Good The Historical Development Of The Concept Of Human Rights As Enshrined In The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights Essay Example
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Human rights are defined as moral principles that are inherent to all kinds of individuals, despite their race, color, nationality or sex, due to the basic fact that they are human beings. These rights are all interdependent, related to one another, and indivisible. Universal human rights are often assured by customary or international law, treaties, general principles, and other bodies that deal with these issues. International human rights provide the obligations that ensure governments act or refrain from certain behaviors so that the fundamental freedoms and rights of human beings are promoted and protected. This paper seeks to discuss the historical developments of the human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as, to evaluate the validity of the claims that human rights are purely western inventions (Langwith, 2008).
Historical Developments of human rights as enshrined in UDHR
The U.N General Assembly took on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an embankment against the discrimination and oppression. Due to the World War, which resulted in some of the most atrocious crimes in the history of human beings, the Universal Declaration stated that human rights were to be treated with high regard. For the first time, it became clearly stated that human rights and freedoms were applicable to every individual in whichever place on earth (Morsink, n.d).
Concerning the development of human rights, the Universal Declaration is significant in two essential aspects. In 1948, the 58 member states of the United Nations presented a diverse range of ideologies, cultural backgrounds, religious and political systems, as well as, varying stages of development economically. Individuals who were charged with the responsibility of writing the Universal Declaration sought to ensure that the drafted document represented these diverse backgrounds and included the common values from all these backgrounds. On such grounds, the Universal Declaration was designed to be a common statement of shared aspirations.
The success of these individuals’ efforts is demonstrated by the worldwide acceptance of the Declaration. In the modern day world, the Universal Declaration of Human rights is translated into averagely 250 local and national languages. Further, this document remains to be the most cited and recognized piece of work in the world. In the formation of the Universal human law, the Universal Declaration remains to be the blueprint for several international treaties, as well as, the laws and constitutions of many nations.
Upon the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Commission on Human Rights sought to translate these standards into international treaties that shielded particular rights. As a result of the unparalleled nature of the tasks involved, the General Assembly opted to draft two covenants that codified the two sets of rights that were included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The member countries of the U.N then discussed the contents of each covenant as they sought to present overt support to certain ideas about the Universal nature of the human rights (Ishay, 2004).
In 1966, there was a consensus that enhanced the adoption of one of the covenants by the United Nations General Assembly. The adopted covenant covered issues on Economic, Cultural, and Social rights. The preambles from both covenants recognize the fact that human rights originate from the intrinsic dignity of human beings. The first article of each covenant directs that all individuals possess the right to self-determination thus they are free to solely have the right to decide their social, economic and cultural development. The second article capitalizes on nondiscrimination in accordance with the Universal Declaration. Further, the third article pushes for equal rights between men and women. Finally, the fifth article in both covenants provides protects human beings against unjustified limitation of any human right. In 1976, these two covenants combined forces and ensured that most of the provisions of the Universal Declaration were effective in most states that ratified them. These two covenants, in combination with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formed the International Bill of Human Rights.
In 1993, the world conference convened in Vienna and re-examined the progress of the United Nations human rights. In that conference, there was a widespread consensus that time was ripe for the implementation of the established standards pertaining to human rights and models with colossal vigilance. Due to the adoption of the Vienna Declaration, the world endorsed the significance of the Universal Declaration for Human rights protection. Further, they unanimously recognized the right to development as a vital part of international law. In addition to that, the conference put more emphasis on promotion of human rights in an equal manner because they are interdependent, interrelated, indivisible and universal. Arguments that some of the rights were optional were highly rejected by delegates. In general, the conference provided a high priority to the preservation of the integrity of the Universal Declaration. A new impetus for the protection of human rights was thus provided.
Was the Invention of Human Rights Purely Western?
The origin of human rights has sparked huge debates over the years. Particularly, claims that the invention of these rights was entirely a western affair have been criticized and objected heavily by various people. This is largely because other areas showed elements of advocating human rights. Egypt is one of the nations that were involved in the promotion of human rights, as well as, the fundamental freedoms of all individuals. Early Egyptian history regarding human rights starts with the eloquent peasant. This individual drafted the earliest documents that were concerned with human rights in history. This peasant delivered an excellent speech to the Pharaoh reminding him of his duty towards the protection of the rights of his people. Such an important document has been frequently used in cases of justice, freedom of expression and equality (Hornblower, 1924).
Further, King Hammurabi of Babylon issued the first written code of law that was commonly known as the Code of Hammurabi. This code was identified as the biggest collection of laws that clearly revealed how human rights were beginning to be upheld in Babylon. Further, it revealed how these laws were an important foundation for combining the rule of law throughout the empire. Babylon later got conquered by the army of Cyrus, who freed the slaves and declared that all people had the right to their desired religion and to establish their equality. The records from this period are translated into the official languages of the United Nations.
However, documents promoting individual rights are the written precursors of most of the human right documents today. These documents that push for specific rights include the U.S Declaration of Independence, as well as, the French Declaration of Rights. These two documents are regarded as the basis of modern day human rights.
United States Declaration of Independence
On June 4, 1776, the Congress of the United States approved the Declaration of Independence. The author of the document wrote in detail explaining why the thirteen American colonies had desisted from being colonies of the Great Britain Empire. This declaration stressed on two major issues. More emphasis was put on individual rights, as well as, the right of revolution. The Declaration stated clearly that all individuals were created equal and were endowed with great unalienable rights that they are entitled. Some of the rights found in the document included Liberty, life, as well as, the search for happiness. Further, this declaration provided that all forms of government were obliged to comply with this stand and whoever went against would be abolished. Over the years, this document has been known as the declaration of human rights.
French Declaration of Rights of man
This declaration of the French revolution contributed greatly to the history of human rights. This declaration was greatly inspired by the American Resolution, as well as the enlightenment philosophers. The French document on Declaration of the rights of man was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson liaised with General Lafayette to introduce this doctrine into France. Due to the influence of the doctrine of natural rights, the declaration concluded that the rights of man were to be considered universal. This declaration meant that the rights of man were valid during all seasons and periods, as well as, whichever place an individual is. Further, this declaration formed the foundation of a country with free individuals who were safeguarded by the law equally. The French Declaration of Rights impacted significantly on the growth of democracy and liberty all over the world.
With this regard, the invention of human rights dates back many years and can be traced to many different areas. The Eloquent Egyptian peasant is the perfect example of areas where the concept of human rights existed before the West. Further, the Analects of China, the code of Hammurabi are other examples of the existence of the invention of human rights in non-west regions. However, the West participated greatly in ensuring that the fundamental concepts that led to the modern day bill of rights were spread efficiently throughout the world (Panikkar, 1982).
In conclusion, human rights are important principles that safeguard all human beings from various injustices solely because of the inherent characteristic of being human. The United Nations Declaration of Human rights was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations so as to watch against oppression and discrimination of people throughout the globe. This declaration has recorded great historical developments throughout its existence. These developments have shaped the United Nations Declaration of Human rights to what is contained in the document now. On the other hand, claims that the invention of Human rights is purely a western affair are inaccurate. This is because various societies that were far from the west showed various aspects of advocating human rights before the West could give its stand. Examples include the eloquent peasant from Egypt, the Analects of Confucius from China, the proceedings in Babylon among others. All these show that the concept of human rights was never a western invention in totality. The western countries, however, ensured that the human rights were spread rapidly throughout the world. For instance, through the United States Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the rights of man was born. Modern day bills of rights borrow greatly from these two documents.
Hornblower, G. (1924). The Story of the Eloquent Peasant: A Suggestion. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 10(1), 44. doi:10.2307/3853996
Ishay, M. (2004). The history of human rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Langwith, J. (2008). Human rights. Detroit, Mich.: Greenhaven Press.
Morsink, J. Inherent human rights.
Panikkar, R., & Panikkar, R. (1982). Is the Notion of Human Rights a Western Concept?. Diogenes, 30(120), 75-102. doi:10.1177/039219218203012005
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