Human rights are generally individual rights, although some rights, such as the right to self-determination, are collective rights held by entire peoples or groups.
International human rights law first and foremost obligates states to act or to refrain from acting in certain ways, in order to promote and protect human rights and the fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups. And it is recognized that international organizations and non-state actors, such as armed groups and businesses, must also respect basic human rights guarantees.
All societies, whether in written or unwritten tradition, had systems in place to protect conventional standards of proper behavior, as well as justice for all. While the roots of human rights lie in prior tradition and documents that these societies created and lived by, the revolutionary idea of rights inherent to human nature can be traced to Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Documents such as the Magna Carta, the Manden Charter of the Malian Empire, the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the American Bill of Rights embodied ideas of guarantees and rights that individuals could invoke against the state. However, none of these documents offered equal protection, as they all excluded large parts of the population.