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Although the Korean understanding of human dignity as an abstract constitutional value is little different from that in other jurisdictions, the way it has been operationalized in Korean shows interesting nuances that will reward comparative analysis. The establishment in 1988 of the Constitutional Court of Korea opened a new era of constitutional jurisprudence on human dignity. This chapter features a critical analysis of the various ways in which the Court has interpreted the clause “dignity and worth as human beings” in the Korean Constitution. The Court seems to oscillate between, on the one hand, regarding the clause as an abstract general principle and, on the other, using it to derive concrete justiciable rights. The chapter then discusses the different modes of interaction between the constitutional ideal of human dignity and the larger social, political, and cultural milieu of modern Korea. The focus is on those cases in which human dignity grounded challenges to the constitutionality of certain rules and practices rooted in Confucian tradition. This chapter highlights the ongoing negotiation between Western liberal ideals and Korea’s local cultural norms and values.
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