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A Timeline of Important Human Rights Events
(with emphasis on the United States)

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539 BC - "Charter of Cyrus", king of Persia, has been referred to by some as the "world's first charter of human rights," granting freedom of movement and religion, and prohibiting slavery.

1215 – The Magna Carta limited the power of the King of England

13th Century - The Mongol conquests of Asia and Europe were noted for their barbarity and genocide.

1275 - The Magnus Lagaboters Landslov of the King of Norway promised equality before the law.

Late 14th Century - The Turko-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane was noted for his brutality and massacres.

1625 - In De jure belli et pacis Hugo Grotius argues that "natural law" existed independently of political powers.

1628 - Petition of Right in England asserts the right to be free from arbitrary arrest or imprisonment.

1679 - The English Habeus Corpus Act establishes protection from arbitrary detention.

1689 - English Bill of Rights

1690 - Philosopher John Locke writes about "natural rights"

18th Century - Philosophers during the Age of Enlightenment, such as Rousseau, and Kant, challenge the "divine right of kings" and argue for concepts such as "natural rights", "natural law" and "the rights of man".

July 4, 1776 – The United States Declaration of Independence is signed, declaring that all men have "unalienable rights."

1780s – The Anti-Slavery Society is founded in London.

1789 – The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen declares that the "rights of man" were to be held to be universal.

December 1791 – The American Bill of Rights is added to the U.S. Constitution.

1792 - Mary Wollstonecraft publishes "Vindication of the Rights of Woman".

1794 - France abolishes slavery.

1833 - Britain abolishes slavery throughout it's empire.

1830s - The "Trail of Tears" under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the forced movement of Native Americans from Cherokee and other southeastern tribes to "Indian Territory" in present-day Oklahoma, resulting in the deaths of thousands, epitomizes the denial of basic rights of Native Americans at the hand of those of European background.

1848 - The Seneca Falls Declaration that "all men and women are created equal" launches the women's rights movement.

1864 - The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the wounded (1st Geneva convention) is adopted.

December 1865 – After a four-year Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially ends slavery in the United States.

1870 - The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives blacks and all races the right to vote.

1893… New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote."

Late 1800s – All states of the United States adopted laws protecting the human rights of pre-born human beings.

Late 19th century - Increase in anti-Semitism in Europe.

1906 - The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea (Second Geneva Convention) is adopted.

1906 - Finland and Australia grant women the right to vote.

1913 - Norway becomes the fourth of four countries to grant women the right to vote prior to World War I.

1914-1919 - World War I breaks down the distinction between civilians and combatants in "total war".

1917 - U.S. Espionage Act

1918 - The U.S. Sedition Act, along with the 1917 Espionage Act, curtails freedom of speech and other rights of U.S. citizens.

World War I - The Turkish (Ottoman) government conducted massacres and forced deportations of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians.

June 1919 - The League of Nations is created "to achieve international peace and security", but does not specifically mention "human rights."

1920 - The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote.

1921 - The League of Nations adopts the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children.

1922 - The Federation Internationale des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH) is established specifically to advance human rights around the world.

September 1924 - The League of Nations adopts the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (not to be confused with the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child), the first human rights declaration by an international organization of nations.

1924 - Joseph Stalin assumes power in the Soviet Union.

1925 - The League of Nations rejects proposal to obligate all members to guarantee the rights of minorities.

1928 - The League of Nations upholds the principle of national sovereignty in response to petitions about racial discrimination.

1929 - Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Geneva Convention) is adopted.

1930 - The League of Nations again rejects proposal to obligate all members to guarantee the rights of minorities.

1932 - The League of Nations again rejects proposal to obligate all members to guarantee the rights of minorities.

January 1933 - Adolf Hitler assumes power in Germany.

1933 - The League of Nations adopts the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age.

December 1937 - Referred to as the Nanjing Massacre or the Rape of Nanjing, Japanese soldiers rape and kill 200,000-300,000 civilians and unarmed soldiers during their invasion of China.

1939-1945 - World War II is considered by many to be the deadliest war in the history of the world. More civilians lost their lives than did combatants.

January 1, 1942 - Twenty-six nations agreed to sign the Declaration of the United Nations pledging to join themselves in a crusade "to preserve human rights and justice in our own lands as well as in other lands."

January 1942 - Nazis institute the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".

1944 - The Commission to Study the Organization of Peace issues report, "International Safeguard of Human Rights", calling for a Commission on Human Rights.

June 26, 1945 - The United Nations is founded to promote world peace and human rights.

March 5, 1946 - Winston Churchill signifies the beginning of the "Cold War" by stating that "an iron curtain has descended across the continent [Europe]".

1945-1946 - The Nuremberg trials held Nazi leaders accountable for human rights abuses.

June 1946 - U.N. Commission on Human Rights is created (superseded by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2006).

April 1948 - First international human rights instrument, American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, is adopted.

December 10, 1948 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is signed.

1949 - Fourth Geneva Convention (Protection of Civilians in War) is enacted.

1953 - The Council of Europe created the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).

Late 1950s-Early 1960s - Millions of Chinese people die of starvation during Mao Tse-tung’s "Great Leap Forward".

1959-1975 - Criticism over the U.S. role in Vietnam War heightens concerns about human rights practices.

1960 - Described as "The Year of Africa," seventeen states gained the right of self-determination.

1960s - The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, symbolized by Dr. Martin Luther King, worked for equal rights for Black Americans.

1961 - Amnesty International, the first and largest "human rights" organization, is founded by British lawyer and labor activist Peter Berenson.

1964 - U.S. Civil Rights Act

1965 - U.S. Voting Rights Act

1965 - International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

1966 - The U.N. adopts the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to transform the provisions of the UDHR into law.

1968 - The U.N. General Assembly proclaims 1968 to be the International Year for Human Rights.

1970s - The women’s movement in the United States brings about greater equality for women, but also leads to the loss of human rights for pre-born human beings.

1970 - U.N. Resolution 1503 establishes mechanisms for referring alleged human rights abuses to the Commission on Human Rights.

1972 - Amnesty International starts global Campaign Against Torture.

January 22, 1973 - The United States Supreme Court strikes down all laws in the United States protecting the human rights of pre-born human beings.

September 11, 1973 - A coup in Chile led by General Augusto Pinochet leads to many human rights abuses and spurred concern for human rights.

1974 - The first "Truth Commission" investigates human rights abuses by the Ugandan government. Since then, approximately 40 Truth Commissions have been established.

1975 - The Helsinki Accords leads to the creation of Helsinki watch groups which have been credited with ending the power of the Soviet Union.

1975 - The Foreign Assistance Act bars the U.S. from providing security assistance to any country consistently violating human rights.

1975-79 - The Khmer Rouge killed 20% of the population of Cambodia.

1976 - Apartheid is recognized as a "crime against humanity" by the U.N. General Assembly.

Late 1970s and early 1980s - Most U.S.-based groups concerned about human rights were formed in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

1980s - Democracies replace dictatorships in most Latin American countries.

1981 - Mauritania is the last country in the world to abolish slavery.

December 1981 - A massacre in the area of El Mozote, El Salvador, which lesves more than a thousand dead, many of them young children, is the largest number killed in any such episode in the Western Hemisphere since World War II.

November 1989 - The U.N. General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1991 - Dissolution of the Soviet Union, brought about in large part, according to some, by human rights activism.

1991 - Violence breaks out in Yugoslavia.

May 1993 - The U.N. establishes the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

June 1993 - The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna adopts the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action.

1994 - Rwandan Hutus engage in mass killings of Tutsis.

1994 - The U.N. creates the position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

1994 - Elections end apartheid in South Africa.

November, 1994 - The United Nations establishes the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

1998 - United Nations creates the International Criminal Court.

December 1998 - The U.N. adopts the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

2000 - Augusto Pinochet s stripped of immunity and charged with human rights violations.

2001 - Serbia extradites Slobodan Milosevic to face charges of crimes against humanity in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

September 11, 2001 - Terrorists destroy the World Trade Center in New York. As a result, the United States launches a "war on terrorism", which results in complaints about U.S. violations of human rights.

April 11, 2002 - The International Criminal Court is created by ratification of "The Rome Statute" by 60 countries, thereby entering into force for those countries.

2003 - The government of Sudan starts a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the inhabitants of Darfur.


Important international human rights instruments:



"I have angry feelings at myself for feeling good about grasping the calvaria [head], for feeling good about doing a technically good procedure that destroys a fetus, kills a baby." -Anonymous abortion provider

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