Toggle navigation menu.
Cardin in Senate 368x331

Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
    US












Senate

109th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, as Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, I note that tomorrow marks one of the major events in the struggle for human rights around the globe. Thirty years ago a courageous band of human rights defenders in the Soviet Union founded the “Moscow Helsinki Group,” dedicated to monitoring Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, an historic agreement containing important provisions on human rights.  

When General Secretary Brezhnev signed the Helsinki Final Act, or the Helsinki Accords, on August 1, 1975 on behalf of the USSR, Soviet officials believed that they had gained an important foreign policy victory.  Indeed, there were some provisions that Soviet diplomats had sought assiduously during the negotiations among the thirty-five nations of Europe and the United States and Canada. However, the West, for its part, had insisted on certain provisions in the area of human rights and humanitarian affairs, including the right of citizens “to know their rights and to act upon them.”   

With this commitment in mind, Professor Yuri Orlov, a Soviet physicist who had been involved in the defense of human rights in the Soviet Union previously, called upon several of his similarly-minded colleagues to join together in an organization to press publicly for implementation of the Helsinki Accords in their country. 

Eleven brave individuals answered the call, and on May 12, 1976, at a press conference called by famed human rights campaigner and peace activist Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the creation of the “Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act,” or as it became later known, the “Moscow Helsinki Group” was announced.  

The Moscow Helsinki Group committed itself to collecting information about implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the Soviet Union and publishing reports on their findings. During the first six years of its activity, they produced almost two hundred specific reports, as well as other announcements and appeals.  More activists joined with the passing months. Similar Helsinki monitoring groups were established elsewhere in the USSR, including in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. Other groups focused on specific human rights issues such as psychiatric abuse or religious liberty joined the movement. The Moscow Group became an important source of information for individuals and groups seeking assistance in the area of human rights. 

Naturally, the Soviet leadership rejected such “assistance” and undertook to suppress the Moscow Helsinki Group. Members were fired from their jobs, “persuaded” to emigrate, castigated in the press, and subjected to KGB searches and interrogations. When such reprisals proved mostly ineffective, members were charged with political crimes and given lengthy sentences in labor camps of the Soviet gulag, usually with an additional term of “internal exile,” forced resettlement, typically somewhere in Siberia or the Soviet Far East. 

Ten years after the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group, fourteen members had been sentenced to a total of sixty nine years in labor camp or prison, and fifty years internal exile.  Anatoly Marchenko, a founding member and veteran dissident, died during a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison in December 1986.  By 1982, the Moscow Helsinki Group had been forced to suspend its activities in the face of intense KGB repression. 

But while Moscow had rid itself of some troublesome dissidents, the spirit of Helsinki was not so easily quashed. Ludmilla Alekseyeva, an exiled member of the group, testified in the U.S. Congress in October 1985 that “for victims of human rights abuses in the Eastern bloc, Helsinki remains the main source of hope…and a rallying point in their struggle for freedom and peace.” Just a little over four year after she spoke those words, the Berlin Wall fell. 

The Moscow Helsinki Group was re-established in 1989.  Reinvigorated through the work of new and veteran members, it is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the Russian Federation today. Alexeyeva, who returned to Russia in the early 1990s, following the demise of the Soviet Union, serves as chair of the group.         

Mr. Speaker, we would do well to heed the wise words of Andrei Sakharov when he noted, “The whole point of the Helsinki Accords is mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems.” A key to the ultimate success of the Helsinki Process has been the involvement of civil society, courageous human rights defenders like those who established the Moscow Group, willing to speak out on behalf of others.  I remain deeply concerned over human rights trends in Russia, especially the adoption of regressive laws affecting fundamental human rights and freedoms. 

I join my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission in congratulating the Moscow Helsinki Group on the occasion of its 30th anniversary of dedicated service in the defense of fundamental freedoms and liberty.

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Briefings

The Proliferation of Russian-Style Foreign Agents Laws

Jun 20, 2024

In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in other countries which, while justified as providing transparency for foreign funding and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HEARING – Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Poli...

Jun 13, 2024

Rayburn 2212 Stream live here WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Political Prisoners ...

Jun 13, 2024

WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, stifles free expression, and erodes […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

BRIEFING – The Proliferation of Russian-Style ...

Jun 13, 2024

Thursday, June 20, 2024 2:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 WASHINGTON—In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Marks Fourth An...

Jun 06, 2024

WASHINGTON—Today, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) marked the fourth annual Counter-Kleptocracy Month. The U.S. Helsinki Commission has marked Counter-Kleptocracy month since June 2021 when the Commission helped to launch the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy (Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus). The Caucus is also chaired by Reps. Wilson and […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Supporting Georgia’s Sovereignty and Democracy

Jun 04, 2024

WASHINGTON—The recent adoption of a Russian-style foreign agent law heralds an openly anti-western turn by the ruling Georgian Dream government, and their concomitant alignment with Russia as well as other authoritarian powers such as China. After three decades of a pro-west, democratizing, and Euro-Atlantic-facing strategic agenda, Georgia’s government is clearly and violently breaking faith with […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Russian Crimes Against Ukrainian Civilians: Findings...

May 30, 2024

Russia has targeted Ukrainian civilians since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Civilians have been arbitrarily detained, transferred, mistreated, tortured, and even killed extrajudicially as an apparent part of Putin’s war strategy.  Thousands have disappeared or are being held without being able to communicate with their families. In February, 45 OSCE states invoked […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Ukrainian Culture in Wartime

May 29, 2024

Russia has damaged or destroyed countless Ukrainian museums, libraries, cultural centers, theaters, schools, and sites of religious and historical significance. These physical attacks are accompanied by the Kremlin’s public denigration and even denial of a distinct Ukrainian national identity. This combination of physical destruction and insidious propaganda has by design posed an existential threat to […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

“MEGOBARI Act” Envisages Sanctions for Undermining, ...

May 27, 2024

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Cohen, Hudson, Veasey Introduce MEGOBARI Act

May 24, 2024

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, U.S. Helsinki Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Commissioner Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced the bipartisan Mobilizing and Enhancing Georgia’s Options for Building Accountability, Resilience, and Independence (MEGOBARI) Act. This vital legislation aims to bolster democratic practices, human rights, and the rule of […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Statement on 80...

May 24, 2024

  Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) made the following statement: “We unequivocally condemn the brutal deportation of Crimean Tatars orchestrated by the Soviet regime in 1944. This horrific act, which forcibly uprooted an entire population from their homeland, represents a grave violation of human rights, […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Rep. Joe Wilson introduces bill to sanction individu...

May 23, 2024

screen-reader-text