Helsinki Agreement marks 40th anniversary
Rudolf V. Perina, the U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, has released an opinion piece that was reprinted by the Slovak daily Hospodarske Noviny on 29 July to mark the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, which concluded the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a process that resulted in the creation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The piece explains how Helsinki became the basis for international criticism of various countries' human rights records.
The Helsinki Final Act, an agreement between Canada, 33 European countries, and the United States, was signed on 1 August 1975 and in many ways marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. The agreement set forth basic principles for European security, including sections on protecting fundamental freedoms and human rights.
In the wake of the agreement, Helsinki monitoring groups arose in the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries demanding freedom of the press, the right to travel, and an end to the obstruction of communication and contact between East and West. Governments including that of the former Czechoslovakia responded to the criticism by arguing that any assessment of their human rights record, even by their own citizens, constituted "interference" with their "internal affairs".
The agreement, however, established the principle that how a state treats its own citizens has an impact on international security and is therefore the legitimate concern of all other states. This principle remains important to international relations today and is the reason the United States and other countries officially express concern about the treatment of the Romani minority in Europe, among other human rights concerns.
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