Have Human Rights Always Been Part Of Human History?

2461 words - 10 pages



Human Rights as we know it today in the 21st century are rights that all people have simply because they are human beings and the standards human beings need to live life with freedom and dignity and as Lauren states ‘today, human rights play an exceedingly visible and vital role in the conduct of international relations, governments and individuals across the globe’ (1998: 1). The term ‘rights’ can be referred to as ‘the ability to demand and enjoy a minimally restrictive yet optimal quality of life ...view middle of the document...

Goodhart states ‘human rights are closely tied historically to notions of justice and human dignity that are as old as human social interactions itself’ (2009: 2).

There is an idea from influential philosophers such as John Locke that rights came from the concept of ‘natural law’ or ‘natural rights’ and could argue that it is closely linked with rights as the concept of natural rights is all about ‘reasoning about how one should use or enjoy their natural liberty’ (Hamburger, 2012: 908). But as Hamburger states later on, many would say that there are many issues with the concept of natural law because ‘natural law was only available when permitted by civil law’ (2012: 909).

As we look back on the history of human rights, the various documentation, declarations, texts and legislation, we must also think about the various ancient philosophers who had the idea and concept of rights and how individuals should live. With influential philosophers like Socrates & Plato who in the 360 BC suggested that us as individuals should live life in a certain way with others around us to create the most suitable and comfortable environment that ‘absolute justice can be achieved only when an individual fulfills the task to which each is suited, in harmony with the common good’ (Ishay, 2007: 8). This statement was later repeated in 384 BC by another influential philosopher Aristotle with his thought that a ‘perfect state with the bounds of possibility, so long as virtue has external goods enough for the performance of good actions’ (Ishay, 2007: 8).

The fact that human rights are considered to be universal, we can date human rights back to the Ancient Near East where the Hammuarbi Code in c1790 BC is considered the oldest surviving text. The Hammurabi Code ‘focused on various liberties and the overall legal system’ (Ishay, 2007: 8). When Cyrus The Great, the first King of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC his actions to free slaves, to declare that all people had the right to choose their own religion and to establish the racial equality ‘marked a major advance for Man’ (Freeman, 2011: 15). These and other decrees were put onto a cylinder in Akkadian language and known today as The Cyrus Cylinder, which contained 45 lines detailing how one should live. This has been recognized as the first charter of human rights and the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome.

It wasn’t until 1215 where the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today in the English-speaking world. After King John of England violated a number of ancient laws in 1215, his subjects forced him to sign the ‘Magna Carta’ or otherwise known as ‘The Great Charter’ (Freeman, 2011: 19). This famous and well-known medieval document is regarded today by many as ‘representing the cornerstones of civil liberties around the globe’ (Ardley B, Ardley M, 2010: 287). There were 63 clauses...

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