Human rights refers to the concept of human beings as having universal rights, or status, regardless of legal jurisdiction, and likewise other localizing factors, such as ethnicity and nationality. The interpretation of the term and degree of human rights has some degree of variance between its uses in different local jurisdictions; difference in both meaningful substances as well as in protocols for and styles of application. Broadly speaking Human rights are generally those rights, which are recognized as being inherent in and integral to every human being by virtue of his birth and are absolutely essential for substance and development of human life.

The general idea of human rights can be described by setting out some defining characteristics. The goal here is to answer the question of what human rights are with a general description of the concept rather than a list of specific rights. Two thinkers can have the same common idea of human rights even though they disagree about whether some particular rights are human rights. Generally, human rights create an idea of freedom where human beings may act in an autonomous fashion, without being enmeshed in an oppressive regime of orders and prohibitions. The basic assumption is that such a kind of freedom will be used not only for the furtherance of individual interest, but also for the general welt.

Ultimately the most general meaning of the term is one, which can only apply universally, and hence the term “human rights” is often itself an appeal to such transcended principle, without basing such on existing legal concepts. The term “humanism” refers to the developing doctrine of such universally applicable values; and it is on the basic concept that human beings have innate rights, that more specific local legal concepts are often based.

Within particular societies, “human rights” refers to standards of behavior as accepted within their respective legal systems regarding

1) The well being of individuals,

2) The freedom and autonomy of individuals, and

3) The representation of the human interest in government.

These rights commonly include the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living, the prohibition of genocide, freedom from torture and other mistreatment, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, the right to self-determination, the right to education, and the right to participation in cultural and political life. These norms are based on the legal and political traditions of United Nations member states and are incorporated into international human rights instruments.

In the Western political tradition, human rights are held to be “Inalienable” and to belong to all humans. They are necessary for freedom and the maintenance of a “reasonable” quality of life. The basis of this political tradition, perhaps best exemplified in the United States Constitution (1783) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1793) is the equality of opportunity between individuals.

If a right is inalienable, that means it cannot be bestowed, granted, bartered, or sold away (e.g., one cannot sell oneself into slavery). Rights may also be non-derogable (not limited in times of national emergency); these often

include the right to life, the right to be prosecuted only according to the laws

that are in existence at the time of the offense, the right to be free from

slavery, and the right to be free from torture.

The word ‘human’ means that all people are entitled to them; the word ‘rights’ means that these are entitlements that can be enforced by law. We look at the values underlying human rights and how they constantly develop. They usually emerge as a result of popular struggles against injustice.

Human Rights are those rights, which are inherent in human persons and without which they cannot live as human beings. They are the rights which come with birth and every person, irrespective of his or her race, colour, status, is entitled to them simply because he or she is human. Thus human rights are universally inherent, inalienable, and inviolable rights of all members of the human family.

Human rights in Islamic Law mean those rights which are granted by Allah and can neither be suspended nor abrogated, as there is no higher purpose to which they are subservient. They are an integral part of the Islamic faith.

1 Dr. M. Ershadul Bari. Human Rights in Islam wish special reference to women’s rights. The Dhaka University Studies. Part F, Vol. V (1). Wl. P.2


“Global histories of human rights development such as The History of Human Rights are crucial tools to provide us legal thought with an intellectual map of its origins, its comparative international context, and its declining standing.” Joe Lockard, Tikkun

The world’s oldest recorded charter of human rights was e’ngraved on the famous Cyrus Cylinder, written and confirmed by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great at around 538 BC. Cyrus’ charter, adopted by the first Persian Empire, is thought to be very advanced for the age, even comparing favorably with modern declarations of human rights, against which it is also contrasted as being much more spiritual.

From the Hammurabi Codes of ancient Babylon to the mandates of the League of Nations, an awareness of human rights slowly emerges.’

As individual human beings, we each have an innate sense of the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to us, and that cannot be denied by any government. A basic understanding and recognition of human rights is in our nature. The notion of human rights can be successfully traced through the linguistic, literary, cultural, and political structures of all societies.


2 The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known examples of human laws being defined and written down in an orderly way. Little is known about Hammurabi himself; he ruled Babylon nearly four millennia ago, from roughly 1702-1750 B.C

The world’s major legal systems all bring important contributions to our understanding of human rights as do the most widely practiced religious beliefs, including Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish traditions.

Attempts to articulate this innate understanding can be traced to ancient laws (such as the Hammurabi Codes of Babylon), to Greco-Roman doctrines and through the work of philosophers and humanists such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Hugo Grotius, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. These philosophers all contributed to the concept of “natural law” which set the stage for wide recognition of human rights and freedoms. Natural law holds that people are born in an innately “good” state, and that certain fundamental rights can be reasonably deduced from this fact.

Although the philosophy of natural law lent much to the conceptual basis for human rights, with time, it became increasingly important to translate vague concepts of rights derived from nature into specific written laws which would provide concrete protection for the rights of the individual within the larger framework of society. Great precedents in the recognition and protection of specific human rights lie in such documents as the British Magna Carta, the United States Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Shortly after the end of the First World War, the League of Nations was established. The Covenant of the League created a “Mandates System” that obliged League Members to promote the “well-being and development” of peoples in the territories over which they had jurisdiction

These were all important international developments. In fact, many concepts, convictions, events, laws and institutions helped to advance the cause of human rights prior to the 1940s. But appreciation of human rights as the very foundation of a free, just and peaceful world was immature, and commitment was thin. The League of Nations proved an ineffective organization and it soon collapsed, ushering in another world war.

The best-known histories of the human rights movement tend to begin with the ancient religions and societies and show the evolution of concepts and institutions of human rights across civilizations. The roots of the notion of Human Rights can be drawn as far back as the Ancients (the role of the individual in the state) but the idea of civil and political rights stems from liberal freedoms advocated by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. The concepts of economic, social and cultural Rights can be traced back to Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right.

The origin of modern positive rights in international law may be traced to the creation of the International Labour Organization in 1919 as a Western response to the socialist ideology of the Russian Revolution of 1917.4

Philosophical Basis of Human Rights

By a process of biological and social evolution (associated with Hume)5 or as a sociological pattern of rule setting (as in the sociological theory of law

and the work of Weber).

3 Hegel: Elements of the Philosophy of Riant ‘Cambridge Texts in !he History of Political Thought) (Paperback), p \()

4The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a political movement in Russia which readied its peak in 1917 with the overthrow of the

Provisional Government that had replaced the Russian Czarist system, and led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, which lasted

until its collapser in 1991. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

5Generally regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, David Hume (1711-1776) – the last of the great

triumvirate of “British empiricists” – was also noted as an historian and essayist

This approach includes the notion that individuals in a society accept rules from legitimate authority in exchange for security and economic advantage. Numerous theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how human rights become part of social expectations. The biological theory considers the comparative reproductive advantage of human social behavior based on empathy and altruism in the context of natural selection. Other theories hold that human rights codify moral behaviotpwhich is a human, social product developed.

Natural law theories base human rights on the “natural” moral order based on religious precepts, the assumed common understandings of justice, or the belief that moral behaviowis a set of objectively valid prescriptions. Religious societies tend to try to justify human rights through religious arguments. For example, liberal movements within Islam have tried to use the story of Adam in the Qur’an to support human rights in a Muslim context.

Other theories are based on human agency, positing such constructs for agreement to rules on the utilitarian principles mediated by public reasoning. The social evolution model is based on human needs and struggle that incorporates an analysis of the norm-creating process. Such norms may take the form of law through a particular form of authoritative decision making of institutions associated with a legal system. It is the process of public reasoning through human rights norm-creating that progressively weeds out the culturally bound behaviour that are inconsistent with contemporary human rights. In this sense, culturally particular norms adapt to evolving human rights standards as defined in national constitutions and international human rights instruments.


The concepts of right to life, right to liberty, and other fundamental human rights were, not unknown of the peoples of earlier periods. Cicero, the great Roman jurist, tells us that the Greek Stoics, around 200-300 years B.C., developed, on the basis of what we now consider as basic human rights, an authentic natural law theory, prescribing inviolability of these rights. These basic human rights represent the modernised versions of the

traditional natural rights.6

(i) Development of Human Rights in Ancient Greek Civilization:

For some authors, the origins of human rights go back to Greek antiquity. They consider that human rights should come under natural law. The classic example, taken from Greek literature, is that of Antigone: according to Sophocles, when Greon reproaches Antigone for having buried her brother despite her having been forbidden to do.

So, Antigone replies that she has acted in accordance with the unwritten and unchanging laws of heaven. In philosophy the general tendency is to view

the problem of human rights—or more precisely that of man’s natural rights

in terms of the doctrine of stoicism.

However, it must be noted that the concept of natural rights pervaited even the evolution of natural law theories. The citizens of Greek city states availed certain rights which they considered as fundamental for them.

6A.B.M. Mafzul Islam Patwari. Fundament;!] Rights and Personal Liberty in India. Pakistan & Bangladesh, 1988, P.34 Kare Vasak.

7 The International Dimensions of Human Rights, Voi-1. 1982. P. 11

These rights in particular were: (i) the right to freedom of speech (isogoria); (ii) the right to equality before law (isonomia); and (iii) the right to equal respect for all (isptimia). The natural law theory, as a matter of fact was developed systematically after the breakdown of Greek city-states by the and in accordance with the law of nature.

The central notion of the stoic philosophy was that the principles of natural law were universal in their nature. Their application was opt limited to any class of persons of certain State; rather it applied to everybody everywhere in the world. The natural rights of man being its embodiment were “not the particular privileges of citizens of certain state, but something to which every human being, everywhere, was entitled in virtue of the simple fact of being human and national. They set forth further that men could comprehend and obey this law. of nature because of their common possession of reason and capacity to develop and attain virtue. In this way the Stoic philosophers were able to preach the idea of universal brother-hood of mankind and laid stress upon the equality and freedom for all.

(ii) Development of Human Rights in Roman Civilisation:

The stoic formulation of natural law was best suited to the Roman temperament, for they, in principle, believed that man should improve himself both nationally and morally. Writing about natural law, Cicero (106-43) B.C., like stoic philosophers laid emphasis upon the universal nature of it and said that natural law is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting…It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.

8 Dr. U. Chandra. Human Rights. Allahabad, 1999. P.2

And there will not be different law at Rome and at Athens or different laws now and in the nature, but one internal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nation is and or all times. Romans applied the Stoic conception of natural law in the formation of body of legal rules for the administration of justice. It was the most outstanding intellectual contribution of Romans.

They developed this body of rules on the basis of the custom and as well as by the application of reason. Acting in this manner/ they not only modernised their old law, but also laid stress upon the incorporation of high ethical standards in legal procedure. It should not be forgotten, particularly when speaking of present significance of human rights that all that derives from the Graeco-Rornan world relates to a system in which Aristotle recognized the legitimacy of slavery. In that world it was considered to be Perfectly natural that there should exist social difference which exclude ah oro the central idea of human rights; that of the equality of men.9

Development of Human Rights in Modern Civilization

International concern with Human Rights is a phenomenon of comparatively recent origin. Although it is possible to point to a number of treaties on international agreement affecting humanitarian issues before the second world war, it is only with the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945 that it is possible to speak the advent of systematic Human Rights protection within the international system.

9KAREL vasak. The International Dimensions of Human Rights, P. 32

Now the less, it is clear that the international protection of Human Rights has its antecedents in domestic efforts to secure legal protection for individuals against the arbitrary excesses of state power. Such domestic attempts have a long and dignified history and are intimately connected with revolutionary activity directed towards the establishment of constitutional system based on democratic legitimacy and the rule of law.

Although some scholars claim to be able to trace a rudimentary consent of Human Rights back, to the stoic philosophy of classical times via the natural law jurisprudence of Grotius and the Jus naturale of Roman law, it seems evident that the origins of modern concept are to be found in the English, American, French and October Revolution of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Trough the middle age and the late Renaissance the concept of Human Rights was also to be traced only in the writings of such jurists as Bodin (France), Grotius (Italy), Vattel, John Locke (England), Jean Jacques Rousseau (France), Blackstone (England) arid Karl Marks (Germany) who, in fact, observed that all persons were entitled to certain natural rights as human Since rights of man became a slogan against the injustices and indignities committed by tyrannical or despotic government, the idea of human rights to a great extent evolved as a result of political absolutism. In order to limit the power of such despotic Govt. attempts began to be made by the leaders of revolution in different parts of the world to set down certain minimum rights in charters, bills, petitions or declarations that could be demanded by all citizens.

To set down certain minimum rights as human beings the tyranny authority were compelled to make such attempts-In England:

1. MagnaCarta(1215)

2. Petition of Rights (1628)

3. Bill of Rights (1688)

4. Act of Settlements (1701) In America:

1. Virginia Bill of Rights (1776)

2. The American Declaration of Independence (1776)

In France:

1. French Declaration of right of Man and Citizens (1789)

The most significant development in the international sphere has taken place since the end of the Second World War. The prevailing concept of human rights had very limited domain as human rights was considered as a domestic matter and not an International affair. But the Second World War changed the scenario with the establishment of the United Nations at 1945 and unanimous adoption of the UDHR in 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Magna Carta for all humanity:

Some 50 years have elapsed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. The Declaration was one of the first major achievements of the United Nations,

and after 50 years remains a powerful instrument which continues to exert an enormous effect on people’s lives all over the world. This was the first time in history that a document considered to have universal value was adopted by an international organization.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration stems in large part from the strong desire for peace in the aftermath of the Second World War. Although the 51 Member States which formed the United Nations at that time varied

in their ideologies, political systems and religious and cultural backgrounds and had different patterns of socio-economic development, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented a common statement of goals and aspirations — a vision of the world as the international community would want it to become.

Since 1948, the Universal’Declaration has been translated into more than 200 languages and remains one of the best known and most often cited

human rights documents in the world. Over the years, the Declaration has been used in the defense and advancement of people’s rights. Its principles have been enshrined in and continue to inspire national legislation and the constitutions of many newly independent states. References to the Declaration have been made in charters and resolutions of regional intergovernmental organizations as well as in treaties and resolutions adopted by the United Nations system.

The year 1998 marks the fiftieth anniversary of this “Magna Carta for all humanity.” The theme of the fiftieth anniversary..”All Human Rights for All”– highlights the universality, the indivisibility and the interrelationship of all human rights. It reinforces the idea that human rights—civil, cultural,

economic, political and social—should be taken in their totality and not disassociated from one another.

Drafting and adopting the Declaration, a long and arduous task:

When created in 1946, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was composed of 18 Member States. During its first sessions, the main item on the agenda was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission set up a drafting committee which devoted itself exclusively to preparing the draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The drafting committee was composed of eight persons, from Australia, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The United Nations Secretariat, under the guidance of John Humphrey, drafted the outline (400 pages in length) to serve as the basic working paper “of the Committee.

During the two-year drafting process of the Universal Declaration, the drafters maintained a common ground for discussions and a common goal: respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Despite their conflicting views on certain questions, they agreed to include in the document the principles of non-discrimination, civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. They also agreed that the Declaration had to be universal.

On 10 December 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the 51 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with 48 states in favour and eight abstentions (two countries were not present at the time of the voting). General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, which proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Origins of Human Rights: Pre-1945

Early European charters supporting the idea of certain freedoms were the Magna Carta Libertatum of 1215, the Union of Utrecht in 1579 (Netherlands), and the UK Bill of Rights in 1689.

Over the next few centuries, the idea of liberty gradually separated from

that of status and was viewed as an right pertaining to all human beings.

The next major step was the Age of Enlightenment and Reason10 – a time when human rights concepts were widely developed. The work of John L0cke (1632-1704), who developed the idea of natural rights, and of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who developed Locke’s work and expounded the idea of a ‘social contract’ whereby the individual surrendered some of his natural rights to the state machinery in return for state protection and state assistance in the protection of property. The ideas of this time were very bourgeois.

This was also the time when the British colonies in North America strove for independence and drew up their own Declaration of Independence in 1776, based on the idea of universal equality, and the existence of certain inalienable rights. These documents were eventually incorporated into the American Bill of Rights which is a part of the country’s Constitution. The international growth of the concept can be demonstrated by the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (and of the Citizen) in 1789.

The rights of the 18th and 19th centuries can be termed as ‘classic” rights, relating to the freedom of the individual and were incorporated in many national constitutions created at this time, along with other roles for Governments in the fields of employment, education, health and welfare – today these are termed as social rights.

Ironically, rather than the classic rights being seen as internationally important, it was the social rights which were first embodied in international regulations. For example the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was founded in 1919 and was the originator of various labour regulations.


On 26 June 1948, after a series of meetings, the signing of the Charter of the United’Nations placed human rights firmly within the sphere of international law. All of the UN member countries agreed to take certain measures to

protect and promote human rights, as can be seen by a close examination of the UN Charter.

In 1946, the UN Commission on Human Rights was established and less than two years later it had drafted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1948. Further documents expanding upon the UDHR have since been created; in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC). Together with the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, these five documents comprise the International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR).

In June 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was agreed upon. This was &e -result of the Second World Conference on Human’ Rights and can be said to represent the “world society’s” concept of human rights at that time

“A definitive account of the history of human rights told from the perspective of those struggling to obtain them. Using the Enlightenment, industrialization, war, national self-determination, and globalization as lenses through which to look at their evolution, Ishay1′ brings both historical context and conceptual acuity to modern debates about the role of human rights in a multicultural world.

1 Micheline R. Ishay is Professor and Director of the International Human Rights Program at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Her encompassing and compassionate approach issues in a book equally valuable to scholars, student, and citizens.(fn12) [1]

“This well-written book, chock-full of knowledge, presents a history of the ides, or ides, of human right through the prism of the author’s thoughtful views on key controversies that bedevil human rights to this day.”(13) [2]

“The first account of human rights as embedded in the history of political theory, relating it to the basic issues of liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Erudite and non-dogmatic, Ishay Ereaches beyond individual human rights to issues of, economic, cultural and nation rights, and shows how the campaign for human rights was instrumental in bringing down oppressive regimes in the last decades…Humane and generous inEits approach, brilliant in its conception an presentation.(fn14) [3]

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