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Every human being is endowed with certain unalienable rights by God which is termed as natural rights. These natural rights include life, liberty and equality. These rights are self-evident and no human being is expected to take away any of the natural rights from another. Individual rights apply to every person in a given societal setting. An individual is supposed to benefit and not suffer from his or her society. Individual rights include: right to life; speech, property; liberty; and self defense. A society should establish certain rules and regulations but individual rights must supersede. Human rights are applicable to all human beings regardless of their race, religion, believes, and political views.
The history of human rights is based on a philosophical view that human beings have moral codes that the society should consider when defining rules and regulations. The idea of human rights dates back in the 17th and 18th Century in the European region more so in France. Human rights were developed from laws, religions' doctrines and customs of a society. The idea of human rights acquired its popularity in the ancient Greece and among the Romans. In Greece human rights were considered similar to the natural rights. The Greek tradition of Socrates and Plato viewed natural rights as those rights provided for by natural law which stipulates the natural order of the universe influenced and controlled by God.
Greece major contribution in the idea of human rights was seen through Hammurabi, the Sumerian King. This era of Hammurabi was termed as 'Hammurabi and the Prevention of Arbitrary Prosecution'. Hammurabi created a code of tablet containing laws which were borrowed from individual rights. These laws were used to create a legal system which became binding and protected the people from arbitrary prosecution. However, the Hammurabi codes did not provide ideas related to specific religion, freedom, beliefs and race among others. Therefore, the idea of human right created a greater meaning through the major contributions made by the Greeks and the Romans during the ancient times.
Before the 17th and 18th century when scholars and philosophers thought about establishing a legal framework to stipulate human rights, there was a code of behavior expected in a society. As early as 6th Century, lawmakers such as Justin published great Codex which outlined various laws in his pursuit of establishing rights and duties of human beings. Great religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Taoism also contributed to the establishment of rights and duties based on the divine law. It is important to note that, all these parties had one thing in common: human beings have a dignity and have a duty and obligation for fellow human beings, nature and to God. In ancient Rome natural rights belonged to every human being whether a member of particular nation or not.
Ideas in the 17th Century were based on the requirement of human beings to be more aware of their moral duty towards the society through other human beings. Down the period, through the influence of great philosophers attention was drawn from social responsibilities to individual's right and requirements. Human rights philosophers included Hobbes, Locke and Grotius. These individual rights and duties were later described as natural rights and human rights. The natural and human rights spread all over political and economic spheres.
Some philosophers broadened the idea of human rights and natural rights through writing essays. Such philosophers included John Stuart Mill in Liberty, Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience and Thomas Paine in the Rights of Man. The idea of human rights and natural rights became very popular and influential among great personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King among others. They used this idea to guide and lead people in their day to day lives while interacting with each other. Human rights were also approached as political, social, economical and cultural rights. Therefore, certain human rights were available for different scholars and professionals.
The idea of Human rights can also be associated with the great historical slavery period. It was accepted for great leaders, merchants, heads of religions, politicians and other great people to hire slaves. However, with the rise of the period in which the idea of human rights and natural rights gain popularity, slavery was critically addressed. Freedom movements such as Liberalism, Marxism, Socialism and anti-colonial influenced the idea of human rights. In addition, some essential events such as Renaissance, American French revolutions, Industrial Revolution, the Glorious revolution and the World War II made major contribution to the expansion of the idea of human rights.
Some of the positivist philosophers of human rights included Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham. In his view, Thomas saw natural rights as being unclear and hollow and therefore there would be a level of ambiguity in their interpretation. Hence, human rights can be accorded, deprived or modified according to the requirements of the society. According to Jeremy, 'a right is a child of law and therefore from real laws come real rights, but from imaginary law, natural laws, come imaginary rights.' Majority of these philosophers termed these rights as natural or rights of man and are accorded to every person by the virtue of being a human being.
There are key distinctions between universal rights and particularistic rights. Universal rights can also be termed as human rights because they are applicable to every human being regardless of one's race, religion, ethnic group, beliefs and political views among others. Universal rights are such as right to life, liberty, property and speech among others. Universal rights gained momentum during the first Universal Declaration of Human rights on 10th, December, 1948 by the General Assembly.
The document contained a preamble and thirty articles that stipulate the universe or human rights. The General Assembly stated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a standard requirement for all nations and for every individual. The Universal Declaration was triggered by the results and experiences felt during the Second World War. It was therefore important for the nations of the world to have a common approach towards the rights available to every human being of any race, political affiliation, or religion. Major provisions included: equality; life; and liberty for every human being. One of the major controversies on the idea of universal rights is: do individuals need liberty?
The Particularistic rights addresses rights available to a specific group of people in a philosophical way. This is because such rights might counteract the universal rights. For example, the affirmative action requires application of particularistic rights such as gender equality. Philosophers and other historical actors find this as the opposite of the universal right of equality. In addition, women's rights may vary from the rights accorded to men because of factors such as culture. Particularistic rights are also addressed by politicians such as Hegel in a philosophical view.
Hegel's political philosophy provides that human beings should be aware of qualities, features and attributes associated with their distinctiveness. In his view, human rights laws should be applied in areas that are sensitive to the culture in which they operate. Hegel's political philosophy critically addresses the way of life of a given society in reference to human rights. In his view, universal rights also address organizational rights which when related to politics include rights to form political parties, social movements, ethnic groups and employers' federation among others. The universalistic rights apply to every citizen within the setting in which the rights were intended for.
Another historical actor is Adolf Hitler who had a different approach on human rights. Adolf's view was that human rights were subject to governmental or authority's control. In his view, human rights could be given to any person, deprived off from that person and modified according to the authority requirements. Adolf was associated with denying his people the right to life because he ruthlessly killed those who did not follow his orders. Therefore, the universal rights are subject to particularistic rights. Particularistic rights in this case can be linked to the rights accorded by the government to its people and therefore citizens should be accorded universal rights as required by the government's particularistic rights.
Mahatma Gandhi approached the issue of human nature in a positive way. Mahatma is among the great philosophers of the history and was respected for the dignity he showed to the human race. In his view, human rights should be accorded to every individual by the virtue fact of being human. Mahatma promoted the idea of oneness and equality in all religions. In addition, one should earn money just enough of his or her own requirements and those of his family. In this he was promoting the idea of equality in human beings.
As illustrated from the above discussions, the idea of human rights has evolved through history way back when scholars such as Hammurabi would write laws on tablets. Europe is the origin of the idea of human rights and natural rights. The Greece and the Romans played a critical role in expansion of the idea of human rights. The human right idea was born in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Major philosophers behind the human rights idea were Hobbes, Locke and Grotius among others. It later came to have great influence on philosophers, lawmakers, politicians, economists and the great people of the history such as Martin Luther King. It is clear that human, individual, universal and natural rights address one common right, the right to life. However, the idea of particularistic rights influences the universal rights as provided by the General Assembly Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.