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Dignity Right in the Digital Age


Human rights are inalienable rights, especially the right to protect human dignity, which is respected in most countries of the world. The infringement of human rights is not new, but the internet boom has brought this problem from small communities to spread across continents. The violation of human dignity often occurs on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter or online sharing and live streaming platforms such as YouTube and Tiktok. Whether or not, the legal systems are strong enough to protect against this borderless violation of human rights.


In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stated that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1, UDHR). Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the country or territory (Article 2, UDHR). Therefore, even though the space of the Internet is borderless, dignity right is still protected in terms of international law.


In Germany, dignity is stated in the first article of The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (1949) as “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority”. Thanks to that, this regulation is the most critical and fundamental rule related to all German legal documents. In Germany and countries in Europe, infringing on the dignity of others is very unlikely on online platforms. The reason is that, besides the legal documents protecting human dignity, personal information is strictly protected by the General Personal Data Regulation (GDPR) of 2016. Based on this regulation, personal data is any information such as name, identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more specific factors about an identified or identifiable natural person (Article 1, GDPR). Therefore, when any information affects a person’s dignity means also including personal data to identify that person. Thus, the GDRP serves as a gatekeeper to protect online dignity.


Figure 1: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York, November 1949.

In Vietnam, the right to dignity is enshrined in the Constitution. Accordingly, everyone has the inviolable right to dignity and private life, personal secrets and the right to protect his honour and reputation (Articles 20 and 21 of The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam of 2013). Regulating into more detail, dignity right is mentioned in the Civil Code of Vietnam. If a person’s dignity is poorly influenced via any media must be removed and rectified by such media. At the same time, that person has the right to request an apology, public correction and compensation from the person giving that information (Article 34, the Civil Code of Vietnam). Besides the two primary laws, many legal documents mention human dignity right, especially in cyberspace. For example, Decree 15/2020/ND-CP, dated 3rd February 2020 of the Government of Vietnam (Decree No.15), stipulates the responsibilities of service providers and users of social networks in protecting the dignity of others. Accordingly, a social network service provider will be fined from VND 50,000,000 to VND 70,000,000 (equivalent to 2000€ to 2800€) if actively storing or transmitting untruthful information to dishonour another individual (Article 100(3)(a) Decree No.15). For social network users, the fine is from 10,000,000 VND to 20,000,000 VND (equivalent to 400€ to 800€) in case of providing or sharing fake information that damages the honour and dignity of others (Article 101(1)(a) Decree 15). In addition, the person whose dignity has been violated may claim compensation and public rectification. At the same time, the Vietnam Cybersecurity Law also stipulates preventive measures for information in cyberspace that infringes upon the honour and dignity of other individuals and causes damage to their rights and interests (Article 12 and 16(3) Law on Cyber Security, Vietnam).


A recent civil case can be an excellent example of actual dignity damage. Ho Thi Ngoc C312 sued Le My H at the People’s Court of Nam Can district, Ca Mau province, Vietnam, asking for an end to the act of infringing on dignity and compensation for damage. Previously, on 11th November 2020, the defendant posted a personal image of the plaintiff on her Facebook page and used words with content that infringed on the plaintiff’s dignity. The court accepted the plaintiff’s petition and forced the defendant to apologise on Facebook publicly and pay compensation to the plaintiff (C312 v. H, 2022).


In addition to initiating civil lawsuits or being administratively sanctioned, the infringement of products may also be subject to criminal prosecution. According to the Criminal Code of Vietnam: “Whoever seriously offends the dignity and honour of another person shall be subject to a warning, a fine of between VND 10,000,000 and 30,000,000 (from 400€ to 1200€) or a fine non-custodial reform for up to 3 years” (Article 155 (1) of the Vietnam Criminal Code).


Figure 2: Illustration for sharing information on cyberspace

Besides the dignity right, the right to freedom of expression is also a fundamental human right, which is stated in UDHR: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (Article 19, UDHR). This right is mentioned again in Article 19 of the European Convention on Human Rights (1953). Accordingly, all citizens can freely express their will and opinions without being bound by national territory or political background. However, this right is only legal when it does not infringe upon the legitimate interests of other individuals or organisations. Whether two rights can be conflicted? The answer is that the right to freedom of speech must respect others’ dignity. In other words, people can not express their freedom based on the unprotection dignity of others. Thereby, the nature of these two rights should be understood so as not to cause conflict and not affect the rights of others.


One of the controversial cases of violation of human dignity in Vietnam is the case of Nguyen Phuong Hang. Accordingly, Nguyen uses social networks Facebook and YouTube to live stream and shares her personal views. During those live streams, Nguyen mentioned some artists and journalists in Vietnam. These videos of Nguyen have 926,000 views, 41,000 likes and 32,000 comments (BBC News, 2022). Currently, Nguyen is being investigated by the police and the procuracy for infringing upon the dignity of others according to Article 16(3)(a) Law on Cybersecurity 2018 Article 5(1)(d) of Decree 72/2013/ND-CP on management, provision and use of Internet services and network information. Moreover, in the conclusion of the police investigation, Nguyen took advantage of the freedom of speech rights to infringe upon the interests of others under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Due to this, Nguyen could face a prison sentence of six months to three years.


Figure 3: Illustration for freedom of speech.

The Internet is like a double-edged sword; it can glorify an individual worldwide and destroy a person’s dignity in just one click. The international legal system always upholds the right to protect the dignity of each individual as a fundamental and essential human right. Therefore, in addition to international conventions and national constitutional or fundamental laws, cybersecurity laws must be developed to minimise human rights abuses in cyberspace.


Bibliographical References

Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. (n.d.). https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.html


BBC News. Việt Nam: Bị khởi tố vì Điều 331, bà Nguyễn Phương Hằng khai nhận những gì? [VN: Being prosecuted for Article 331, what did Ms. Nguyen Phuong Hang confess?]. (2022, September 11). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam-62866960


C312 v. H, 2022. Court of Nam Can district, Ca Mau province, Vietnam, Case law No.29/2022/DS-ST, 5 April 2022. https://thuvienphapluat.vn/banan/ban-an/ban-an-ve-tranh-chap-boi-thuong-thiet-hai-do-danh-du-nhan-pham-uy-tin-bi-xam-pham-so-292022dsst-241178


European Convention on Human Rights. (n.d.). https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf


General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – Official Legal Text. (2022, September 27). General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). https://gdpr-info.eu


Hiến pháp năm 2013 [The Constitution of Vietnam 2013]. (n.d.). thuvienphapluat.vn [Library of Law]. https://thuvienphapluat.vn/van-ban/Bo-may-hanh-chinh/Hien-phap-nam-2013-215627.aspx


The Government of Vietnam (2015). The Criminal Code of Vietnam.


The Government of Vietnam (2015). Civil Code of Vietnam.


The Government of Vietnam (2018). Law on Cyber Security of Vietnam.


The Government of Vietnam (2020). Decree 15/2020/ND-CP.


United Nations. (n.d.). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

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Bui Le Hoang Yen

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