Human rights are rights that every human being has by virtue of his or her human dignity.
Originally, people had rights only because of their membership in a group, such as a family. Then, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, after conquering the city of Babylon, did something totally unexpected—he freed all slaves to return home. Moreover, he declared people should choose their own religion. The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay tablet containing his statements, is the first human rights declaration in history.
The idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. The most important advances since then have included:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. The document they considered, and which would later become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was taken up at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946.
1215: The Magna Carta—gave people new rights and made the king subject to the law..
1628: The Petition of Right—set out the rights of the people.
1776: The United States Declaration of Independence—proclaimed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
1789: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen—set out the rights of the people.
1948: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the first document listing the 30 rights to which everyone is entitled. For a more in-depth look at the history of human rights, go to the United for Human Rights website.