How can an individual fight for equality

Human rights

Axel Herrmann

To person

Dr., is a historian and runs a high school in the city of Hof. For years he worked as a textbook author and had a teaching position for history didactics at the universities in Bamberg and Bayreuth. As a long-standing member of Amnesty International, he deals intensively with human rights issues and is particularly committed to the prohibition of torture.

Contact: [email protected]

The path from the idea of ​​human rights to their formulation, broadening and shaping in practice was long and by no means straightforward. Human rights always had to be fought for against resistance.

As chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here she can be seen with a poster of the declaration in Spanish. (& copy UN Photo)


Time and again, individual groups, strata and peoples have resisted or revolted against discrimination and oppression without being able to rely on a well-founded right of resistance. In these disputes, looking back, the idea of ​​human rights developed like a mosaic picture, the stones of which can be set spatially and temporally separated and - as long as they are not united into a whole - remain of limited effect. If we understand in fast motion what has been fought for over centuries in different places and for certain people, it means only picking out milestones on the shortest path to the major human rights declarations and ignoring setbacks and back roads.

Liberation of the individual

The history of human rights
The Middle Ages did not yet have personal freedoms for everyone, only common rights for individual classes. These privileges were granted "from above" and mostly carefully defended "below". The famous Magna Carta Libertatum from 1215, which English barons wrested from their king, can also be seen in this frame. This "Great Charter of Freedoms" was later reinterpreted as the cornerstone of English constitutional law. In reality it did not yet offer a starting point for a democratic development, since in it mainly valid feudal law was documented. But the document already contained the forward-looking sentence: "No free man should be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his property or ostracized or banished or otherwise ruined in any way [...] unless on the basis of a legal judgment."

This important link between state authority and law, which of course did not benefit everyone, was found in the "habeas corpus file" (lat. After the beginning of all arrest warrants: habeas corpus, "you should have the body") from 1679 their consequent expansion. Henceforth, every subject of the English Crown should be protected from arbitrary arrest and have the right to demand a judicial review of the admissibility of his arrest. That important legal proposition for the protection of the personal freedom of the individual was won in the struggle of the English parliament with an absolutist royal rule.