Welcome to the 2nd weekly episode of the series Islamic Human Rights. Today, we study the history of human rights, including The Code of Hammurabi, Cyrus the Great Charter, and the Law of the Twelve Tables, otherwise known as Ancient Roman Laws.
As a reminder, we said what is presented today as human rights, is the outcome of teachings of monotheistic religions, thoughts of philosophers and thinkers, and efforts of people in different communities for revival and safeguard of human rights. Hence, study of the history of terms of foundation of principles of human rights is of especial importance. Today, and in the coming weeks, we will study the history of development of human rights.
Humans, in addition to personal independence, maintain social tendencies and are interested in interaction with others. The community, despite its domination on individuals, is forced to fulfill the dignity, independence, and freedom of mankind. Moreover, the members of the community should not violate others’ dignity in their personal or collective lives.
Social solidarity and life alongside other human beings could lead to friction among individuals, and contrast of their interests. Hence, presence of laws and power for enforcement of laws is a must. Existence of rules and regulations makes it possible for the ruling system to advance the policies and plans for administration of the community in a manner which secures the fair and equal division and distribution of valuable sources of the community among different strata of people.
As of the emergence of the first human community in history, this logical trend has led to establishment of a number of rights and obligations for the members of the community. One of the most important demands of the members of communities is to attain rights which they are merited to enjoy due to their human nature, such as the right to enjoy the support of the ruling system and other members of the community. Today, these rights are known as human rights.
Human rights cover a series of concessions, belonging to members of any given community, and stated within rules and regulations, which individuals enjoy and maintain due to their human nature, and within the framework of their relations with other members of the community and the ruling system. Given that human rights revolve round humans, it can be said that human rights are not restricted by any geographical, racial, religious, and class boundaries, and all sources of power across the world are duty-bound to comply with human rights.
Human rights is a concept which has occupied man’s mind in the domains of thoughts and ideas, history and geography, philosophy, religion and the world, laws and politics.
Unfortunately; threats, insecurity, poverty, hunger, murder, rape, and ethnic cleansing have plagued the history of mankind, and have caused sufferings for communities and nations. The history of mankind depicts the selfish domination of the powerful over the weak such that powerful groups and individuals were included in higher strata and superior positions. In this manner, human dignity was exposed to vulnerability.
However, throughout the course of history, there have been individuals who have made utmost efforts and have taken important strides to demand justice, to stand up against injustice, and to maintain the fundamental rights of human beings. Furthermore, the teachings of divine prophets from Adam to Prophet Mohammad (Blessings of God upon him and his progeny) have guided mankind toward administration of justice; creating amicable atmospheres for mankind throughout the course of history and guiding individuals toward seeking their rights. So maybe it can be said that one of the biggest victories of mankind in the contemporary world in acquisition of human rights; is the issuance of human rights declarations and treaties.
However, one should realize that the principles of human rights have not been easily attained. In fact, human rights are the outcome of justice-seeking religious beliefs, philosophical idealism, thoughts of thinkers, experiences of human communities, and campaigns against oppression, leading to identification and protection of human rights in the global scene and the domestic scene of many countries. Hence, the study of history behind formation of human rights in ancient times, Middle Ages, Age of Renaissance, and contemporary world is of especial importance.
In accordance to historical texts, the most ancient documents of human rights are the Code of Hammurabi, Cyrus the Great Charter, and The Law of Twelve Tables, popularly known as Ancient Roman Laws.
The first legal text which has been penned in relation to human rights is the Code of Hammurabi which has been prepared in 282 articles round 1730 BC. The Code of Hammurabi has been written on a pillar of stone, which was found in the year 1902 AD throughout archeological excavations in Susa (Shush). It is currently kept in Louver Museum in Paris.
The Code of Hammurabi separately states all rules and regulations and punitive measures related to movable and unmovable belongings, trade, industry, work, family and physical harms. It can be said that at its time, this has been a highly progressive set of laws.
Cyrus the Great, the founder of Achaemenid Dynasty is one of the kings which have been named in history for good deeds.
In the year 539 BC, Cyrus the Great seized the ancient city of Babylon, and in the same year issued his historical declaration which is named as the first charter of nations and human rights. Upon the seizure of Babylon, Cyrus the Great freed nearly 40,000 Israelite Jews who were held captive by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and detained in Babylon.
The Ancient Roman Laws in fact form the foundation of the laws of majority of European countries. These laws present general, private, criminal, and religious laws. The Laws of the Twelve Tables were prepared by a ten-member board in the year 451 BC in the wake of injustices imposed by the rulers of Rome, and the wide-scale protests of the common people, who demanded their rights.