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Post-World War II concern for human rights also has been evident at the global level outside the United Nations, most notably in the proceedings and aftermath of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, convened in Helsinki on July 3, 1973, and concluded there (after continuing deliberations in Geneva) on August 1, 1975. Attended by representatives of 35 governments that included the NATO countries, the Warsaw Pact nations, and 13 neutral and nonaligned European states, the conference had as its principal purpose a mutually satisfactory definition of peace and stability between East and West, previously made impossible by the period of the Cold War. In particular, the Soviet Union was concerned with achieving recognition of its western frontiers as established at the end of World War II.

There was little tangible, however, that the Western powers, with no realistic territorial claims of their own, could demand in return, and accordingly they pressed for certain concessions in respect of human rights and freedom of movement and information between East and West. Thus, at the outset of the Final Act adopted by the conference, in a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between States, the participating governments solemnly declared "their determination to respect and put into practice," alongside other "guiding" principles, "respect [for] human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief" and "respect [for] the equal rights of peoples and their right to self-determination." It was hoped that this would mark the beginning of a liberalization of authoritarian regimes.

From the earliest discussions, however, it was clear that the Helsinki Final Act was not intended as a legally binding instrument. "Determination to respect" and "put into practice" were deemed to express moral commitments only, the Declaration of Principles was said not to prescribe international law, and nowhere did the participants provide for enforcement machinery. On the other hand, the Declaration of Principles, including its human rights principles, always has been viewed as at least consistent with international law. Additionally, the fourth of four sections (commonly known as "baskets") of the Final Act provides for the holding of periodic review conferences in which the participating states are called upon "to continue the multilateral process initiated by the Conference." But most importantly, ever since their adoption, the Final Act's human rights provisions have served as important and widely accepted yardsticks for external scrutiny and appropriate recourse to perceived violations.

In sum, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such declarations of the UN General Assembly, the Helsinki Final Act, though not a treaty, has created widespread expectations about proper human rights behaviour, and consequently it has inspired and facilitated the monitoring of human rights policy. Assuming some cordiality between East and West, the Helsinki Process may be said at least to hold out the potential for modestly beneficial results in the human rights arena. 1996 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

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