Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Antonio Cassese

First Page



The purpose of this paper is to outline briefly the basic attitude toward human rights evidenced in the Helsinki Declaration. By way of introduction, I shall describe summarily how perceptions of human rights have evolved in the United Nations since the adoption of the Charter in 1945. It is in this context that the novelty of the Helsinki exercise can be viewed and assessed.

There are many ways of analyzing and appraising United Nations action in the field of human rights over the years. This complex phenomenon can be divided into various stages, according to prevailing political philosophy. Three phases can be identified. The first extends from the adoption of the U.N. Charter until 1960; its peak was in 1948, when the Universal Declaration was adopted. The second phase begins with the entry into the United Nations of a number of Third World countries and continues until 1973; its high point is the approval of the two Covenants by the General Assembly in 1966. The third phase commences in 1974 with the launching of the concept of a new international economic order which has had profound repercussions in every field of international life, including that of human rights.