Sources of Human Rights Law

Human rights have changed throughout the course of many centuries. The ultimate objective of man, the freedom to live with dignity, required great effort and is still being accomplished in many communities today.

A country like India serves as an example of how hard women, children, dalits, bonded laborers, etc. are working to integrate into society. Despite all of this, the U.N. Charter of 1945, which asserts that human rights are an intrinsic component of humanity, was acknowledged by all countries. Human rights can be linked to the Natural Rights Doctrine, and the battle for human rights gained additional momentum as a result of the American and French Revolutions. Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights were followed by the French Declaration and the American Bill of Rights in the international arena, which is where the evolution and development of human rights can be traced.

What is the meaning of Human Rights Law?

The term "human rights" has its roots in international law, which dates back to around World War II. The idea that a person has certain fundamental, unalienable rights in contrast to a sovereign state has its roots in the principles of natural law and natural rights. When the United Nations adopted the UN Charter in 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the International Covenants on Human Rights in 1989, the philosophy of human rights began to take shape.

Significance of Human Rights Law

The significance of human rights Law are −

Sources of Human Rights Law

Human rights law, one of the regimes of international law, has the same source as the internationally accepted classification of sources.

International Conventions

Contracts between nations are known as international treaties. They impose reciprocal responsibilities on the states that are parties to any given treaty and are legally enforceable (state parties). Human rights treaties are unique in that they assign nations responsibilities for how they should treat all people under their control.

A number of regional organizations, including the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Union, have endorsed human rights accords on a global scale (AU). These groups have made significant contributions to the formulation of a thorough and coherent corpus of human rights legislation.

International Custom

International human rights legislation heavily relies on customary international law. One of the key characteristics of customary international law is its potential to give rise to universal jurisdiction or application, allowing any national court to hear extraterritorial claims made under international law under certain circumstances. Jus cogens, also known as peremptory norms of general international law, is another category of customary international law. These standards are accepted and acknowledged by the whole international community of states as being norms from which no deviation is permissible. Any pact that clashes with a peremptory requirement is void, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT).

General Principles of Law

General or guiding principles are employed in the implementation of both domestic and international law. General legal concepts play a significant role in human rights case law at the international level. The principle of proportionality, which is crucial for human rights supervisory bodies to consider when determining whether interference with a human right may be acceptable, is a clear example. It is necessary for decision-makers and members of the executive and judicial branches to be able to make decisions on the matters that are before them.

Two crucial functions are played by general legal principles: on the one hand, they offer recommendations for judges, in particular, while making decisions about specific instances; on the other hand, they restrict the latitude with which courts and executive branch officials can decide specific situations.

Subsidiary means for the Determination of Rules of Law

Subsidiary sources of law include judgments of national tribunals pertaining to human rights rendered by the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court, the European Court, and the prospective African Court on Human Rights. The research and analysis of human rights legislation are aided by scholarly writing. The influence is less direct than the formal norms established by international bodies. However, significant contributions have been made by academics and professionals working in human rights fora, such as the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, as well as by renowned NGOs, such as Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists.

Development of Human Rights Law

The following are significant turning points in the development of human rights −

The Magna Carta, 1215

The Magna Carta, commonly referred to as the "Great Charter," was written in 1215 and is the most important constitution ever created. Its principal focus was defense against the king's arbitrary actions. The 63 provisions of the Charter safeguarded the barons against unfair levies while guaranteeing citizens' fundamental civil and legal rights. The English Church was also free of royal interference. On June 15, 1215, King John of England gave the English barons the Magna Carta. The barons refused to pay high taxes until the king signed the charter; therefore, the king was forced to give it.

The English Bill of Rights, 1689

The next source and development of human rights is the English Bill of Rights, adopted on December 16, 1689, by the British Parliament. According to the English Bill of Rights, the king has no superfluous power. The Bill of Rights explained and formalized citizens' rights and liberties as well as the customary laws. The two pillars—the supremacy of the law and national sovereignty—upon which the English constitution is based are laid out in this document.

American Declaration of Independence, 1776

The thirteen American States were the first colonies to rise up in rebellion against England. On July 4, 1776, these states made their declarations of independence from their home countries. In addition to proclaiming the American colonies' independence, the statement accuses the king of oppression. As it justified the right to rebel against a government that no longer protected a person's natural and inalienable rights, the declaration of independence has tremendous historical significance.

The U.S. Bill of Rights, 1791

The United States Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787. The most obvious flaw in the original Constitution was the lack of a Bill of Rights pertaining to individual liberty and private rights. Madison consequently suggested a Bill of Rights that included up to twelve amendments. The state legislatures approved ten of these. The Bill of Rights is the name given to these 10 constitutional amendments. The Bill of Rights' overarching message is that citizens should be shielded from government officials abusing their authority.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789

France entered a new era with the fall of the Bastille and the National Assembly's repeal of feudalism, serfdom, and class privileges. The Rights of Man and of Citizens were declared by the National Assembly on August 4, 1789. In 17 articles, the rights were outlined. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen has profound historical significance not just for France but also for Europe and all of humanity. A new social and political order based on lofty and brilliant values was established as a result of the statement, which also served as the death sentence for the previous administration. Furthermore, the declaration served as the foundation for other constitutions drafted in various nations where human rights were highly valued.

Declaration of International Rights of Man, 1929

After World War I, concerns about fundamental liberties and human rights started to surface. The Declaration of International Human Rights was approved by the Institute of International Law in 1929. In the Declaration, it was said that the fundamental rights of citizens, which are recognized and protected by many domestic constitutions, including those of France and the United States, were actually intended for all men everywhere on the globe, without exception.

The UN Charter, 1945

The United Nations Charter was drafted, approved, and unanimously adopted by all the delegates of the 51 states, who attended the United Nations Conference in San Francisco. Human rights promotion and protection are addressed in the UN Charter. The significance of the Charter comes from the fact that it is the first official document where the term "human rights" is used and where respect for basic freedom is also acknowledged.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

On December 10th, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All men, women, and children are guaranteed civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights under the thirty articles of the Declaration. However, the declaration is not a binding legal document. It represents the best of humanity.

International Covenants on Human Rights

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not a legally binding document. It lacked enforcement. The U.N. General Assembly endeavored to address this shortcoming by adopting the two Covenants in December 1966, namely

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and

  • International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

The two International Covenants, together with the Universal Declaration and the Optional Protocols, comprise the International Bill of Human Rights. An important turning point in the development of human rights is the International Bill of Human Rights. It is a contemporary Magna Carta for human rights.


The evolution of human rights has taken place over centuries. The twentieth century witnessed the crystallization of the philosophy of Human Rights when the United Nations adopted the UN Charter in 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the International Covenants on Human Rights, with further emphasis on the protection of the rights of women, the abolition of slavery, racial discrimination, civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights, and most importantly, the rights of children.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Is there any hierarchy among human rights?

Ans: No, all human rights are equally important. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that human rights of all kinds—economic, political, civil, cultural, and social—are of equal validity and importance. This fact has been reaffirmed repeatedly by the international community, for example in the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development, the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and the nearly universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Q2. What are human rights?

Ans: Human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms, entitlements, and human dignity. Human rights law obliges governments (principally) and other duty-bearers to do certain things and prevents them from doing others.

Q3. Do individuals, as well as states, have obligations to protect Human Rights?

Ans: Yes. Human rights obligations can also attach to private individuals, international organizations, and other non-State actors. Parents, for example, have explicit obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and states are obliged to cooperate with each other to eliminate obstacles to development. Moreover, individuals have general responsibilities towards the community at large and, at a minimum, must respect the human rights of others.

Updated on: 17-Jan-2023

2K+ Views

Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started