Human Rights: History, definition and reality

Nuance is a word that is getting thrown around a lot these days. Sometimes it is just a fancy label for excessive relativism, and almost always it is a sure sign that ahead lies an infinitely complicated conundrum. Nuance typically means the mess on the surface is completely frivolous when compared to the conflict’s underlying issues and assumptions.

When it comes to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the chasm that seems to separate the document’s becoming a set of ratified laws from its current state as a broad statement of unenforceable principles seems too big to be called nuanced, but it is deceptively so.

There is ten-minute video called The Story of Human Rights from Youth for Human Rights International, which illustrates how confounding the topic of human rights is… in large part because it is so nebulous.

The Cyrus Cyllinder freed the Jews in Babylon from slavery and granted them freedom of religion in 539 B.C.

Mixing animation with person-on-the-street interviews, the video recounts the progression of human rights beginning with Cyrus the Great’s decision to free the slaves of Babylon, to the Magna Carta, to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights… It asks the question, if Rome’s “Natural Law” became France’s “Natural Rights” became the U.N.’s “Human Rights,” who, now, will make it “Human Law”?

The video leaves out, however, the perspective that the reason the U.N.’s code is only a declaration and not yet law is because the nations that value human rights do not want to compromise these ultimate rights, and they fear this would happen in negotiating a codified set of human rights laws.

Youth for Human Rights International seems to grasp the importance of individuals knowing and understanding the history of human rights in order to effectively contribute to the discourse on these issues. Bonus points for making such an artful advancement in this discourse, but the conversation can’t stop there.

The video begins with simple and all-important question: “what are human rights?” Yet, by the end of the video, it doesn’t seem to have reached a basic, conclusive answer. Could this be, perhaps, because the conversation must start at an even deeper level?

Wouldn’t we have to agree on the reality of human nature before we can, as the video says, attempt to make human rights a reality?


4 thoughts on “Human Rights: History, definition and reality

  1. This is great! I love reading about issues that require previous knowledge, yet require the application of that knowledge in new and original ways. And what a great picture! What language is written on that cylinder?

  2. According to Wikipedia, the Cyrus Cylinder is inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform script, apparently the earliest known writing system in the world.

  3. I think that human rights should be understood within the concept of progressive revelation. Human nature has never changed throughout History, but our rights have never been the same as explained in the video. They were defined in religious scriptures, which were brought to us progressively. We cannot let our concept of human rights define our concept of human nature, because we do not have the ability yet to grasp our spiritual reality. Therefore the concept of human rights is also brought to us a bit at a time, along with our understanding of human nature.

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