Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



In September of 1977, President Carter asked me to take on responsibility for what is familiarly called CSCE--the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Like most Americans, I had previously thought of the CSCE in terms of the Helsinki Summit of 1975 when President Ford signed the document called the Final Act, a lengthy text, not a treaty, but an expression at the highest political level of the commitment of the 35 states of Europe and North America to respect certain principles of interstate behavior, to respect human rights, to build mutual confidence in the military sphere, and to cooperate in economic, humanitarian, informational, cultural and educational fields.

Many in the West were understandably cynical about the practical meaning of the inclusion in the Final Act of the principle of "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief." By the formation of groups to monitor their own governments' performance, however, citizens of the Soviet Union, of Czechoslovakia, of Poland, Bulgaria, and other countries in the East showed that they took seriously this pledge and also the commitments to a freer flow of people and ideas that were embodied in the humanitarian provisions of what is called Basket Three of the Final Act.

That the Belgrade conference would not pass quietly as just another routine diplomatic gathering was assured by the events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, including the arrest and the imprisonment of members of the monitoring groups and other ethnic, racial, religious and political "dissidents".