The lesson is obvious - protection of human rights requires action, not just words on paper.
Even as Czechoslovakian officials joined their counterparts from other Warsaw Pact and West European countries in Vienna in signing a landmark human rights agreement, police in Prague were breaking up demonstrations Sunday and Monday by human rights activists.The activists were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the suicide of Jan Palach, who on Jan. 16, 1969, had set himself on fire to protest the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of his country.
Palach's act had galvanized dispirited Czechoslovaks who had slid into the apathy of despair after their hopes and struggles during the reformist Prague Spring of '68 were crushed by Soviet tanks.
Czechoslovakian officials welcomed the agreement without mentioning the breakup of the demonstrations. It is difficult to hold out hope for an agreement signed in the face of such cynicism. But the 35 nations who signed it still can make it work if they will.
One key provision gives signatories the right to ask each other to account for specific cases in which individuals' rights appear to have been violated. Not only the countries of the West but the other Warsaw Pact nations should demand an accounting by Czechoslovakia.
The agreement provides for cooperation not only on human rights but also on economic, scientific and military security affairs.
But if the human rights sections prove to be unenforced window dressing included only to justify the other portions of the pact, the other nations will have proved that they are as cynical as the government in Prague.