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How did Human Rights Laws Originate?

By: Liz Lennox - Updated: 19 Aug 2017 | comments*Discuss
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As far back as the signing of the Magna Carta people have fought for what they believed to be rights that had been denied to them. The French and American revolutions teach us that for centuries it has been unacceptable for the rights of some to be overlooked for the benefit of the few.

Many academics and writers on the subject often refer to the growth of western politics and philosophies when discussing the development of human rights but a great many historical and religious texts, from Buddhist texts to Greek and Roman Law refer, or at least hint, at the importance of human dignity and freedom. As far back as ancient Babylon, the earliest codes referred to these principles that we take for granted in our supposedly enlightened society.

That Was Then, What About Now?

Human Rights in this context are squarely a National Issue and, therefore, to consider the origin of our Human Rights Laws, it is absolutely necessary that we look further than our own shores.

It would be frighteningly easy to re-count the various national declarations issued by other countries, setting out what they saw to be the best way to declare the rights of their people. It would be equally easy to point out that, certainly in America, ‘human rights’ were declared by wealthy SLAVE-owners - an idea that is abhorrent to us now. Luckily, as with most laws, the principles have now grown with the times and, whether people like it or not, the law can grow and adapt to changing ideals and situations.

So Where Did it Come From?

The answer to this is quite simple; World War II. Specifically, the Nuremberg Trials, involving Nazi Leaders being tried for War crimes, paved new roads in human rights. Supposedly untouchable leaders were being prosecuted by other countries for crimes against their own people; a situation that would have been almost unheard of, other people didn’t normally get involved in what was essentially a ‘domestic’ affair.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This key declaration has its basis in World War II but unfortunately has no legal status, it is essentially a pledge made by the UN members. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and, despite its lack of legal enforceability, is still a benchmark by which governments can be tested. It was also the basis for various legal instruments, including the UN Commission for Human Rights. Following this, the Council of Europe adopted The European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, this being taken on by the regional member states in various forms.

Surprisingly, however, it was the British Government which was the last to adopt any form of the Convention into its own law and, even now, our own Human Rights Act does not take on the full extent of the European Convention. Critics would say that our leaders have ‘cherry-picked’ the parts they wanted to adopt and left the rest for the European Courts to deal with. I have no idea if this is true as I wasn’t invited to any of the meetings, however, the subject is still up for serious debate and we should expect more radical changes to come.

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Thank you, this was very useful for my PSHE project on Human Rights; it tells you about every thing you need to know.
purser007 - 14-Jan-13 @ 9:52 AM
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