Human Rights in the Ancient Times

The concept of inherent rights is neither a 20th Century nor a Western invention. It spans many years across many regions across the globe and has its roots set in various traditions and cultures. Many communities had established sets of ideals to uphold and created systems to ensure them.

The Code of Hammurabi in Babylonia sought to “make justice reign in the kingdom, to destroy the wicked and violent, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, … to enlighten the country and promote the good of the people”. This is referred to as one of the very first examples of the first written legal code, established by the king of Babylon in Iraq in circa 2000 BCE.

Similarly, the Charter of Cyrus was drawn up by the king of Persia for the people of his kingdom in Iran in circa 539 BCE and sought to recognise various far reaching rights such as religious tolerance, security, freedom of movement, freedom from slavery, and as well as social and economic rights.

The teachings of Confucius outlined two very relevant concepts focusing on compassion (ren) and loving others. In circa 500 BCE, Confucius said, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”. It is interesting to know that Dr Peng-chun Chang, the Vice-Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, believed that Confucianism laid the groundwork for human rights ideas.

The Charte du Mande also referred to as the Charte de Kurukan Fuga penned in circa 1236 CE was based on the codification of oral traditions from West Africa. The Charte sought to uphold principles such as decentralisation, environmental conservation, human rights, and cultural diversity.

Which figures in your country’s history have championed or fought for human rights values? Let us know in comments below!

More Reading:

Council of Europe – What are Human Rights

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