Impartial in the Cold War? The Challenges of Détente, Dissidence, and Eastern European Membership to Amnesty International’s Policy of Impartiality

Abstract: Amnesty International was born in the highly politicized context of the East-West conflict commonly known as the Cold War with the intention of transcending its fault lines. It developed a politics of impartiality that was however deeply rooted in the Cold War paradigm and followed the example of the Red Cross and its humanitarian activism. These two features impeded organization’s navigation of the fluctuating dynamics between East and West and hampered the emergence of a local membership beyond the Iron Curtain in the 1970s. Despite the fact that Amnesty’s policy of impartiality was in constant flux, it remained ill-adapted to the different circumstances in Eastern Europe.

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