WASHINGTON– The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today received the Torch of Liberty award from NCSJ, the organization advocating for Jews in the former Soviet Union. The honor marks the first time NCSJ has bestowed the award on an organization rather than an individual for work improving and protecting the lives of Jews in Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states.
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, and since, the Helsinki Commission has closely watched the plight of Jewish communities, helping to protect them from repressive policies carried over from the Soviet era. To this day the Helsinki Commission continues to monitor developments affecting minority groups throughout Europe and advocates on their behalf.
“Between 1976 and the late-1980s, much of the Commission’s work focused on dissidents and the plight of Soviet Jews,” said Commission Co-Chair Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) in accepting the award on the Commission’s behalf. “We struggled together to aid many thousands of persecuted refuseniks who had been stranded in a form of limbo – unable to function productively at home but denied the right to seek their happiness elsewhere.”
In announcing the award today, NCSJ chairman Richard Stone said, “As one of the organizations that supported the creation of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, NCSJ is proud to present this award to the Commission in recognition of its distinguished service and leadership in the advocacy movement to preserve, protect and defend Jewish life in the former Soviet Union.”
“The tireless work the Helsinki Commission undertook on behalf of thousands in the Soviet Union whose voices and freedom were denied ultimately paid off,” said Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “I’m convinced that the persistent drumbeat of the combined efforts of the Helsinki Commission, NCSJ, and others will continue to bring about changes still needed in our world.”
Past recipients of the Torch of Liberty award include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and former Senator Gordon Smith, both of whom have served on the Helsinki Commission.