Chronology of Human Rights

The timeline included in this resource highlights key events, moments or advancements of human rights treaties. To extend your students’ learning on specific issues, social movements, regional or international bodies, have your students research the specific topic and then place it on the human rights timeline.

Discussion questions related to the timeline and extended learning:

  1. What was familiar to you? What was new? What surprised you?
  2. What do you think was left off of the timeline and why?
  3. What did you notice in relation to the evolution of human rights as laid out in the timeline?
  4. When was the issue you are researching first mentioned in human rights?
  5. When do you think it should have been mentioned and why?
  6. What does the future of human rights look like? What treaties or events would you like to see happen in the next 10 years?

Timeline

C. 2100 B.C.

In Iraq, the Laws of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, vows to “make justice reign in the kingdom, to destroy the wicked and violent, to enlighten the country and promote the good of the people.”

C. 570 B.C.

The Charter of Cyrus is drawn up by King Cyrus the Great of Persia (now Iran) for the people of his kingdom, recognizing rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, the right to own property, and some economic and social rights.

1215

Bowing to populist pressure, King John of England signs the Magna Carta, which establishes limits on arbitrary power and rights to due process.

1648

The Treaty of Westphalia, Germany, an early international legal treaty, establishes equality of rights between Catholics and Protestants.

1679

The Habeas Corpus Act in Britain gives anyone who is detained the right to a fair trial within a certain amount of time.

1689

Britain’s Bill of Rights upholds the supremacy of Parliament over the King, and provides freedom of speech, the right to bail, freedom from torture, free elections, and trials by jury.

1776

The U.S. Declaration of Independence declares, “all men are created equal” and establishes North America’s independence from the British Empire.

1789

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens is established when the French monarchy is overthrown by its people.

1791

The American Bill of Rights and Constitution list basic civil and political rights of citizens including freedom of speech and rule of law.

1864

The Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Armies in the Field (First Geneva Convention), an international treaty of the International Committee of the Red Cross, protects war wounded and sick, and gives immunity to hospital staff and the Red Cross.

1899–1907

The Hague Conventions are drafted, establishing international humanitarian laws for the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war, and war wounded.

1919

The Treaty of Versailles establishes both the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization to improve working conditions and promote social justice.

1941

The Allies proclaim “four freedoms” as their objective: freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and from fear. The Allies repeat that commitment in the 1941 Atlantic Charter.

1942

UN War Crimes Commission established international war crimes trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo that took place after World War II.

1945

UN Charter sets forth United Nations’ goals, functions, and responsibilities.

1947

The partition of India displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million.

1948

Chinese Laogai (forced labor camps) system built. Estimated 50 million have been sent to laogai camps.

1948

Apartheid system of legal racial segregation enforced in South Africa.

1960

Last of the Soviet Gulags close, but political dissidents continue to be imprisoned until the Gorbachev era.

1966

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are ratified by the United Nations. Along with the UDHR, they complete the International Bill of Human Rights.

1969

The adoption of the American Convention on Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica, which incorporates human rights standards for Latin American countries.

1971

The widespread violation of human rights in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) where an estimated 200,000 to 3 million civilians were killed and millions fled to India.

1973

The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet carries out a military takeover that initiated massive disappearances, illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings.

1975–1979

More than a million Cambodians were executed in the “killing fields” by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime.

1979

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is ratified by the United Nations.

1981

The Africa Charter of Human and People’s Rights is unanimously approved.

1981

International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ratified by the United Nations.

1984

International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ratified by the United Nations.

1989

Tiananmen Square Massacre in China follows weeks of peaceful protests calling for political reform. Government troops fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands

1989

International Convention of the Rights of the Child ratified by the United Nations.

1990s

The signing of peace accords in Central America, ending decades of killings and enforced disappearances in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

1991

Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi receives Nobel Peace Prize. She remains under house arrest despite repeated calls from the international community for her release.

1993

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia established.

1994

Estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed in Rwandan genocide.

1994

Apartheid system of racial segregation is dismantled in South Africa.

1994

November

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

1995

The Fourth World Conference on Women is held in Beijing, China. Participants agree on a five-year action plan to enhance the social, economic, and political empowerment of women, improve their health, advance their education, and promote their marital and sexual rights.

1995

Srebrenica massacre, more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys killed in largest mass murder in Europe since World War II.

1998

The Rome Statute, signed by 120 countries in 1998, entered into force on July 1, 2002, establishing the legal basis for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes which concern the international community, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

1998 – 2008

Estimated 5. 4 million people die In decade of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

2001

The World Conference Against Racism. Representatives of every UN member country meet in Durban, South Africa, to address issues of minority and indigenous rights, trafficking, migration, and discrimination. The Durban Declaration lays out a plan of action to implement the goals of the conference.

2004

Africa Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is established.

2007

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia elected Africa’s first female president.

2008

The 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2009

The International Criminal Court charges Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, president of Sudan, with atrocities in Darfur.