Online Module: The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights

Chapter 6: Timeline human rights development

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A short timeline on human rights development helps to understand, that fundamental rights are not simply the answer to what we should learn from the past; they are a component of history in itself, when the latter is conceived as an ongoing process shaped by individuals and groups engaged in the protection of human rights.

Timeline Human Rights Development


1945 The United Nations (UN)

was established. Its Charter states that one of its main purposes is the promotion and encouragement of ‘respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion'. Unlike the League of Nations Covenant, the Charter underscores the principle of individual human rights.

1946 The Commission on Human Rights

was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

1948 Genocide Convention

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN (9 December) in an effort to prevent atrocities, such as the Holocaust, from happening again. The Convention defines the crime of genocide.

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On 10 December the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the primary international articulation of the fundamental and inalienable rights of all members of the human family and the first comprehensive statement of nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all people.

1949 Council of Europe

in Strasbourg was established by ten countries.

1951 Refugee Convention

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees protects the rights of people who are forced to flee their home country for fear of persecution on specific grounds.

1954 European Commission on Human Rights

was created

1954 Convention on Political Rights of Women (UN)

was adopted.

1959 European Court of Human Rights

was created by the Council of Europe

1966 Racial Discrimination Convention

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) obliges states to take steps to prohibit racial discrimination and promote understanding among all races.

1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

was adopted and opened for signature. Together with the ICESCR, these documents further developed rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) include the right to vote, the right to freedom of association, the right to a fair trial, right to privacy, and the right to freedom of religion. The First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR creates a mechanism for individuals to make complaints about breaches of their rights. The Second Optional Protocol concerns abolition of the death penalty.

1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protects rights like the right to an adequate standard of living, education, work, healthcare, and social security. The ICESCR and the ICCPR build on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by creating binding obligations for state parties.

1976 ICCPR and ICESCR enter into force

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force after ratification by the required number of UN member States.

1984 Convention against Torture (UN)

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or other Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT) aims to prevent torture around the world. It requires states to take steps to eliminate torture in within their borders. And it prohibits states from sending a person to another country where he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The Optional Protocol created a system for regular inspection of places of detention.

1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN)

and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, were adopted.

1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UN)

was adopted.

1993 Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia

was established to prosecute persons responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes since 1991. These trials represented the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg Trials following WWII.

1993 Copenhagen criteria and Maastricht Treaty (Treaty of the European Union TEU)

EC in Copenhagen, Denmark agreed on the Copenhagen Criteria, rules that define whether a nation is fit to join the European Union. The Criteria includes: "achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and, protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union."

The Maastricht treaty led to the creation of the euro, and created what is commonly referred to as the pillar structure of the European Union. This conception of the Union divides it into the European Community (EC) pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar, and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pillar.

1999 European Social Charter

19 most important social and economic principles

2001 Treaty of Nice

This treaty amended the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome by reforming the institutional structure of the European Union to withstand eastward expansion. The entrance into force of the treaty was in doubt for a time, after its initial rejection by Irish voters in a referendum in June 2001. This referendum result was reversed in a subsequent referendum held a little over a year later.

2002 The International Criminal Court (ICC)

was established in The Hague to try individuals responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious breaches of human rights.

2006 Convention on Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disability. It includes the right to health, education, employment, accessibility, and non-discrimination. The Optional Protocol established an individual complaints mechanism (entered into force 2008).

2007 Lisbon Treaty (Reform Treaty)

The Lisbon Treaty was signed by the heads of state and government of the 27 EU Member States on 13 December 2007. It was drafted as a replacement for the Constitutional Treaty which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

The Lisbon Treaty includes key changes aimed at increasing the consistency and coherence of the EU's external actions. It provides for a so-called “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy“ who will be responsible in the Council for the EU's common foreign and defence policies.

The Lisbon Treaty also provides for a number of changes to the EU's external policies. It both strengthens and clarifies the EU's development cooperation policy and, for the first time, sets out humanitarian assistance as a specific Commission competence.
The Lisbon Treaty is now ratified in all 27 EU Member States and entered into force on 1 December 2009. It also make the Union's human rights charter, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, legally binding.

2009 Charter of Fundamental rights of the European Union

The Charter set out the wide range of human rights to which EU citizens and residents are entitled. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union came into force with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.


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