Throughout the course of human civilization, man has been in the quest and struggle for peace, justice and freedom. Today, in every part of the world, men, women and children of all faiths and languages, of every colour and creed, are shouting for Human Rights. Why? Because, Human Rights, being inherent, inalienable and universal, cannot be denied to any person living on this planet. They are inherent in the sense that they are the birthright of all human beings and people enjoy them simply by virtue of their human existence. They are inalienable in the sense that people cannot agree to give them up or have them taken away from them, and universal in the sense that they do not just apply to individuals as “citizens” or groups but to all persons regardless of their group identities. In simple terms, Human Rights are what make us human, Human Rights are what reason requires and the conscience demands. Human Rights are the expression of these traditions of tolerance in all cultures that are the basis of peace, prosperity and progress in the world. The most striking feature of the concept of Human Rights is that they may be difficult to define but are impossible to ignore. The colour of the skin may be white or black, the level of mental make-up may be high or low, the way of life of people may be primitive of modern, but none of them could be denied their Human Rights by any stretch of imagination.
The term “Human Rights” came somewhat late in the vocabulary of mankind; but, throughout history, there has consistently been a concern for the protection of the rights of the individual. There have always been certain rights in very society since ancient times. The origin of Human Rights can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome.
They, however, developed later in the medieval period which roughly ranges from the 13th century to the Treaty of Westphalia (1448), spreading over the period of the Renaissance and the decline of feudalism. The teachings of Acquinas and Hugo Grotius on the European Continent and certain declarations like the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628) and the English Bill of Rights (1689) in England can be cited as proofs of the evolution of the of the concept of Human Rights.
The materialism of Thomas Hobbes, the Pantheism of Benedict de Spinoza, and the empiricism of Francis Bacon and John Locke encouraged a belief in natural law and universal order. During the 18th century, the so-called age of Enlightenment, a growing confidence in human reason and human affairs was seen. John Locke in England, Montesque, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau in France, to name a few, supported human reason and tried to prove the superiority of natural law and Human Rights.
The practical examples of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the resulting Bill of Rights in 1689 also provided the rationale for the wave of revolutionary agitation which influenced the West, most notably North America and France.
The struggle for rights was accelerated which resulted in the American Declaration of 1776 and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789. The decline of feudalism and the beginning of Industrial Revolution gave a fresh impetus to the movement of rights, justice and equality. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia made it clear that all men are equal and should be treated with equality and dignity.
The abolition of slavery, popular education, and universal suffrage were some of the examples of the 19th century cross-currents which kept alive the idea of Human Rights.
It was the rise and fall of Nazism in Germany, which imparted a real meaning to the idea of Human Rights. With the establishment of the League of Nations(1919) after the First World War(1914-1918) the cause of the Human Rights was further strengthened at the international level.
The horrors of the Second World War(1939-1945) led to the birth and recognition of the modern Human Rights movement in the world. The establishment of the United Nations Organisation on 24th October 1945 and the subsequent international concern for Human Rights widened the scope of this movement. The corner-stone of this post-war Human Rights movement is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Representatives from diverse cultures accepted the charter of UDHR which is universal for all peoples and all nations. The adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 gave a legal force to the movement of Human Rights. The United Nations passed various covenants, declarations and protocols regarding Human Rights of the old, women, children, refugees, minorities, etc., so that Human Rights could be safeguarded for all sections of the society.
Thus, the 21st century brought about a new and changing political context for Human Rights. We can say that the concept of Human Rights was in a rudimentary form in ancient times, in the formative stage in the Middle Ages, and is now fully grown in the 21st century.
For today’s man & woman, Human Rights are not only important but essential. The caravan of Human Rights is moving fast to eliminate hunger, genocide, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and poverty from the face of the earth and to make it possible that every human being could get a human treatment which he/she deserves. Human Rights are more widely accepted than they have ever been.
Dr. M.N. Rahman
JEMTEC, School of Law