Stepping stones

How the idea of Human Rights arose

The start

People have been concerned to define and protect basic rights of man over a long period of human history. In Europe the first attempt to protect citizens against the excessive power of their rulers is contained in Magna Carta (1215).

20th century codes

The two world wars of the 20th century and their horrors spurred international efforts to set down basic human rights and have them protected in law. 

The three most influential codes resulting from these efforts have been:

     the Universal Declaration of Human Rights produced by the United Nations (1948),

     the European Convention on Human Rights produced by the Council of Europe (1953),

     and most recently the Charter of Fundamental Rights produced by the European Union (2009).

In the UK

In the UK, the Human Rights Act of 1998, which brings the provisions of the European Convention into English law, provides legal protection for citizens against any infringement of human rights in government or public bodies. 


This module introduces the basic ideas of human rights and how they are protected.