Natural and Legal Rights - Legal Rights Documents

Legal Rights Documents

The specific enumeration of legal rights accorded to people has historically differed greatly from one century to the next, and from one regime to the next, but nowadays is normally addressed by the constitutions of the respective nations. The following documents have each played important historical roles in establishing legal rights norms around the world.

  • 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 Declaration of Arbroath (1320; Scotland) established the right of the people to choose a head of state (see Popular sovereignty).
  • 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 one of the key documents of Scottish constitutional law.
  • Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) by George Mason declared the inherent natural rights and separation of powers.
  • United States Declaration of Independence (1776) succinctly defined the rights of man as including, but not limited to, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" which later influenced "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France The phrase can also be found in Chapter III, Article 13 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, and in President Ho Chi Minh's 1945 declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. An alternative phrase "life, liberty and property", is found in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress. Also, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
  • Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1785; United States) Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1779, the document asserted the right of man to form a personal relationship with God without interference by the state.
  • 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, was another influential document.
  • 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 legal instruments concerning human rights.

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