Human rights are agreed upon freedoms and rights of individuals and human kind. They are an expanding set of written freedoms, ongoing for many thousands of years, and historically have been the advance of humane laws.
Perhaps the first such major reform was from Cyrus The Great of Persia, in the 6th century BC. After he conquered Babylon he issued forth the Cyrus Cylinder which took up the freedoms of slavery, religion and other issues.
The next forward step was that under Ashoka The Great of the Indian subcontinent. He was first known for his cruelty, but was converted to Buddhism after feeling regret for his cruel reign. Thereafter followed a period of non violence, and the giving of rights to servants and all men.
Between 610 and 661 the Caliphate of Islam brought forth many rights reforms in the Arab world. Laws were changed to reflect them. Rights were brought specifically to women, captives, children and religion.
One of the next major steps forward in rights was the signing of the Magna Karta, where King John, the English Monarch, agreed and set into law the rights of all people. This document has been hailed as the major human rights turning point for the western world.
The concept of actual human rights is however modern. The forerunner for these rights was the discourse on what were termed natural rights. Natural rights may well be a more correct terminology as it would embrace the larger concept of all things living, rather than just humanity. But human rights has been the major civilizing cornerstones on the twentieth century.
Under natural rights, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen defined the individual and collective rights of man, and was a fundamental document of the French Revolution. While a leap forward it addressed neither the status of slavery or women. The document stemmed from the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th Century that had spread out from Europe to around the world.
After World War II the United Nations came into being. It set about to establish rights for all mankind, no matter where they lived. This resulted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt was the Chair, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was finally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
The UDHR was written in consultation of the great human rights thinkers at the time from all over the world, including notables such as Mahatma Ghandi. The UDHR included political rights, economic rights, civil rights, social rights and cultural rights.
The UDHR is not law. No nation has been bound to observe these rights by law, though most nations have signed treaties agreeing with them. Historically, laws do spring from rights movements when the people demand them.
Along with the UDHR the United Nations further adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and its two Optional Protocols. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) was also adopted, which brought next the International Bill of Human Rights.
Today most countries have some kind of rights laws enacted, or bills of laws stemming from these human rights declarations and covenants. However there is still much to address as this world gets more and more crowded. Historically we have come a long way forward. But there is still much more to go.