The Historical Background and Development of Human Rights

Topics: Human rights, United States Declaration of Independence, Rights Pages: 7 (1118 words) Published: May 7, 2015
HRV1601: Human Rights, Values and Social Transformation
Semester 01/ Assignment 01

The Historical Background and Development of Human Rights

Table of Contents

1) Introduction

2) The Development of Human Rights

3) Historical Documents of Human Rights

3.1) The English Bill of Rights (1689)

3.2) The American War of Independence (1775-1783)

4) Developing and Maintaining a Human Rights Culture in South Africa

5) The South African Constitution

6) The South African Bill of Rights

7) Conclusion

8) Bibliography

1. Introduction

A right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all human beings from the moment of birth. According to Ndungane (as stated in Slater 2010:19), “A human right is a right that a human person has simply by virtue of being a human person, irrespective of his or her social status, cultural accomplishments, moral merits, religious beliefs, class membership or cultural relationships”. Basic human rights are not earned or deserved, and should not be considered a privilege, but an imperative implement for the well-being and peacefulness of mankind. This essay explores the historical background and development of human rights and its incorporation into the South African Constitution.

2. The Development of Human Rights

To understand the essence of human rights and its incorporation into the South African Constitution, one must investigate its origin and the way it evolved over time. Although basic human rights can be traced back to and are entrenched in the Ten Commandments of the bible, they were only conceptualized in the 17th century as natural/ inalienable rights. A natural right can be regarded as a right to life, liberty and property. The concept of natural or fundamental rights was created to challenge the totalitarian reign of the monarchs in England. Even long before this, in the period of transoceanic expansion (15th and 16th century), international law morally justified the subjugation of people and the transatlantic slave trade (Slater 2010: 23), which also gave rise to the notion of natural rights.

3. Historical Documents of Human Rights

3.1. The English Bill of Rights (1689)
In 1628 England, the Petition of Right came into effect. This constitutional document was put into place for the protection of civil liberties, as King Charles I, for instance, was challenged for his unjustified imprisonment of his own people who refused to pay in support of the war effort (Thirty Years’ War). The act or violence of war as well as the cruel punishment of citizens who do not support the war is clearly a violation to the natural rights of life and freedom. This was the first legal document in the 17th century that inspired The English Bill of Rights (1689), which is an Act of the Parliament of England that lays down the limits of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament and the prohibition of cruel punishment. This was also the inspiration to the British North American Colonies, who formed the United States of America.

3.2. The American War of Independence (1775-1783) The American Revolution is a revolt of the British North American colonies against their ruler, Britain, which resulted in the establishment of the United States of America. These colonies opposed the British economic exploitation of the rulers and refused to support and pay for a standing British Army. Also, these British North Colonies resisted the rule of a king and aspired to participate in their own political affairs. On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted. The Declaration universalized the traditional rights of English people and made them the rights of all humanity. It stated that “all men are created equal/ they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights/among these are life, liberty,...

Bibliography: Slater, J. 2010. Human rights, values and social transformation. Pretoria: University of South Africa.
Locke, J. 1689. Two Treatises of Government. Awnsham Churchill.
Juta. 2014. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Juta Law.
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