WHERE DID THE idea of human rights come from?
The true origin and history of human rights is largely debateable. However, what we do know from the earliest records of human history, is that many people originally had rights or were valued based on their membership in a particular group, such as their family.
Nevertheless, there are certain events and documents throughout the course of known human history that were important developments towards the modern international human rights regime that we now have today in our contemporary global society.
For instance, in 539 B.C, Cyrus the Great, after conquering the city of Babylon, freed all slaves and declared that people should be able to choose their own religion. The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay tablet containing his statement, is generally known as the first human rights declaration in history. The idea of human rights then quickly spread to India, Greece and eventually Rome.
Some of the most important advances since then have been, The Magna Carta in 1215, which gave people new rights and made the King of England subject to the law, The Petition of Right in 1628, an English constitutional document setting out the rights of the people, the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, which famously proclaimed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen from France in 1789, which stated that all citizens are equal under the law.
However, it was only until after the horrific and devastating effects of World Wars I and II when millions of people had lost their lives that States came together, and global efforts were seriously made to promote and protect human rights. World leaders at the time did not want a repeat of what happened during World War I and II.
One of the main organizations which states used to further human rights was the United Nations.
David Harris in the 7th edition of “Cases and Materials on International Law”, shedding light on the role that the United Nations has played in the development of the modern international human rights regime stated that, “It was therefore no surprise when the promotion of human rights became one of the purposes of the United Nations and when the Charter imposed obligations upon the UN and its members to this end.
The Charter was followed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and a series of multilateral treaties and other declarations concluded through the United Nations”.
Since then, the development of international human rights has been rapidly advancing with the creation of new documents, organizations, bodies, and even courts.
It has influenced every single sector of contemporary society and today, the Constitutions and laws of many States are based on human rights principles.
Today, I encourage us to learn more about our human rights and the history of human rights.
Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister- at-law and Solicitor.
He is also the President of Equal Rights,Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected] com