December is Human Rights Month and December 10 is Human Rights Day. It is observed every year on this day since 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In recognition of this notable achievement, for the month of December I will be posting a series of blogs,
“Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?
“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 9
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
Mesopotamia and Hammurabi’s Code
Some humans began to move from villages to form cities around 3500 BCE (before the Common Era) in Mesopotamia (now the area of Iraq). This movement to cities occurred
at different times and places around the world and resulted in more people living together in closer quarters. The rules for people living together in hunting and gathering groups or small villages were no longer meeting the needs of people living in cities, who might not be related to each other or even know their neighbors.
Thus, city dwellers began to create different rules that fit their new living conditions. Instead of passing on rules orally, the new invention of writing meant that scribes could write rules, often etched in stone to show their permanence. The early law codes show the rules for city dwellers to live by.
The earliest known written legal code is the Code of Ur-Nammu that dates to 2050 BCE. However, one of the most famous examples of a legal code is Hammurabi’s Code, named
after King Hammurabi of Babylon (Iraq and Syria today), which was etched onto a seven foot slab of basalt stone in 1780 BCE. Hammurabi believed that the gods ordered him to deliver the law to his people. The code spelled out rules and punishments for breaking particular rules. However, the punishments did not always fit the crime, and some are quite harsh by today’s standards. Although these laws are hardly human rights of today, it does show the process of codifying laws that eventually evolved into human rights. The following are a few of Hammurabi’s 282 rules in the language of the day:
The Code of Hammurabi
22 If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.
138 If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.
141 If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offers her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he takes another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.
148 If a man take a wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease, but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives.
195 If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
196 If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. (An eye for an eye)
205 If the slave of a freed man strike the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.
209/210 If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss. If the woman dies, his daughter shall be put to death.
229/230 If a Builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death. End]
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights:Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.