I am continuing in January a series of blogs on human rights that I began in December: “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 11
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
A History and Philosophy of Human Rights
“Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people’s suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal.” …Dali Lama (Tibetan Buddhism)
The Persian Empire: The Cyrus Cylinder
Following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE, the Persian emperor Cyrus the
Great (600-530 BCE) issued a document written on a clay cylinder called the Cyrus Cylinder. The writing on the cylinder describes how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, sent home lost peoples and rebuilt temples and religious shrines.
At the time, the victors in battle massacred the defeated people and looted their homes. Cyrus broke with this cruel tradition and treated his newly conquered subjects with tolerance, moderation and generosity, although self-interest may certainly have influenced his peace-making policy. As stated on the cylinder and in the Bible, one of Cyrus’ acts of tolerance was that he allowed some Jews living in Babylon to return to their homeland. He also financed the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Some modern scholars call the Cyrus cylinder “the world’s first declaration of human rights.” Iranian scholar Reza Shabani reasons that the cylinder “discusses human rights in a way unique for the era, dealing with ways to protect the honor, prestige, and religious beliefs
of all the nations dependent to Iran in those days.” The Cyrus Cylinder contributed to the body of ideas that helped create our modern concepts of human rights.
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.