Human Rights as understood in the present is a contemporary concept. Even if Natural Law, an idea that goes back almost to the beginning of men history, has had more or less presence and impact in ancient, medieval and modern societies, in the sense that we give it nowadays it does not go back more than 1948 when the December 10th, 1948 UN General Assembly adopted The universal Declaration of Human Rights (Resolution 217 A (III)).Of course it has precedents; almost nothing comes out of the blue. It must be stressed that ancient societies had systems to enforce duties but they did not contemplate rights save for the rulers. Somehow Christianity was a blessing- considering all men alike- but, unfortunately, this concept was only related to theological equality because in reality was not at odds with social inequality.
In 1791 Thomas Paine used the term for the first time, but not quite, in his book The Rights of man because already in 1537 Vomerus wrote about “iuria hominum”.
The Cyrus cylinder, a broken clay cylinder written in Akkadian cuneiform in 539 B.C, was considered to be the first world’s charter of human rights… History has to begin somewhere…So was the 1215 Magna Carta, after John of England perpetrated all sorts of brutalities and cruelties, but it was only and agreement among peers. Lots of similar concords were born all along Europe with little consequence. In 1679 the English Revolution brought the Habeas Corpus Act and in 1689 the Bill of Rights but its influence remained within the country boundaries, like the Scottish Claim of Rights.
Philosophers’ theories in the XVII and XVIII planted the seeds that lead the British colonies in North America revolting against British Government in 1776 and resulted in the US Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution in 1789 bringing the Declaration des droits de l’ homme et du citoyen. America Civil War (1861-1865) to end slavery did not fully achieve its goal. Officially slavery was banned in all its forms in Geneve by the Council of the League of Nations (precursor of United Nations) in a Resolution dated October 12th, 1933.
Considerable importance had the suffragettes’ movement that was established at the end of the XIX century to win the rights for women to vote, but their role merits an entire commentary, some other time.
After 1948, Amnesty International was born May 28th, 1961 and was considered by many too restrictive. In 1978 the Human Rights Watch comes into view following the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2005 with several committees dealing with every aspect of the issue. Plus NGOs flourished all over.
What do all these institutions managed to tell us? That the issue is still unsettled and ongoing, if it was complete there would not be need to establish new laws, ratifications, resolutions, etc. When something works there is no need to insist upon the matter.
So the problem is unsolved, as it is the necessity to care for the people around the world abused by outsourcing, the solution for profit raise when national labor became too expensive in the, until now, rich “First World” and it meant the suppression of labor rights, protection of child labor, women empowerment, fair work schedules & salaries as well as safe and healthy working environment for all the employees or equal trading conditions among undeveloped countries.
New laws are necessary to prevent this new kind of slavery; to make a better world, where working people regain their dignity.
Nuria Valldaura Micó