Human Rights and Health
The modern human rights movement was born from the devastation of World War II.1 Nonetheless, appeals to universal human rights are at least as old as human government. When Jean Anouilh produced Sophocles's Antigone in Nazi-occupied Paris in early 1944, the French audience identified Antigone with the French resistance. Antigone was sentenced to be buried alive for defying King Creon's order not to bury her dead brother (whom the King considered a traitor) but to leave his body to rot in public. The Nazis in the audience also applauded the performance, apparently because they identified with Creon and his difficulty in maintaining law and order in the face of seemingly fanatical resistance.2
Antigone, written more than 2400 years ago, focuses on a central moral problem: is there a “higher,” universal law to which all humans must answer, or is simply obeying the written law of one's country sufficient? Antigone justified her defiance of the king on the basis of an unwritten, higher law:
Nor did I think your edict had such force
that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods,
the great unwritten, unshakable traditions.