identifies itself and creates its own identity that it can achieve a dynamic and progressive change.
It is only when this is guaranteed that development initiatives can become successful. Development is change that transcends quantitative measurement, and, as such, it should be assessed in terms of fair distribution of resources and equity in access to services guided by social justice rather than exclusively in terms of GDP or GNP.
A law that does not preserve the values of the society it governs and does not positively influence it will not have a positive impact on development. A society that comprises people without guiding values and are immoral cannot produce committed people with good work-ethic. And a society where human dignity is not guaranteed and people are reduced to a cog in a machine cannot hope to have responsible citizens who participate in its initiatives or provide the benefit of their entrepreneurship.
While the need to draft policies and laws for every sector, as may be needed for sustainable development, is in place, taking a law-based approach to provide a comprehensive framework for development is necessary. A living standard appropriate for human beings and guarantees of respect for human life are ensured by abolishing poverty; guarantying the provision of education and health services; preventing environmental pollution; securing peace, order and justice; and safeguarding human dignity. Where this becomes a reality, success of development programs that can bring about profound change in people’s lives becomes possible.
It is this fact that the law has striven to achieve. The fundamental principle of law is guarantying human dignity. It underscores the importance of a values system where citizens are respected, individualism is not prioritized over the whole, and people are included in a society that holds their rights and duties in tandem.
As there is no dignity without a nation, there can be no safeguarding of human dignity without law. And for this to be possible, the law should be in sync with the norms and values of the society.
Editor’s Note: This article was prepared by the Ministry of Justice Staff in connection with the second national law week which is being underway from March 13 to March 18 under the theme, “Law for Human Dignity and development”.