Human Rights in the 1980s

July 19, 1985

Report Outline
Ten Years after Helsinki
Shifts in U.S. Policy
Monitoring Compliance
Special Focus

Ten Years after Helsinki

Hijacking's Spotlight on Rights Question

As American hostages endured their hijacking ordeal in Beirut, their captors spoke of the “violation of human rights” of 735 fellow Shiite Moslems who had been captured in Lebanon and removed to Israel by the withdrawing Israeli army. The hijackers made no mention of the human rights of their hostages, who were being held under threat of death unless Israel released the Shiite prisoners. Even the American news media, in its copious coverage of the situation, did not describe the hostages' plight in terms of human rights.

The reason why one person's unjustified detention is spoken of as a criminal or barbarous act while another's is couched in more legalistic terms depends less on the victim's treatment than on the identity of his captors. The Americans on TWA Flight 847 fell into the hands of terrorists, who had no official position in any government. The Shiite prisoners had been taken and removed by soldiers of a sovereign nation. Human rights generally have come to mean rights that can be protected, or abused, by governments alone.

As human rights have usually been defined since World War II, they constitute a body of natural law that coincides with the “inalienable rights” guaranteed American citizens in the Declaration of Independence. Ten years ago the leaders of 35 nations of Europe and North America—including the Soviet Union and the United States—signed the Helsinki Accords to ease tensions between East and West. Those agreements defined certain human rights and extracted promises from the signatory governments to grant their citizens “the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” Principle VII of the document went on to pledge the equality of minority populations before the law and confirmed “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights and duties.…”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Human Rights
Nov. 01, 2013  Religious Repression
May 17, 2013  Assisted Suicide
Oct. 16, 2012  Human Trafficking and Slavery
Sep. 20, 2011  Saving Indigenous Peoples
Oct. 30, 2009  Human Rights Issues
Jul. 25, 2008  Human Rights in China
Mar. 26, 2004  Human Trafficking and Slavery
Apr. 30, 1999  Women and Human Rights
Nov. 13, 1998  Human Rights
Jul. 19, 1985  Human Rights in the 1980s
May 18, 1979  Human Rights Policy
Apr. 03, 1968  Human Rights Protection
Mar. 21, 1956  Forced Labor and Slavery
Apr. 27, 1949  Forced Labor
Jan. 25, 1945  Bills of Rights
Diplomacy and Diplomats
Global Issues