writing the UDHR in 1948, the Commission for Human Rights of the
UN did not exactly invent the concept of respect for people. For
centuries, the major religions and great philosophies have, each
in their own ways, in each context, attempted to better organise
society so as to make justice reign there. Even if , in certain
cases, their laws seem tough to us, even cruel; today they tend
however to substitute norms of personal vengeance with no limits,
and find a way for humans to live in better conditions together.
site here certain examples, presented very sketchily. We do not
pretend to expose here complex doctrines, but to underline the
concern for the well-being or the rights of humans that is found
in each of them, to differing degrees, and in just as different
forms (laws, philosophical theories, ethics).
: The BIBLE (Middle East)
collection of stories and laws from different periods tells of
the origin of the people of Israel. Since the end of the Second
Millennium BEFORE CHRIST, the Tribes formed a confederation which
was founded on a common law, Moses Law (the Thora), which
organised peoples lives, and sanctioned severely the one
who transgressed it. Numerous measures protected the foreigner,
the weak, punished murder, theft, false witness. Later David declared
11 virtues which attempted to protect each human among which was
justice, the horror of slander, horror of meanness, respect for
: Traditional AFRICAN Societies
certain form of democracy existed there. Surely the respect due
to the Ancestor may seem constraining: the young and women were
not allowed to question its authority. But the priority is accorded
to the COMMUNITY. The King, the Chief, are the servants of the
order necessary in this community. An ambitious person would not
know how to serve the group, The decisions were not just whims
of the Chief. They resulted from a consensus of the whole. The
Chief sticks to presiding over it, and giving the say to the elders.
He was not even supposed to indicate his preferences.
(India, 6th Century BC)
wanted, above all else, the well-being of Humankind. He preached
Love and Respect for others. "That all beings be happy. That
they be in joy and confidence
Let no one deceive another
or harm another being no matter how small; let no one, through
anger or hate, wish ill of another
one who in this world makes living creatures suffer
that one be considered an outcast."
laid down a certain number of recommendations to enable humans
to reach Universal Love, not by force, but by following the most
exacting path, to learn to perfect oneself.
him, the "realised" or "enlightened" being
practices "Jen" (perfect human virtue: to love. That
which we do not want, we should not do to others) and "Ji"
(duty of justice in inter-human relationships).
him, it is in Society, in the heart of civilisation, that the
humanity of human beings is accomplished but Society must not
crush humans. Here is the attitude, according to him, that the
Prince must have towards his people: "That that which we
ask of them be simple and clear. And that we begin by doing it
in front of them. That we begin by paining, never letting oneself
be stopped by fatigue, before fulfilling the call to duty. Then
they must be enriched. And then? Educated. And at all costs gain
their confidence. The Prince must not worry about not having a
big population, but that the riches be equally shared. He must
not worry about being poor, but of not being in accordance with
them. "He preached a "safe middle ground": no excess,
is located in what his followers see as the prolongation of the
Thora (Old Testament). [*Jewish people may not agree with this.]
But he deepened the meaning by raising up the attitude of Love
for Humankind rather than obeying laws. He brought out the importance
of the person over institutions. ("The Sabbath was made for
men, and not man for the Sabbath." Signifying that the rite
Paul who cited the words of Christ in his writings, declares that
there is no difference that can be the foundation of an inequality
(man/woman, Greek/Barbarian, slave/freeman, Jew/Gentile).
themselves from Christs predictions of Love, in the ensuing
centuries, Christians came to the aid of the needy: creating schools,
idea of Human Dignity is very strong in Islam. It is founded on
the idea that humans are the "Emissaries" of God: there
is a mission and a responsibility on Earth.
Koran also affirms the idea of Equality. "All are equal among
humankind as are the teeth of a weaving comb." Equality and
the duty to help the needy.
Liberty is also situated in a religious perspective. The Koran
improved the condition of women compared with what it was at the
the Bible, it raises a certain number of laws for protecting the
weak, punishing theft, murder, etc. [* Actually it is the Koran
that considers Mohammeds story to be a prolongation of the
Thora and the Gospels.]
was in Athens that Democracy 6 centuries BEFORE CHRIST was established
(slavery was not even contested at this time).
philosophies, among which the "Sophists" (5th C. BC)
denounced slavery by leaning on the notion of natural rights and
declaring the idea of a Universal Nature which got the upper hand
over local particularities.
(384 322 BC) in the Treaty "Politics" studies
the different types of human relations and forms of government
) and attempts to indicate the government
the most suited to the common good.
the 3rd century BC the "Stoiciens" brought out the idea
of the Human Community, while insisting on the value of the individual.
(427 348 BC) in The Republic debates the questions of Justice.
jurist, known for his "De jure belli ac pacis", code
of the International Peoples Rights relating to war, which
got him the name "Father of the Peoples Rights".
directly prepared the ideas that inspired the French Declaration
and Beaumarchais, when they denounce the requisition of money
by the State and of class in human relations.
Encyclopedists for whom Wisdom (Sciences, Arts, Philosophy, Medicine)
was the most powerful liberation of humankind.
Rousseau, Voltaire, who were the forerunners of a School of Thought
which endeavoured to be UNIVERSAL. Voltaire, in particular, who
stood up against Injustice (Calas Affair).
( 1738 1794 ) Italian philosopher and economist who published
in 1764 "Treaty of the Transgressions and Their Punishments".
He declares that the experience of 20 centuries proves the Death
Penalty is of no real use. He started an Abolitionist movement
and many controversies. If Beccarias theses were pushed
down, the reactions caused by them was profound and certain jurists
would rethink the problem.
Exceptional Personalities jumped centuries to advance the place
of the Individual in the face of the power of the Church.
example, Bartholomé de Las Casas (XVI Century) who fought to defend
the cause of the Native Americans persecuted and exterminated
by the Spanish invaders following the conquest of the New World.
(1863 1948) in India who liberated his country from English
domination by using the "weapon" of non-violence (see
document in appendix).