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Human rights: a brief history

From Cyrus the Great to the Commission on Human Rights

Friday 14 November 2014, by Oleksandra Bilyaze

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Starting from ancient days there was one unique thing that people wanted to have more and more. This is not money and not even love. It is natural and simple. It’s called human rights – basically those rights that are guaranteed to you simply because you’re a human, they apply to everybody everywhere. But how exactly we came to have them? Since the first societies and states have been formed some people took more power for themselves limiting other in many ways. Opportunities that are basic and normal for us were struggled in rebels and revolutions, signed in conventions and doctrines.

In 539 B.C. Cyrus (some powerful man also known as first king of Ancient Persia) made a revolutionary thing. After conquering Babylon he freed and slaves and declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. From Babylon, the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and of course Rome.

Ages after in 1215, King John of England was forced to sign the Magna Carta. Widely viewed as one of the most important legal documents in the development of modern democracy, the Magna Carta was a crucial turning point in the struggle to establish freedom. But it took some time to make those rights to work.

Written in 1787, the Constitution of the United States of America is the landmark document of the Western world. The first ten amendments to the Constitution—the Bill of Rights—came into effect on December 15, 1791, protecting the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors in American territory. The Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, religion, assembly and petition.

In 1789 the people of France brought about the abolishment of the absolute monarchy and set the stage for the establishment of the first French Republic. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted as the first step to a constitution for the Republic of France. The Declaration proclaims that all citizens are to be guaranteed the rights of “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.”

Beginning of 20th century was raged by 2 World Wars, and as the end drew near, cities throughout Europe and Asia lay in terrible ruins. Millions of people were dead, millions more were homeless or starving. World was desperate for change.

The change has come in 1948, when in the United Nations’ new Human Rights Commission had captured the world’s attention. Under the dynamic chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt the Commission set out to draft the document that became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

Looking back on those centuries of non-stop fight it seems unbelievable that racism and discrimination and other forms of violation of natural human rights still exist in our societies. At some point it is our duty to work hard using all legal tools, so that centuries-long struggle was not for nothing. In the past people died for our freedom, now we should do a pay back to our future.

So what are the human rights? They are just words on a page, which create changes.

Oleksandra Bilyaze

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