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A Brief History Of Human Rights Regulation

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A brief history of human rights regulation

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 did not emerge from a vacuum. It was presented as the latest in a series of acts, covenants and declarations aimed at securing certain rights for citizens in various countries. These acts, covenants and declarations вЂ" which are usually traced back to the English Magna Carta of 1215 have almost always emerged as strategic responses to social and political upheaval. The Magna Carta was signed by King John merely to serve as a pact between the king and his unhappy barons, and was not in any respect intended to serve as a declaration of rights for all citizens, but its very necessity reflected the uncertainty of the times. The English Bill of Rights of 1688вЂ"89 вЂ" which was the first document to use the language of вЂ?rights’ and which introduced the system of free elections вЂ" was merely intended to ensure that royal absolutism was firmly dissolved in favor of the monarch’s accountability to Parliament. Thus, the rights it gave were to Parliament, not the people.3 Nevertheless, these events were significant in so far as they influenced the establishment of the idea of the rule of law.

Of greater significance, perhaps, were the American Declarations of 1776вЂ"1789, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. Once again, these historical documents were drafted and signed in the aftermath of great social and political upheavals, bloody revolutions designed to bring to an end colonial rule, in the case of America, and the absolute monarchism of the ancien rÐ"©gime, in the case of France. Both Declarations upheld the existence of inalienable rights as an absolute truth, drawing on the philosophies of Locke and Kant, and Rousseau’s concept of the general will. As Cassese rightly points out, the language of the American and French Declarations is rooted in a particular model of вЂ?man’ and society. вЂ?For those Declarations’, he writes, “man”.., is worthy of being called “man” only if he fulfils these conditions: to be free, equal, or have undisturbed enjoyment of his property, not to be oppressed by a tyrannous government and to be able freely to realize himself’.4 They are based, he suggests, on a model of society comprised of вЂ?free individuals equal with one another. . . and subject only to the law, which in turn is and must be an expression of the general will; political institutions should exist only as a means of realizing the freedom



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