An Introduction to the History of International Human Rights Law

31 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2007

See all articles by Dinah L. Shelton

Dinah L. Shelton

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: August 2007


As part of a lecture series given at the International Institute of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, in July 2003, the author presents an overview of the history of international human rights law. The author explores numerous religious, political, cultural, philosophical, economic and intellectual movements throughout history that have informed and guided the development of human rights law on the global stage. In doing so, the author examines the moral and ethical dimensions which underpin international human rights law, including what she defines as the innate human desire for protection from abuse. The author highlights the world's most significant historical events and people who have influenced modern concepts of human rights law. Despite the many successes of the human rights movement, the author draws attention to international institutions established to protect human rights, which are often too weak to address many contemporary human rights violations and atrocities occurring in failed states or at the hands of non-state actors. As this area of international law continues to develop, these shortcomings must be addressed if human rights progress is to continue.

Keywords: human rights, religious traditions, international law, international organizations, United Nations, NGOs, democracy

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Shelton, Dinah L., An Introduction to the History of International Human Rights Law (August 2007). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 346, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 346, Available at SSRN: or

Dinah L. Shelton (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
(202) 994-9413 (Phone)

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