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Old August 27th, 2017, 03:42 AM   #1

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Human rights and WW2


During his testimony at the Nuremberg trials, the following exchange happened between SS Brigaefuehrer and head of the foreign intelligence service (presumably translated from German) and defence lawyer Dr. Kauffman:

------------------
DR. KAUFFMANN: What do you mean by evacuate?

SCHELLENBERG: Arbitrarily to evacuate the camps before the approaching enemy troops and to scatter them to other parts of Germany still unoccupied by the enemy troops.

DR. KAUFFMANN: What was your opinion?

SCHELLENBERG: That no further evacuation should take place, because human rights simply did not allow it.
------------------
(emphasis mine)

His use of the phrase "human rights" intrigues me. I had always believed that concept to have been developed post WW2, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being adopted until 1948.

Unless he was speaking simply in humanitarian terms, was there actually a well defined understanding of "human rights" during the war, as opposed to simply regulations on the treatment of civilians and prisoners?
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Old August 27th, 2017, 04:14 AM   #2
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The concept of human rights predates the formation of the UN. In fact the proto-UN existed before World War II. It was a Wilsonian agenda to have a league of nations in the 1920s. The actual conception of what "human rights" were could be dated even further back to the Magna Carta in 1215.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 05:45 AM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by orestes View Post
The concept of human rights predates the formation of the UN. In fact the proto-UN existed before World War II. It was a Wilsonian agenda to have a league of nations in the 1920s. The actual conception of what "human rights" were could be dated even further back to the Magna Carta in 1215.
Yes it does, but more specifically, the question is regarding the term "human rights". As a concept of a body of rights to which all humans are entitled, and with the specific label of "human rights" attached, I'm not sure that does predate WW2.

It may be a quirk of translation, since Schellenberg was speaking in German.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 05:50 AM   #4
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The Magna Carta itself is about the right of a man to own their property rather than being pawns of kings and queens. This is the beginning of all human rights that have been codified in common law that still form the basis of common law in most western democracies from Australia, to the United States and the United Kingdom and any country influenced in between.

The idea of human right is at least 800 years also in a modern European/Western sense. The petition of right was expanded in 1628 when the English Parliament further sent a statement regarding civil liberties to King Charles I. This further outlined the issue with the right of human value that was first explicated by the Magna Carta in 1215.

Of course these are starting points for the sake of brevity on the matter.

Last edited by orestes; August 27th, 2017 at 05:55 AM.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 07:27 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by orestes View Post
The Magna Carta itself is about the right of a man to own their property rather than being pawns of kings and queens. This is the beginning of all human rights that have been codified in common law that still form the basis of common law in most western democracies from Australia, to the United States and the United Kingdom and any country influenced in between.
Yet the Magna Carta makes no mention of "human rights". It mentions rights and liberties, and that such rights shall not be deprived except by the law. That isn't what "human rights" refers to in this context.

What I am looking for is evidence that the term "human rights" was recognised and in common usage pre-1945, since his usage of the term seems anachronistic to me.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 08:07 AM   #6
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You can be a pedant if you want to be, this is a historical forum and I'm giving you the historical context. It seems even with the weight of evidence you wouldn't be happy with my answer anyhow so I'm going to disengage from this thread altogether after this post.

I'm only going to state this one time more clearly. If you ask most academics where the issue of freedom of rights stems from in a modern sense applicable to current law today in most modern Western/European nations they will point to the Magna Carta. Its earliest of ancestry is the contemporaneous protections of human rights that were offered under the Assize of Clarendon in 1166 (trial by jury).

I'm about done with going round in circles. Human rights (in a modern western sense) are an evolution that happened over the best part of 850 years. We didn't just up and decide we were going to have the UN deceleration of human rights over night. However I will humor you for just a few seconds. The exact time that the term "human rights" was probably used in context directly at least according to this book was 1742.

However, human rights is not and was not something that magically came down in a rain shower shortly after the results of Potsdam, just because of the victory of the allies in World War II.

Last edited by orestes; August 27th, 2017 at 08:40 AM.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 08:41 AM   #7

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The OP is clear. He's asking if the phrase "human rights" was used right at the end of WW2 in a similar way to which it has been used since 1948 (as a shorthand for a body of rights). As far as I'm aware of, it wasn't.

This is the context:
Quote:
SCHELLENBERG: That no further evacuation should take place, because human rights simply did not allow it.
He's not a liberal in 1945 talking about the horrors of the Holocaust. He's a SS-Brigadeführer talking about his opposition to evacuating the camps and he's basing that opposition on human rights. So, OP's question is legitimate. The SS bloke didn't have the Magna Carta in mind. He must have had something in mind that was more than a phrase remotely related to some early documents from countries which weren't Germany.

I translated "human rights" into German, with Google. It's: "Menschenrechte". The wiki page for that doesn't highlight anything German specific. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menschenrechte
I can't link to the translated page.

The fact that the term had historical origins doesn't answer the question posed by the OP.

Last edited by Offspring; August 27th, 2017 at 08:49 AM.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 08:44 AM   #8
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It answers the question quite specifically and I have amended the post to answer to the other nascent query (however tedious that it is) with the earliest reference to the term "human rights" that I am aware of. However, its such a nondescript phrase that it could have appeared anywhere much earlier.

Thread done.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 08:58 AM   #9

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I agree with Naomasa, one doesn't see the term mentioned much before WW2.
It did not appear in the Atlantic Charter in August 1941, but a year after that document was published, Roosevelt stated as one line in a radio address
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"Their faith in life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and in the preservation of human rights and justice in their own as well as in other lands, has been given form and substance as the United Nations."
The term does not appear in the Covenant of the league of Nations, nor in the Declaration of the United Nations--it does however feature in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter (written by South Africa's Jan Christian Smuts:-
Quote:
......to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,
and appears in Article I clause 3 in the form
Quote:
promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion
This is the first International Treaty where the term is used, it is though not defined.

Previously philosophers and politicians wrote about "The Rights of Man" or "Natural Rights" which were far more concerned with political and civil freedom--usually the Anglo-Saxon concept.

Funny how Civil Rights--the right to vote or not be locked up without trial, have become the right to stay in a foreign country on welfare because you have a pet cat or watch satellite TV while being imprisoned for mass-murder.
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Old August 27th, 2017, 09:03 AM   #10
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Please refer as above. This is the earliest observation I am aware of, this is the first of a couple reiterations in the book I provided. Given the book has already been scanned and OCRd then you shouldn't have any problem finding every other instance yourself.

Click the image to open in full size.

Last edited by orestes; August 27th, 2017 at 09:06 AM.
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