The Cyrus Cylinder (539 B.C.)
The decrees Cyrus made on human rights were inscribed in the Akkadian language on a baked-clay cylinder.
In 539 B.C., the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia, conquered the city of Babylon. But it was his next actions that marked a major advance for Man. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script.
Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has now been recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six social languages of the United Nations and its provisions parallel the rst four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Spread of Human Rights
Cyrus the Great, the first king of Persia, freed the slaves of Babylon, 539 B.C. From Babylon, the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. There the concept of “natural law” 0% arose, in observation of the fact that people tended to follow certain unwritten laws in the course of life, and Roman law was based on rational ideas derived from the nature of things. Documents asserting individual rights, such as the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the US Constitution (1787), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the US Bill of Rights (1791) are the written precursors to many of today’s human rights documents.
The Magna Carta (1215)
Carta, or “Great Charter,” signed by the King of England in 1215, was a turning point in human rights. The Magna Carta, or “Great Charter,” was arguably the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today in the English-speaking world.
In 1215, after King John of England violated a number of ancient laws and customs by which England had been governed, his subjects forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which enumerates what later came to be thought of as human rights. Among them was the right of the church to be free from governmental interference, the rights of all free citizens to own and inherit property and to be protected from excessive taxes. It established the right of widows who owned property to choose not to remarry, and established principles of due process and equality before the law. It also contained provisions forbidding bribery and social misconduct. 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.
Petition of Right (1628)
In 1628 the English Parliament sent this statement of civil liberties to King Charles I.
The next recorded milestone in the development of human rights was the Petition of Right, produced in 1628 by the English Parliament and sent to Charles I as a statement of civil liberties. Refusal by Parliament to nonce the king’s unpopular foreign policy had caused his government to exact forced loans and to quarter troops in subjects’ houses as an economy measure.
Arbitrary arrest and imprisonment for opposing these policies had produced in Parliament a violent hostility to Charles and to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. The Petition of Right, initiated by Sir Edward Coke, was based upon earlier statutes and charters, and asserted four principles:
(1) No taxes may be levied without consent of Parliament,
(2) No subject may be imprisoned without cause shown (reparation of the right of habeas corpus),
(3) No soldiers may be quartered upon the citizenry, and
(4) Martial law may not be used in time of peace.
United States Declaration of Independence (1776)
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the American Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the United States Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. Its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Declaration as a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from 0% Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, and as a statement announcing that the thirteen American Colonies were no longer a part of the British Empire. Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as a printed broadsheet that was widely distributed and read to the public.
Philosophically, the Declaration stressed two themes:
individual rights and the right of revolution. These ideas became widely held by Americans and spread internationally as well, influencing in particular the French Revolution.
The Constitution of the United States of America (1787) and Bill of Rights (1791)
The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution protects basic freedoms of United States citizens. Written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States of America is the fundamental law of the US federal system of government and the landmark document of the Western world. It is the oldest written national constitution in use and denes the principal organs of government and their jurisdictions and the basic rights of citizens.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution—the Bill of Rights —came into effect on December 15, 1791, limiting the powers of the federal government of the United States and protecting the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors in American territory. The Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition. It also prohibits unreasonable search and seizure cruel and unusual unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and compelled self-incrimination. Among the legal protections it announced, the Bill of Rights prohibits Congress from making any law respecting establishment of religion and prohibits the federal government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. In federal criminal cases it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital offense, or infamous crime, guarantees a speedy public trial with an impartial jury in the district in which the crime 0% occurred, and prohibits double jeopardy.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)
Following the French Revolution in 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen granted specific freedoms from oppression, as an “expression of the general will.” 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. Just six weeks after the storming of the Bastille, and barely three weeks after the abolition of feudalism, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: La Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen) was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly as the first step toward writing 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.” It argues that the need for law derives from the fact that “…the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights.” Thus, the Declaration sees law as an “expression of the general will,“ intended to promote law as an expression of the general will, intended to promote this equality of rights and to forbid “only actions harmful to the society.”
The First Geneva Convention (1864)
In 1864, sixteen European countries and several American 0%The original document from the first Geneva Convention in 1864 provided for care to wounded soldiers’ states attended a conference in Geneva, at the invitation of the Swiss Federal Council, on the initiative of the Geneva Committee. The diplomatic conference was held for the purpose of adopting a convention for the treatment of wounded soldiers in combat. The main principles laid down in the Convention and maintained by the later Geneva Conventions provided for the obligation to extend care without discrimination to wounded and sick military personnel and respect for and marking of medical personnel transports and equipment with the distinctive sign of the red cross on a white background.