This chapter examines the historical origins of human rights as a basis for public health. Tracing the idea of rights from philosophical notions of natural rights to human rights under international law, the normative foundations underlying rights have long been seen as central to health and well-being—from the political engagement with underlying determinants of health in 1848 to the international codification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The modern human rights system that frames public health arose in response to the deprivations and atrocities of World War II. Giving rise to the notion of human rights under international law, the postwar creation of the United Nations (UN) provided the structure for a new legal regime under which individuals were seen as having certain rights by virtue of their humanity, ensuring a foundation for the evolution of rights to advance health.
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