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A Brief Human Rights Timeline

Friday 1 April, 2016

1760 BCE

In Babylon King Hammurabi draws up the ‘Code of Hammurabi’, an early legal document that promises to ‘make justice reign in the Kingdom and promote the good of the people’

c. 528 BCE - 486 BCE

In India, Gautama Buddha advocates morality, reverence for life, non-violence and right conduct

500 BCE

Confucian teaching develops based on 'jen' or benevolence and respect for other people

27 BCE - 476 CE

Roman Empire develops the concepts of natural law and the rights of citizens

c. 26 - 33 CE

In Palestine, Jesus Christ preaches morality, tolerance, justice, forgiveness and love.  The Christian New Testament teaches equality before God: 'In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female'

613 - 632

In Saudi Arabia, Prophet Mohammed teaches the principles of equality, justice and compassion revealed in the Qur’ān


Britain's King John is forced by his lords to sign the Magna Carta, acknowledging that free men are entitled to judgment by their peers and that even a King is not above the law. It also stated that taxes could not be demanded without first obtaining the consent of ‘the realm’.


1583 - 1645

Hugo Grotius, Dutch jurist credited with the birth of international law, speaks of brotherhood of humankind and the need to treat all people fairly.


In England, Parliament adopts the Bill of Rights that curtails the power of the monarch and includes freedom from torture and from punishment without trial. The Bill sets out that it is the job of government to represent the people and their rights.


US Declaration of Independence proclaims that 'all men are created equal' and endowed with certain inalienable rights.


In France the National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which guarantees the rights to liberty, equality, property, security, and resistance to oppression.


The United States Congress adopts their Bill of Rights, amending the US Constitution to include rights to trial by jury, freedom of expression, speech, belief and assembly


The British Parliament abolishes slavery through the Slavery Abolition Act


The United Nations is created ‘to affirm the dignity and worth of every human person’


The United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees ('The Refugee Convention') is adopted and opened for signature. It defines who a refugee is and what the rights and legal obligations of states are in relation to them


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is adopted and opened for signature. It is introduced to eliminate racial discrimination and promote understanding among all races


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are adopted and opened for signature


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is adopted and opened for signature. It is introduced to prevent discrimination against, and to promote the rights of, women


In Australia, the Sex Discrimination Act comes into force


The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is adopted and opened for signature.


In Australia, the Human Rights Commission Act is enacted, which establishes a national human rights commission, today known as the Australian Human Rights Commission


The Convention on the Rights of the Child is adopted and opened for signature


In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force


In Australia, the Age Discrimination Act comes into force

2006 - 2007

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is adopted (2006) and opened for signature (2007)


The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is adopted by the United Nations in 2007, and the Australian Government announced its support for the Declaration in 2009.


The United Nation adopts the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training


The first National Children's Commissioner is appointed in Australia