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History of human rights
The long struggle for freedom
The notion of innate human rights and their legitimate protection developed only gradually over the course of history. In the Middle Ages there were the first laws that were supposed to protect the individual from the arbitrary power of the rulers.
The "Magna Charta Libertatum" ("Great Charter of Freedoms") is known, which in 1215 protected the nobles and clergy in England, and to some extent also the peasants, from excessive royal taxes. It became the main basis of English constitutional law.
A recurring principle can be seen here: The struggle for life, freedom and justice often begins where rulers or governments abuse their power. They no longer work for the good of the people, but oppress and torment people for their personal interests or ideologies.
In many countries and at all times, horrific crimes are committed on the orders of the state. And that is why human rights have to be reaffirmed and proclaimed again and again.
"All people are born the same!"
This happened for the first time with far-reaching effects in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. Unjust taxes were also the cause of the struggle for independence for the English settlers in North America.
The English crown tried to use its colonies to pay off its national debts, which had arisen from the Seven Years' War against France (1756-1763). The 13 colonies on the American east coast, however, opposed the new taxes and the strict trade and customs laws.
At the famous "Boston Tea Party" on December 16, 1773, settlers threw the cargo of British tea ships into the harbor basin. The colonies united, convened a continental congress and formed a common army under the command of George Washington, who later became the first President of the United States of America (USA).
On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence drawn up by Thomas Jefferson. "We take the following truths for granted: that all human beings are created equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights by their Creator; that life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness belong to them," says the 15-article declaration that became the basis of the US Constitution.
It marks the historic breakthrough of the idea of inalienable basic rights - even if slavery continued in America at the time, many Indians were expelled and women had no right to vote.
Liberty, equality, fraternity
In France, people revolted against the "old regime" at almost the same time. The state was bankrupt, the royal court and the costly war policy had emptied the coffers. The people had paid for it for years. On May 5, 1789, the meeting of the estates was called. The third estate, the bourgeoisie, declared themselves to be the National Assembly.
On July 14, 1789, the open uprising began with the famous storming of the Bastille, i.e. the prison. The National Assembly proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Article 1 reads: "Man is born and remains free and equal in rights." Article 2: "The aim of all political societies is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man. These rights are freedom, property, security and the right to resist arbitrary oppression."
The fundamental rights set out in 17 articles were incorporated into the new constitution of September 3, 1791.
The French Revolution brought a lot of suffering and chaos over the country - after the liberated outcry of the people, the Jacobins' reign of terror and the time of the wars under Napoleon Bonaparte followed. But from then on people knew their rights vis-à-vis the state.
The "Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du Citoyen" ("Declaration of human and civil rights") stands for a new beginning in political thought and had an impact on all of Europe. From this point on, many constitutions could no longer do without the innate, inalienable fundamental human rights that the state had to protect.
The French still celebrate July 14th as a national holiday today.
The basic rights of the German people
In Germany it took a little longer for the call for freedom to be heard loudly. The "German Confederation" was a loose amalgamation of many small states, but there was a desire for a unified state with basic rights and an overarching constitution.
The bourgeoisie and liberal politicians in particular called for German unity, a parliament and the lifting of press censorship. When new unrest broke out in France, a revolution also broke out in Germany in 1848. After the uprisings, the National Assembly met in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt.
The basic rights of the German people were proclaimed on December 27, 1848: equality before the law, protection against official arbitrariness, freedom of the press, freedom of belief, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, the right to form associations, independence of the courts, public judicial proceedings, freedom of property.
They wanted to unite Germany and offered King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia the choice of emperor. But this rejected the "crown from the gutter". When the constitution was only adopted by a few states, the German revolution had largely failed. The Germans still had a long way to go to democracy.
Nevertheless, this declaration of fundamental rights also brought new impulses to people's thinking. For the first time the thought emerged that social rights - like the right to work - are human rights. This opened the way for workers to be protected and for trade unions to be formed.
Freedom from need and fear
The crimes of the National Socialists and the destructive force of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki shook humanity to an extent never known before. The urgent need arose to protect every single person from such injustice in the future.
With this goal in mind, the United Nations Organization (UNO) was founded in New York in 1945 as the successor organization to the League of Nations. This new world community committed itself in its charter of June 26, 1945 to "save the world from the scourge of war".
She reaffirmed her belief in human dignity and promised to promote better living conditions in freedom for all people.
A short time later, a committee of representatives from the then member states met to work out a common catalog of values. What living conditions does a person need for a dignified existence? What rights does a state have to guarantee?
After more than two years of work, the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" was announced on December 10, 1948. The 30 articles serve to this day in the worldwide struggle for human dignity as a common orientation and ideal of almost all peoples.
A common vision for the world
Nobody had to adhere to its guidelines at the time the declaration was made. There were no contracts, no legal protection. It was only later that international pacts, treaties and conventions followed, which implemented the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" into applicable law. However, many people are still not adequately protected from arbitrary violence by governments.
Enforcing human rights through the United Nations is proving difficult. To this day, many governments argue that human rights violations are domestic affairs in which no one has to interfere.
Yet the struggle for human rights has become a worldwide movement. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), groups and citizens' groups are bravely speaking up. Massive worldwide protests and courageous actions by individuals have already prevented or alleviated a great deal of suffering - for political prisoners, for women without rights, for defenseless children.
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