A Chronology of the Global Human Rights Struggle

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  • by Anup Shah
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The following has been reproduced, with kind permission, from the United Nation's Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report, 2000 and shows some of the major events in recent history with relation to human rights issues. The report continues to go on to show that despite these many achievements, we still have a long way to go to effectively help realize human rights and improve human development.

The Ongoing Global Struggle for Human Rights
Struggles and historical eventsConferences, documents and declarationsInstitutions
  • Many religious texts emphasize the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others
  • Over 3,000 years ago Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah
  • 2,500 years ago Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya and Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning
  • 2,000 years ago Christian New Testament, and 600 years later, Islamic Qur'an
  • Codes of conduct-Menes, Asoka, Hammurabi, Draco, Cyrus, Moses, Solo and Manu
  • 1215 Magna Carta signed, acknowledging that even a sovereign is not above the law
  • 1625 Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius credited with birth of international law
  • 1690 John Locke develops idea of natural rights in Second Treatise of Government


  • 1789 The French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
  • 1815 Slave revolts in Latin America and in France
  • 1830s Movements for social and economic rights - Ramakrishna in India, religious movements in the West
  • 1840 In Ireland the Chartist Movement demands universal suffrage and rights for workers and poor people
  • 1847 Liberian Revolution
  • 1861 Liberation from serfdom in Russia
  • 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • 1860s In Iran Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade and in China Tan Sitong argue for gender equality
  • 1860s Rosa Guerra's periodical La Camelia champions equality for women throughout Latin America
  • 1860s In Japan Toshiko Kishida publishes an essay, I Tell You, My Fellow Sisters
  • 1860-80 More than 50 bilateral treaties on abolition of the slave trade, in all regions
  • 1809 Ombudsman institution established in Sweden
  • 1815 Committee on the International Slave Trade Issue, at the Congress of Vienna
  • 1839 Antislavery Society in Britain, followed in 1860s by Confederacao Abolicionista in Brazil
  • 1863 International Committee of the Red Cross
  • 1864 International Working Men's Association
  • 1898 League of Human Rights, an NGO, in response to the Dreyfus Affair

THE 20TH CENTURY 1900-29

  • 1900-15 Colonized peoples rise up against imperialism in Asia and Africa
  • 1905 Workers movements in Europe, India and the US; in Moscow 300,000 workers demonstrate
  • 1910 Peasants mobilize for land rights in Mexico
  • 1914-18 First World War
  • 1914 onward Independence movements and riots in Europe, Africa and Asia
  • 1915 Massacres of Armenians by the Turks
  • 1917 Russian Revolution
  • 1919 Widespread protests against the exclusion of racial equality from the Covenant of the League of Nations
  • 1920s Campaigns for women's rights to contraceptive in formation by Ellen Key, Margaret Sanger, Shizue Ishimoto
  • 1920s General strikes and armed conflict between workers and owners in industrialized world
  • 1900 First Pan-African Congress in London
  • 1906 International convention prohibitinng night work for women in industrial employment
  • 1907 Central American Peace Conference provides for aliens' right to appeal to courts where they reside
  • 1916 Self-determination addressed in Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
  • 1918 Self-determination addressed in Wilson's Fourteen Points
  • 1919 Versailles Treaty stresses right to self-determination and minority rights
  • 1919 Pan-African Congress demands right to self-determination in colonial possessions
  • 1923 Fifth Conference of the American Republics, in Santiago, Chile, addresses women's rights
  • 1924 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child
  • 1924 US Congress approves Snyder Act, granting all Native Americans full citizenship
  • 1926 Geneva Conference adopts Slavery Convention
  • 1902 International Alliance for Suffrage and equal Citizenship
  • 1905 Trade unions form international federations
  • 1910 International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
  • 1919 League of Nations and Court of International Justice
  • 1919 International Labour Organization (ILO), to advocate human rights embodied in labour law
  • 1919 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
  • 1919 NGOs devoted to women's rights start addressing children's rights; Save the Children (UK)
  • 1922 Fourteen National human rights leagues establish International Federation of Human Rights Leagues
  • 1920s National Congress of British West Africa in Accra, to promote self-determination
  • 1925 Representatives of eight developing countries found Coloured International to end racial discrimination
  • 1928 Inter-American Commission on Women, to ensure recognition of women's civil and political rights


  • 1930 In India Gandhi leads hundreds on long march to Dandi to protest salt tax
  • 1939-45 Hitler's Nazi regime kills 6 million Jews and forces into concentration camps and murders Gypsies, Communists, labour unionists, Poles, Ukrainia s, Kurds, Armenia s, disabled people, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals
  • 1942 René Cassin of France urges creation of a international court to punish war crimes
  • 1942 US government interns some 120,000 Japanese-Americans during Second World War
  • 1942-45 Antifascist struggles in many European countries
  • 1949 Chinese Revolution
  • 1930 ILO Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour
  • 1933 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age
  • 1941 US President Roosevelt identifies four essential freedoms - of speech and religion, from want and fear
  • 1945 UN Charter, emphasizing human rights
  • 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • 1948 ILO Convention on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize
  • 1949 ILO Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining
  • 1933 Refugee Organization
  • 1935-36 International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, to promote basic rights of prisoners
  • 1945 Nuremberg and Tokyo trials
  • 1945 United Nations
  • 1946 UN Commission on Human Rights
  • 1948 Organization of American States
  • 1949 Council of Europe
  • 1950s National liberation wars and revolts in Asia; some African countries gain independence
  • 1955 Political and civil rights movement in US; Martin Luther King Jr. leads the Montgomery bus boycott (381 days)
  • 1950 European Convention on Human Rights
  • 1951 ILO Equal Retribution Convention
  • 1957 ILO Convention Concerning Abolition of Forced Labour
  • 1958 ILO Convention Concerning Discrimination in Employment and Occupation
  • 1950 ILO fact-finding commission deals with violations of trade union rights
  • 1951 ILO Committee on Freedom of Association
  • 1954 European Commission of Human Rights
  • 1959 European Court of Human Rights
  • 1960s In Africa 17 countries secure right to self-determination, as do countries elsewhere
  • 1962 National Farm Workers (United Farm Workers of America) organizes to protect migrant workers in US
  • 1960s-70s Feminist movements demand equality
  • 1965 UN International Convention on the limitation of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • 1966 UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
  • 1966 UN International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • 1968 First World Conference on Huma Rights, in Tehran
  • 1960 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds its first session
  • 1961 Amnesty International
  • 1963 Organization of African Unity
  • 1967 Pontifical Commission for International Justice and Peace
  • 1970s Human rights issues attract broad attention - apartheid in South Africa, treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories, torture of political opponents in Chile, "dirty war" in Argentina, genocide in Cambodia
  • 1970s People protest against Arab-Israeli conflict, Viet Nam war and Nigeria-Biafra civil war
  • 1976 Amnesty International wins Nobel Peace prize
  • 1973 UN International Convention on Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid
  • 1973 ILO Minimum Age Convention
  • 1974 World Food Conference in Rome
  • 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  • 1970 First commissions on peace and justice in Paraguay and Brazil
  • 1978 Helsinki Watch (Human Rights Watch)
  • 1979 Inter-American Court of Human Rights
  • 1980s Latin American dictatorships end - in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay
  • 1988 In the Philippines peaceful People's Power Movement overthrows Marcos dictatorship
  • 1989 Tiananmen Square
  • 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall
  • 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • 1984 UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development
  • 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • 1983 Arab Organization for Human Rights
  • 1985 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • 1988 Africa Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • 1990s Democracy spreads across Africa; Nelso Mandela released from prison and elected president of South Africa
  • 1990s Ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, and genocide and massive human rights violations in Rwanda
  • 1998 Spain initiates extradition proceedings against General Pinochet of Chile
  • 1999 Doctors without Borders wins Nobel Peace prize
  • 2000 Court in Senegal charges former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre with "torture and barbarity"
  • 1990-96 Global UN conferences and summits on the issues of children, education, environment and development, human rights, population, women, social development and human settlements
  • 1998 Rome statute for establishing International Criminal Court
  • 1999 CEDAW Optional Protocol for Individual Complaints
  • 1999 ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention
  • 1992 First Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner for National Minorities
  • 1993 First UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, appointed at the Vienna Conference
  • 1993-94 International criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
  • 1995 South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • 1995-99 Ten countries launch national plans of action for the protection and promotion of human rights

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  • by Anup Shah
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