Human Rights and the Cold War

Authored by: Sarah B. Snyder

The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415677011
eBook ISBN: 9781315882284
Adobe ISBN: 9781134700653


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Scholars interested in human rights during the Cold War are increasingly producing innovative new work on the issue. 1 Unfortunately, human rights has not yet warranted serious, sustained consideration by those writing survey accounts of the Cold War. For example, John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War mentions human rights in connection with only four subjects: the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, the United Nations, and the Helsinki Final Act. 2 Yet, human rights mattered to international relations at far more points in the Cold War. We can think of the Cold War as bookended by two major human rights developments – agreement to the 1948 United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the influence of human rights and human rights advocacy on the end of the Cold War. In between, attention to human rights abuses internationally was inconsistent and often overshadowed by the perceived stakes of the Cold War in political, military, ideological, and economic terms. Existing scholarship on human rights in the Cold War has repeatedly pointed to two human rights “booms” – one in the late 1940s and one in the 1970s. 3 This chapter, however, will argue that the pattern was more undulating and that moments might be a more useful framework for understanding when human rights emerged as a priority in international relations. 4

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