International agreements, of the United Nations as well as of the West European and Inter-American regional organizations, affirm commitments to such personal liberties as freedom of thought and religion, of opinion and expression, of assembly and association, and of emigration. But these liberties, until recently considered central to the concept of human rights, are under increasing threat within the U.N. system.
In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, followed in 1966 by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both focused on these values. Forty-eight nations have ratified the Covenant, including nearly all the Communist and some radical leftist Third World states—but not, paradoxically, the U.S., even though this, more than any other U.N. convention, reflects the Western civil liberties tradition.