Rights - History of Rights

History of Rights

See also: History of human rights

The specific enumeration of rights has differed greatly in different periods of history. In many cases, the system of rights promulgated by one group has come into sharp and bitter conflict with that of other groups. In the political sphere, a place in which rights have historically been an important issue, at present the question of who has what legal rights is sometimes addressed by the constitutions of the respective nations.

Most historic notions of rights were authoritarian and hierarchical, with different people being granted different rights, and some having more rights than others. For instance, the right of a father to be respected by his son did not indicate a duty upon the father to return that respect, and the divine right of kings which permitted absolute power over subjects did not leave room for many rights to be granted to the subjects themselves.

In contrast, modern conceptions of rights often emphasize liberty and equality as among the most important aspects of rights, though conceptions of liberty (e.g. positive or negative) and equality (e.g. of opportunity or of outcome) frequently differ.

Important documents in the political history of rights include:

  • The Constitution of Medina (622 AD; Arabia) instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish and pagan communities of Medina, establishing freedom of worship for non-Muslims in return for extra taxes (the jizya), the security of women, a system for granting protection of individuals, and a judicial system.
  • The Magna Carta (1215; England) required the King of England to renounce certain rights and respect certain legal procedures, and to accept that the will of the king could be bound by law.
  • The Henrician Articles (1573; Poland-Lithuania) or King Henry's Articles were a permanent contract that stated the fundamental principles of governance and constitutional law in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including the rights of the nobility to elect the king, to meet in parliament whose approval was required to levy taxes and declare war or peace, to religious liberty and the right to rebel in case the king transgressed against the laws of the republic or the rights of the nobility.
  • The Bill of Rights (1689; England) declared that Englishmen, as embodied by Parliament, possess certain civil and political rights; the Claim of Right (1689; Scotland) was similar but distinct.
  • The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789; France) was one of the fundamental documents of the French Revolution, defining a set of individual rights and collective rights of the people.
  • The United States Bill of Rights (1789–1791; United States), the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution specified rights of individuals in which government could not interfere, including the rights of free assembly, freedom of religion, trial by jury, and so forth.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is an overarching set of standards by which governments, organisations and individuals would measure their behaviour towards each other. The preamble declares that the "...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..."
  • The European Convention on Human Rights (1950; Europe) was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) is a follow-up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerning civil and political rights.
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) is another follow-up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerning economic, social and cultural rights.
  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982; Canada) was created to protect the rights of Canadian citizens from actions and policies of all levels of government.
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000) is one of the most recent proposed legal instruments concerning human rights.

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