The idea that all human beings are entitled to some fundamental human rights dates far back into history.
Historians will nevertheless concede that the "human rights" in a given epoch – regardless how universal they were claimed to be – did not apply to all. Even 2300 years ago, the natural law philosophers proclaimed that there were moral and judicial norms that applied to all human beings, regardless of time and place and local traditions. Paradoxically, their contemporary society was based on slavery and was a far cry from today's ideas about rights. Nor did the documents spearheading the modern epoch of human rights – the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) – include everyone. Women, half of the population, were excluded.
The atrocities that occurred during the Second World War led to the establishment of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 and the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The declaration was an important political and moral document, but as a declaration it had no legal binding force for the states when it was adopted in 1948. That is why the UN Human Rights Commission and the state representatives continue to negotiate and to develop legally binding human rights treaties.
Unfortunately, we cannot say that the world today is free of torture, hunger or unlawful arrests. Nevertheless, it is important to reflect on core historical events, the adoption of decisive legislation and the personal courage of people around the globe who are making concrete tools to advance human rights and protect human beings from abuse, injustice and discrimination.