Human dignity beyond borders: an ecclesiastical argument for the rights of forced migrants


  • Luis R. Guzmán Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
  • Brittany Smith Princeton University (New Jersey)


Migrants, Human dignity, canon law


Following influxes of Latin Americans across the U.S.–Mexico border and similar mass migrations across the Middle East and Europe, liberal democracies are experiencing increased xenophobia motivating states to restrict such movements. In the wake of the international refugee crisis, these sentiments have led to more exclusionary immigration policies and morally problematic treatment of asylum seekers. Given that no international consequence exists for inferior treatment of asylum seekers, states are guided only by moral imperative and domestic law. This lack of international accountability has led states to enact policies contradicting the moral/philosophical principles upon which they are founded. This suggests the question, do states have solely moral or philosophical obligations to grant asylum, or is there an applicable juridic construct? We propose that states proclaiming a Christian tradition may derive such obligations from canon (ecclesiastical) law, which provides a juridical tradition predating and informing modern liberal democracies. With reference to canon law’s emphasis on human dignity, we argue that Christian states have a juridical obligation to provide sanctuary to people fleeing oppressive circumstances.


Keywords: Migrants; human dignity; canon Law.


Shany, Yuval. “Toward a General Margin of Appreciation Doctrine in International Law?.” European Journal of International Law 5. Oxford (2005): 907-40.

Shacknove, Andrew E. “Who is a refugee?.” Ethics 2. Chicago (1985): 274-277.




How to Cite

Guzmán, L. R., & Smith, B. (2020). Human dignity beyond borders: an ecclesiastical argument for the rights of forced migrants. Revista De Investigación De La Cátedra Internacional Conjunta Inocencio III, 1(11), 31–45. Retrieved from