Human Rights are rights that belong to an individual or group of individuals as a consequence of being human. They refer to a wide continuum of values or capabilities thought to enhance human agency and declared to be universal in character, in some sense equally claimed for all human beings.
It is a common observation that human beings everywhere demand the realization of diverse values or capabilities to ensure their individual and collective well-being. It also is a common observation that this demand is often painfully frustrated by social as well as natural forces, resulting in exploitation, oppression, persecution, and other forms of deprivation. Deeply rooted in these twin observations are the beginnings of what today are called "human rights" and the national and international legal processes that are associated with them.
The expression "human rights" is relatively new, having come into everyday parlance only since World War II, the founding of the United Nations in 1945,and the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It replaced the phrase "natural rights," which fell into disfavour in part because the concept of natural law (to which it was intimately linked) had become a matter of great controversy; and it replaced as well the later phrase "the rights of Man," which was not universally understood to include the rights of women.
ORIGINS IN ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME
Most students of human rights trace the origins of the concept to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was closely tied to the doctrines of the Stoics, who held that human conduct should be judged according to, and brought into harmony with, the law of nature. A classic example of this view is given in Sophocles' play Antigone, in which the title character, upon being reproached by King Creon for defying his command not to bury her slain brother, asserted that she acted in...