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Human Right Course
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What are human rights?
The history of human rights
In the really old days..
the middle class and the development of cicil and political rights
the working class and the development of economic, social and cultural rights
World war II and the founding of the UN
Universial declartion of human rights
Human rights in our time
What right do we have?
The protection of Human Rights
Human rights in everyday life
Human Rights

Did you know

Did you know that the history of human rights stretches back more than 2000 years?




In antiquity, as early as 300 BC, the Stoics (a group of Greek and Roman philosophers) said that “natural laws” existed that applied to all people, regardless of time, location and culture. All people were fundamentally equal because they were born with the same faculties of reason and conscience. Every human being was important and therefore “the natural laws and rights” should apply to everyone. Nonetheless, it is incorrect to say that the Roman’s “natural” rights were the same as our time’s human rights. They also saw namely slavery as part of the “natural” order of things.

Right up until around the 1500s the organisation of European societies was based on big differences between people. In the Middle Ages (500-1300 AD), the church gained a great deal of political power – often greater than the realms of the princes and kings. The church believed that God wanted people to be placed in groups above and below each other, and that the social system should therefore not be changed. In the 1300s, philosophers, theologists and scientists started to readopt the concepts of individual people’s natural liberty and dignity. From this time the Middle Ages’ social system with its strict stratification slowly but surely began to change. People would no longer primarily be members of groups with duties, but individuals with rights. This new era was called the Renaissance (1300-1600 AD).

The ideas of philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) became important to the argument about why the individual should have some fundamental rights. He believed that it was the state that should ensure that the people’s right to life and liberty was observed: the state should work for the people, not the other way round. Society should be regulated by laws, not by the people in power at any given time. The law should be superior to the people in power and apply to them too.


The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero lived between 106-43 BC. He is known for his writings about natural rights and said that the “welfare of the people is the highest law”.

The Magna Carta written in England in 1215 is known as the “first document protecting liberty”. For the first time in Europe, individual people’s rights were written down in the form of laws. It guaranteed so-called “freemen” certain rights with respect to the King.

John Locke’s influence has survived right up to the present day. In the state of North Carolina in the USA there is an organisation called the John Locke Foundation. It was founded in 1990 and works “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina”.


Fact box

“All people are born free, equal and independent with an innate right to life and liberty” – John Locke

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