2.0 THE HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS
International human rights saw the light of day in the UN in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. This was the first time rights were declared that applied to everyone in the world. However, the history of human rights is much older.
Human rights are a result of the struggles of individual people and groups throughout history to improve their own and their fellow human beings’ living conditions. People have manned barricades and fought against arbitrary and poor treatment by rulers. Injustice has sparked off many popular uprisings and revolutions throughout history, because people have not been willing to accept being treated badly by the people in power. People have slowly but surely improved their rights. These struggles have often been based on the idea that we are basically pretty alike and that we all share the same human needs.
In this historical review we have chosen to start in the distant past when philosophers first developed a view of people that claimed that everyone was endowed with the faculties of reason and conscience, and that therefore there had to be “natural laws” that applied to everyone. After this we will look at the stratified social system in the Middle Ages when the individual was of little importance, before moving on to the Renaissance when the individual was placed centre stage in art, literature and philosophy. The 1700s saw the formulation of human rights in written documents in Great Britain, France and America. In these states the authorities undertook to grant the people certain human rights. Other states followed suit and over time many countries incorporated human rights into their laws. However, human rights were not yet universal, i.e. they did not apply to everyone on the planet. In order to understand this development we have to look at World War II and the establishment of a worldwide organisation, the UN. Since 1948 this has developed into a global human rights system.