Human Rights, the Memory of War and the Making of a ‘European’ Identity, 1945–75

  • Tom Buchanan
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


One of the most novel and striking features of the immediate post-war world was the emphasis placed on the concept of universal human rights as the basis for a new and more secure world order. The highest embodiment of this principle was the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by 48 states2 on 10 December 1948. However, the UDHR represented a last gasp of international agreement and its impact was swiftly stifled by the onset of the Cold War. Harold Laski, the British socialist and political scientist, had warned quite properly in 1947 that the Declaration may become another Kellogg-Briand Pact, ‘introduced with an enthusiasm only surpassed by the contempt with which it was ignored by its signatories’.3 Indeed, a combination of Realpolitik and the apparently irreconcilable conceptions of human rights across the Cold War divide ensured that no further progress could be made internationally towards creating a regime to safeguard such rights until the mid-1960s. Instead, the most immediate practical steps in this regard were taken at the ‘European’ level through the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) signed in November 1950, and subsequently through its associated commission and court. Although somewhat neglected at the time and slow to develop in efficacy, the Convention has become a landmark in the emergence of Europe as a realm of legally enforceable human rights.4


European Convention European Economic Community British Government Fundamental Freedom Political Prisoner 
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  1. See Geoffrey Marston, ‘The United Kingdom’s part in the preparation of the European Convention on Human Rights, 1950’, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, XLII 4, October 1993, 812–13.Google Scholar
  2. Mikael Rask Madsen, ‘From Cold War instrument to supreme European court: The European Court of Human Rights at the crossroads of international and national law and politics’, Law & Social Inquiry, XXXII, 1, 137–59, Winter 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrew Moravcsik, ‘The origins of human rights regimes: Democratic delegation in postwar Europe’, International Organization, LIV 2, Spring 2000, 217–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. See Robert Burstow, ‘The limits of Modernist Art as a “Weapon of the Cold War”: Reassessing the unknown patron of the Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner’, Oxford Art Journal, XX, 1, 1997, 68–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. See Tom Buchanan, ‘“The truth will set you free”: The making of Amnesty International’, Journal of Contemporary History, XXXVII, 4, (2002), 575–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. See Tom Buchanan, ‘Amnesty International in crisis, 1966–1967’, Twentieth Century British History, XV, 3, (2004), 267–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© T. Buchanan 2010

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  • Tom Buchanan

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