Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki GroupMonday, February 16, 1981
On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.
Profiles: Helsinki MonitorsMonday, December 10, 1979
In May of 1976, a group of Soviet citizens dedicated themselves to promoting compliance by their government with the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Collecting and disseminating information on violations of those provisions, these human rights activists thereby expressed their stated conviction that "the issues of humanitarianism and free information have a direct relationship to the problem of international security." Respect for human rights in the USSR, they held, is a precondition for the development of a solid East-West detente. After hearing about the work of the Helsinki Groups on foreign radio broadcasts, many ordinary Soviet citizens began sending the Group information on human rights violations in various areas of the USSR. In this way, the Groups became catalysts, drawing together the disparate strands of Soviet dissent. Group reports reflect these varied concerns: conditions in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals; the problems of religious and ethnic minorities; emigration difficulties; and denials of economic rights. The CSCE Commission translates and compiles these Group documents in its series of "Reports of the Helsinki Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union." Encouraged by the success of the first Helsinki Group in Moscow, other such groups were organized in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, and Georgia. In Moscow, two allied groups were formed to deal with more specific issues: the Working Commission on the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, and the Christian Committee to Defend the Rights of Believers. In recognition of the sacrifice, dedication, and successful work of all these groups, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe nominated all their members for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and 1979. During the past two years, other allied groups have emerged: the Initiative Group for the Defense of the Rights of Invalids in the USSR; the Group for the Legal Struggle and Investigation of Facts about the Persecution of Believers in the USSR of the All-Union Church of the Faithful and Free Seventh-Day Adventists; and the Catholic Committee to Defense the Rights of Believers in the USSR. With the addition of these new committees, an even broader spectrum of human rights issues and interests in the Soviet Union is now represented. At the present time, there are 66 men and women in the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Moscow, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. Currently, 26 people have joined the Christian, Catholic and Adventist Committees, the Working Con-miission on Psychiatric Abuse and the Initiative Group for Invalids. For this compilation of biographical information on the present members, the Commission is indebted to the following for their assistance: ORGANIZATIONS AND PUBLICATIONS Amnesty International, Bulletin d'Information, Comite pour I'application des accords d'Helsinki en Georgie, Committee for the Defense of Soviet Political Prisoners, ELTA Information Service, Helsinki Guarantees for Ukraine Committee, Keston College, Khronika Press, Lithuanian-American Community of the U.S.A., Inc., Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Smoloskyp, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Ukrainian National Information Service, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Washington Street Research Center. INDIVIDUALS Mr. Victor Abdalov, Mrs. Lyudmila Alekseeva, Gen. and Mrs. Pyotr Grigorenko, Ms. Dina Kaminskaya, Mr. Ambartsum Khlagatyan, Mr. Michael Meerson, Rev. Aleksandr Shmeiman, Mr. Konstantin Simis, Ms. Veronika Stein, Mr. Valentin Turchin, and Ms. Lydia Voronina, Ms. Yulya Zaks.
Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. XI – Religious Persecution In U.S.S.R. & HR Violations in UkraineThursday, June 07, 1979
The first part of this hearing, led by Commissioner Dante B. Fascell, focused largely on the imprisonment of Russian Pastor Georgi Vins, who had spent eight of the last thirteen years in prison simply due to his occupation. Repression of this Baptist minister exemplified such repression of other Baptist clergymen by the U.S.S.R., whose denomination in the country dated back to the early 1900s. However, in 1965, the Soviet Baptist movement split into the recognized and legitimated all-union Council of Evangelical Christians, and the dissident reform Baptists, making the latter the first Soviet dissident human rights group. The second portion of the hearing discussed Ukrainian political retribution and dissidents, exemplified by the cases of witnesses who had all been political prisoners in the Eastern European country.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS VOL. IV - REPORTS ON SOVIET REPRESSION AND THE BELGRADE CONFERENCESunday, June 05, 1977
In light of first anniversary of the creation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, this hearing focused on the work and the plight of courageous individuals who utilized the Helsinki accords as instruments for advancing international respect for human rights. In particular, the hearing delved into the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, one of the most courageous spokesmen of human rights in the U.S.S.R., faces treason charges as groundless as they are ominous. The Soviet decision to hold a show trial for Shcharansky with phony evidence and counterfeit witnesses combined with the earlier arrest of members of Helsinki monitoring groups in Russia, Ukraine, and most recently, in Georgia, were in violation of the Helsinki accords.
Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. III – Information Flow, And Cultural And Educational ExchangesTuesday, May 17, 1977
In this hearing, Commissioner Dante Fascell and others discussed the impact that the Helsinki Accords had on easing and expanding the flow of ideas and information across ideological and international frontiers. The rationale for this hearing, which consisted of three mornings of testimony, was that, while the Commission has had a long and storied history of hearing and discussing the movement of people, one goal of the Helsinki Accords is to diminish the obstacles that keep the views of others out, which are also the borders that restrict freedom of movement for people.
Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and ContactsWednesday, February 23, 1977
This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance. The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention. The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.
Conference on Security and Cooperation in EuropeTuesday, May 06, 1975
In July 1973 the Foreign Ministers of 33 European countries and the United States opened the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), in Helsinki. Since then the participants have made slow but steady progress on a broad range of security, political, economic and other issues of mutual concern. As the conference reaches what appears to be a conclusive stage interest in its eventual outcome has mounted both in Congress and throughout the Nation: Special concern has been expressed over the implications the Conference may have for such issues as human rights in Eastern Europe, the division of Germany, U.S. force levels in Europe, and the future of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
On October 24, more than 600 people in Berlin attended the unveiling of the Memorial for the Sinti¹ and Roma of Europe Murdered under National Socialism. Leaders of the Helsinki Commission, who had underscored the importance of the monument, welcomed the event.
Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, observed that the memorial “marks an important step in acknowledging and teaching about the fate of Roma at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Axis powers: persecution, confiscation of property, forced sterilization, slave labor, inhumane medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide.”
Proposals to erect a memorial to the Romani victims of genocide emerged in the early 1990s after the unification of the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic and at a time when German acknowledgement and remembrance took on additional dimensions. Those efforts, however, bogged down over questions regarding the location of the proposed memorial and the content of inscriptions. (Concerns raised by the artist over materials and weather-related construction complications also contributed to interruptions.) German government officials also suggested some delays were caused by differing views among Romani groups, particularly regarding the inscriptions; some critics of the delays suggested there was an insufficient sense of ownership and political will on the part of the government.
Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, noted the singular role of Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and “his tireless work to ensure that Romani victims of genocide are remembered and honored.” Rose, who lost his grandparents at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck, was a driving force to see the memorial completed. Cardin added, “I am deeply heartened that efforts to build this memorial, underway for over a decade, have finally been realized.”
German government officials at the most senior level attended the unveiling of the genocide memorial, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Bundesrat President Horst Seehofer, and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Former President Richard von Weizsacker, in spite of advanced years and frail health, was also present. Federal Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann described the memorial “a pillar of German remembrance.”
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Patrick Murphy and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson represented the United States. Dr. Ethel Brooks, who has served as a public member with the U.S. Delegation to the 2011 and 2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, also attended the ceremony.
The memorial, designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, was widely hailed as a deeply moving testimony to the genocide of Romani people.
Dutch Sinto survivor Zoni Weiss addressed the hundreds of people who attended the event. As a 7-year-old, Weiss narrowly avoided being placed on the Westerbork transport from the Netherlands due to the intervention of platform policeman, but watched as his immediate family was sent to Auschwitz where they perished.
The unveiling ceremony was also accompanied by a week of events in Berlin focused on Romani history, culture and contemporary issues. Gert Weisskirchen, former German Member of the Budestag and former OSCE Personal Representative on Anti-Semitism, organized a round-table focused on contemporary challenges faced by Roma.
In her remarks at the event, Chancellor Merkel also acknowledged the on-going struggle for human rights faced by Roma throughout Europe, saying bluntly, “let’s not beat around the bush. Sinti and Roma suffer today from discrimination and exclusion.” Romani Rose warned more pointedly, “In Germany and in Europe, there is a new and increasingly violent racism against Sinti and Roma. This racism is supported not just by far-right parties and groups; it finds more and more backing in the middle of society.”
The Nazis targeted Roma for extermination.
Persecution began in the 1920s, and included race-based denial of the right to vote, selection for forced sterilization, loss of citizenship on the basis of race, and incarceration in work or concentration camps.
The most notorious sites where Roma were murdered include Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Jasenovac camp in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Romanian-occupied Transnistria, and Babi-Yar in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.
In other parts of German occupied or German-allied territory, Roma were frequently killed by special SS squads or even regular army units or police, often left in mass graves.
Many scholars estimate that 500,000 Roma were killed during is World War II, although scholarship on the genocide of Roma remains in its infancy and many important archives have only become available to a broader community of researchers since the fall of communism.
In recent years, for example, Father Patrick Desbois has helped document the location of 800 WWII-mass graves in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including 48 mass graves of Roma.
German postwar restitution legislation and its implementation effectively excluded almost all Romani survivors. Those most directly responsible for actions against Roma escaped investigation, prosecution and conviction. Several officials responsible for the deportations of Roma before and during the war continued to have responsibility for Romani affairs after the war.
In 1979, the West German Federal Parliament acknowledged the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated.
In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized that the National Socialist persecution of Romani people constituted genocide.
The first German trial decision to take legal cognizance that Roma were genocide victims during the Third Reich was handed down in 1991.
In 1997, Federal President Roman Herzog opened a Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma, saying “The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial hatred, with the same intent and the same desire for planned and final annihilation as that of the Jews. They were systematically murdered in whole families, from the small child to the old man, throughout the sphere of influence of the Nazis.”
At the 2007 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Thommas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that, “[e]ven after the [ . . . ] Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.”