The reason why human rights in regional Europe developed in a more progressive manner, over the past 35 years, compared to the global human rights system of the United Nations since 1945 is due in large part to the end of the Cold war and the expansion of western capital into the European eastern bloc. The Helsinki Final Act established in 1975 was broadly about political and economic issues of bringing the post-Soviet satellite nation-states into the world economy, but also “included human rights provisions” and established “fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” (Kruck, Rittberger & Zangl, 247). It should be noted that although the political principals of opening the eastern bloc to western markets were the main structure at work, the influencing efforts by the Human Rights Watch and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe played an intricate part in inserting the final human rights achievements into the final 1975 act.
The United Nations, while accredited with being the example for the
Helsinki framework concerning human rights, is not able to fulfill the standards
they set as a global organization due to the realist identification of
nation-state interests. The permanent members of the UN Security Council have
veto power which allows certain members to veto resolutions which condemn
accused human rights violators if the economic or political circumstances demand
it. I have used the example many times in the first six weeks of this course,
but many nation-states in the UN General Assembly have viewed, and proposed
resolutions of condemnation concerning, Israeli military aggression toward the
Palestinians, which have included many civilian deaths during those aggressions,
only to see the resolutions automatically vetoed by the United States due to
economic and political ties with Israel.
The result of Europe being the main battlefield of WWII and the atrocities of
the Holocaust, Europe was very sensitive to the issues of human rights through
their first hand experiences. Western Europe created the Council of Europe which
formed an institutional frame for protecting human rights. In 1950, the European
Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was signed
and in 1961 the European Social Charter was signed, which guaranteed that
citizens of signatory member-states would be assured of equal housing, economic
rights, and legal rights.
Can you remember what was occurring in the
United States in the 1960s?
Interestingly, the supervision of human
rights in Europe under the Council of Europe, compared to the politically bias
and hypocritical monitoring of global human rights by the UN, requires each
member state to submit a written report every two years on their human rights
commitments which is not exclusively government written, but also includes input
from trade unions and employment organizations reviewed by a Committee of
Experts. Unlike the UN, individuals as well as nation-states are allowed to file
Kruck, Rittberger, & Zangl,
International Organization, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012),