A Brief History of Human Rights

Societies have located the beginnings of human rights in religious documents. The Vedas, the Bible, the Qur'an and the Analects of Confucius are some of the oldest written sources which address questions of people’s duties, rights, and responsibilities. Some early reforms were reflected in the biblical books of Chronicles and Ezra, which state that Cyrus released the followers of Judaism from slavery and allowed them to migrate back to their land. A few centuries later, the Mauryan Empire of ancient India established unprecedented principles of civil rights in the 3rd century BC under the reign of Ashoka the Great. The unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished, such as sport hunting and branding. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them outside one day each year, and offered common citizens free education at universities. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics or caste, and constructed free hospitals for both humans and animals. In 1215 King John of England issued the Magna Carta, a document forced upon him by the Pope and English barons, which required him to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that the will of the king could be bound by law. Two major revolutions occurred in the United States (1776) and in France (1789). The United States Declaration of Independence includes concepts of natural rights and famously states "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789 Similarly, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen defines a set of individual and collective rights of the people. These are held to be universal - not only to French citizens but to all men without exception. United States Supreme Court Justice Davis Davis, in his 1867 opinion for Ex Parte Milligan, wrote "By the protection of the law, human rights are secured; withdraw that protection and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers or the clamor of an excited people."

Many groups and movements have managed to achieve profound social changes over the course of the 20th century in the name of human rights. In Western Europe and North America, labour unions brought about laws granting workers the right to strike, establishing minimum work conditions and forbidding or regulating child labour. The women's rights movement succeeded in gaining for many women the right to vote. National liberation movements in many countries succeeded in driving out colonial powers. One of the most influential was Mahatma Gandhi's movement to free his native India from British rule. Movements by long-oppressed racial and religious minorities succeeded in many parts of the world, among them the civil rights movement, and more recent diverse identity politics movements, on behalf of women and minorities in the United States. Human rights are sometimes divided into negative and positive rights. "Negative" human rights, which follow mainly from the Anglo-American legal tradition, are rights that a government and/or private entities may not take action to remove. For example, right to life and security of person; freedom from slavery; equality before the law and due process under the rule of law; freedom of movement; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly; the right to bear arms. "Positive" human rights mainly follow from the Rousseauian Continental European legal tradition and denote rights that the state is obliged to protect and provide. Examples of such rights include: the rights to education, to health care, to a livelihood. Positive rights have been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in many 20th-century constitutions. Some human rights are said to be "inalienable rights." This is not a term that has a precise meaning today, but is a term from English property law, used metaphorically, and is usually a reference to the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing the importance of a claimed right. Criticism of human rights One of the arguments made against the concept of human rights is that it suffers from cultural imperialism. In particular, the concept of human rights is fundamentally rooted in a politically liberal outlook which, although generally accepted in Western Europe, Japan, India and North America, is not necessarily taken as standard elsewhere. An appeal is often made to the fact that influential human rights thinkers, such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill, have all been Western and indeed that some were involved in the running of Empires themselves.

The cultural imperialism argument achieves even greater potency when it is made on the basis of religion. Some histories of human rights emphasise the Christian influence on the agenda and then question whether this is in keeping with the tenets of other world religions.. Yet, some feel that the cultural imperialism argument is not entirely factual. While Western political philosophers like Locke, Hobbes and Mill made important contributions to the development of modern notions of human rights, the concept of human rights itself has origins in many world cultures and religions, including Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Additionally, this argument leads to absolute relativism if taken too far. If all viewpoints and moral frameworks are equally valid then one cannot condemn any behaviour, however outrageous or horrific. In practice, human rights offer a basis to criticise such behavior or conduct, including imperialism. As such, human rights can be a transformative tool for self-determination. One way out of the cultural imperialism and relativism debate is to argue that the body of human rights exists in a hierarchy or can undergo derogation. The relationship between different rights is complex since it can be argued that some are mutually reinforcing or supportive. For example, political rights, such as the right to hold office, cannot be fully exercised without other social and cultural prerequisites, such as a decent education. Whether the latter should therefore be included as a first-generation right is a debated point. A set of debating points revolves around the question of who has the duty to uphold human rights. Human rights have historically arisen from the need to protect citizens from abuse by the state and this might suggest that all mankind has a duty to intervene and protect people wherever they are. Divisive national loyalties, which emphasise differences between people rather than their similarities, can thus be seen as a destructive influence on the human rights movement because they deny people's innately similar human qualities. But others argue that state sovereignty is paramount, not least because it is often the state that has signed up to human rights treaties in the first place. Commentators' positions in the argument for and against intervention and the use of force by states are influenced by whether they believe human rights are largely a legal or moral duty and whether they are of more cosmopolitan or nationalist persuasion. Violations of human rights Human rights Violation is abuse of people in a way that it abuses any fundamental human rights. It is a term used when a government

violates national or international law related to the protection of human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, fundamental human rights are violated when, among other things: * A certain race, creed, or group is denied recognition as a "person". (Articles 2 & 6) * Men and women are not treated as equal. (Article 2) * Different racial or religious groups are not treated as equal. (Article 2) * Life, liberty or security of person are threatened. (Article 3) * A person is sold as or used as a slave. (Article 4) * Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment is used on a person (such as torture or execution). (Article 5) (See also Prisoners' rights) * Victims of abuse are denied an effective judicial remedy. (Article 8) * Punishments are dealt arbitrarily or unilaterally, without a proper and fair trial. (Article 11) * Arbitrary interference into personal, or private lives by agents of the state. (Article 12) * Citizens are forbidden to leave or return to their country. (Article 13) * Freedom of speech or religion are denied. (Articles 18 & 19) * The right to join a trade union is denied. (Article 23) * Education is denied. (Article 26) Monitoring Human rights violations and abuses include those documented by nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Freedom House, International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Anti-Slavery International. Some people believe human rights abuses are more common in dictatorships or theocracies than in democracies because freedom of speech and freedom of the press tend to uncover state orchestrated abuse and expose it. Nonetheless human rights abuses do occur in democracies. For example, the Macpherson report found that the British police had been institutionally racist in the handling of the death of Stephen Lawrence. Also Amnesty International has called the running of Guantanamo Bay detainment camp by the United States "a human rights scandal" in a series of reports . In over 90 countries National human rights institutions (NHRIs) have been set up to protect, promote or monitor human rights in a given

country. There are now over 90 such bodies. Not all of them are compliant with the United Nations standards as set out in the 1993 Paris Principles, but the amount and effect of these institutions is increasing.