Human Rights


Human Rights Defined
  • While some dictionaries define the word right as “a privilege,” when used in the context of “human rights,” we are talking about something more basic.*
  • Every person is entitled to certain fundamental rights, simply by the fact of being human. These are called “human rights” rather than a privilege (which can be taken away at someone’s whim).
  • They are “rights” because they are things you are allowed to be, to do or to have. These rights are there for your protection against people who might want to harm or hurt you. They are also there to help us get along with each other and live in peace.
  • Many people know something about their rights. Generally they know they have the right to food and a safe place to stay. They know they have a right to be paid for the work they do. But there are many other rights.
  • When human rights are not well known by people, abuses such as discrimination, intolerance, injustice, oppression and slavery can arise.
  • Born out of the atrocities and enormous loss of life during World War II, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 to provide a common understanding of what everyone’s rights are. It forms the basis for a world built on freedom, justice and peace.

Background of Human Rights
Originally, people had rights only because of their membership in a group, such as a family. Then, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, after conquering the city of Babylon, did something totally unexpected—he freed all slaves to return home. Moreover, he declared people should choose their own religion. The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay tablet containing his statements, is the first human rights declaration in history.
The idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. The most important advances since then have included:
  • 1215: The Magna Carta—gave people new rights and made the king subject to the law.
  • 1628: The Petition of Right—set out the rights of the people.
  • 1776: The United States Declaration of Independence—proclaimed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • 1789: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen—a document of France, stating that all citizens are equal under the law.
  • 1948: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the first document listing the 30 rights to which everyone is entitled.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Introduction

The United Nations (UN) came into being in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II.

The stated purpose of the UN is to bring peace to all nations of the world. After World War II, a committee of persons headed by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote a special document which “declares” the rights that everyone in the entire world should have—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today there are 192 member states of the UN, all of whom have signed on in agreement with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Where Do Universal Rights Begin?

"In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

—Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Chair of the United Nations Commission that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.