Was International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights (ICESCR) a politically motivated response to the realities of the Cold War? Were there other motives involved dependent upon the signing countries?  

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Like most political and international organizations that were created around this time, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was heavily influenced by the Cold War climate. The ICESCR was originally drafted as an extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), but it took so long to be ratified that the final document took on a noticeable Cold War tinge.

The ideological war happening between the United States and the Soviet Union led them to fund disputes in smaller countries in South American and Southeast Asia. Their interference in the internal affairs of other nations was viewed unfavorably by the international community. The ICESCR's main purpose was to ensure that all nations recognized the right of other nations to pursue self-determination. Whether the signatories of the agreement signed on as a buffer against Soviet and US aggression or because they sincerely believed in the agreement's ability to curb violations of human rights is unclear. It is likely that both humanitarian and political factors were at play in the creation of the ICESCR.

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To some extent, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was a politically motivated response to the realities of the Cold War. Many countries in the world were caught up between the confrontations that raged between America and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. The two powerful nations sought to influence the type of governments and administrative policies that would take root in the different countries caught up in the conflict.

The two countries funded armed conflict in different countries in trying to position their favorites to control the different governments. The ICESCR came into effect to ensure that all nations recognized the rights of other nations, especially those previously under colonial rule, to pursue self-determination. Thus, events of the Cold War were directly interfering with the different nations’ ability to organize their governments, forcing political intervention in the ensuing confrontation.

The push for self-determination was political; however, ICESCR also came into effect to address other social issues that continued to be a challenge on the global scene. The covenant recognized the right of people to work under safe and fair conditions, the right to universal social security, and the rights to education, food, shelter, and health care, among other rights. Thus, social, economic, and cultural motives were also reflected in the agreement and communicated to the signing countries.

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The original concept of ICESCR itself may not necessarily have been a byproduct of the Cold War, but its subsequent drafting and ratification definitely were.

ICESCR has its origins in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948 as a reaction to the atrocities of World War II. After adoption of the UDHR, work began on drafting formal covenants to enforce its underlying principles and the overall framework became known as the International Bill of Human Rights). The drafting, adoption and ratification took decades, during which the Cold War became the overwhelmingly dominant force in geopolitics. In that atmosphere, the ICESCR could not help but become a sort of Cold War political football in nature, with arguments over its provisions stemming from various nations’ competing and sometimes contradictory perspectives.

Nations signed on with a variety of motivations. Some were sincere, while others ratified it as a sort of moral cover, not having any intention of abiding by its provisions but wanting to give their regimes the appearance of moral legitimacy. Still others, most notably the USA, saw ratification of the treaty fall victim to internal politics that had little to do with international geopolitical realities.

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