As you know, on May 12, 1976, the Moscow Helsinki Group was established - an organization that monitors compliance with the third part of the Helsinki Accords, containing humanitarian articles. They include provisions on fundamental human rights, the observance of which members of the human rights movement in the USSR controlled for several decades. The creation of the group was announced at a press conference at the home of Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov.
History of Creation
The Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), represented by Yuri Orlov, its founder and first chairman, presented its goals as follows. The organization will monitor compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki in the USSR and inform all states that signed this document together with the Soviet Union of any violations.
In addition to Yuri Orlov, the group included Alexander Ginzburg, Lyudmila Alekseeva, Natan Sharansky, Vitaly Rubin, Malva Landa, Alexander Korchak, Elena Bonner, Anatoly Marchenko, Mikhail Bernshtam and PetrGrigorenko.
The Helsinki Accords laid the foundation for a mechanism to monitor compliance with their requirements. In particular, the heads of delegations had to evaluate the compliance of all partner states with the declaration they signed at the annual conferences. The Moscow Helsinki Group hoped that the information provided about violations of the articles relating to the observance of human rights would be considered at these meetings and that the democratic states would demand that the Soviet Union implement the signed agreements in full, including the humanitarian articles. Their non-observance could lead to the collapse of the Helsinki Accords, which the leadership of the USSR could not allow. It was in the interests of the Soviet Union to maintain an extremely beneficial treaty, given that the country was bled dry by long isolation from the rest of the world and a frenzied arms race.
The human rights organization, which consisted of only eleven members, seemed unable to monitor the entire vast territory of the Soviet Union. After all, the members of the MHG were as disenfranchised as any other citizen of the USSR, and all their equipment consisted of two old typewriters. On the other hand, the Moscow Helsinki Group included experienced human rights activists who by that time had accumulated a large amount of material on the subjects involved. Moreover, foreignradio stations broadcasting throughout the Soviet Union constantly read out reports on the work of the MHG, and it began to receive information about human rights violations from all over the country. In particular, members of the organization were informed by activists of the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Georgian and Armenian national movements.
During the 6 years of its existence, the group compiled and transmitted to the West 195 reports on human rights violations in the Soviet Union. These reports contained information regarding restrictions on the right to use one's native language, to receive education in one's native language, etc. Religious activists (Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals and Catholics) spoke of violations of the right to freedom of religion. Citizens who were not members of any movement reported non-compliance with the third part of the Helsinki Accords, which affected either themselves or their loved ones.
A worthy example
Further, following the model of the MHG, in November 1976 the Lithuanian and Ukrainian Helsinki groups were formed, in January 1977 - Georgian, in April - Armenian, in December 1976 - the Christian Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Believers in USSR and in November 1978 - the Catholic Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Believers. Helsinki Committees also sprang up in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
In February 1977, arrests began in the Ukrainian and Moscow groups. One of the first detainees was the chairman of the MHG, Yuri Orlov. On May 18, 1978, he was sentenced to 7 years in prison with severeworks and 5 years of exile. The court regarded his activities as anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda with the aim of undermining the Soviet state and system. On June 21 of the same year, Vladimir Slepak was sentenced to 5 years of exile. On June 14, Natan Sharansky was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 10 years in a strict regime camp.
By the autumn of 1977 more than 50 members of the Helsinki Groups had been imprisoned. Many were sentenced to long prison terms, and some died before they could be released.
Wave of solidarity
The media in the democratic countries - partners of the Soviet Union under the Helsinki Accords covered the Helsinki process and the persecution of its participants in the USSR and its satellite states. The public in these countries responded to this persecution by creating their own groups and Helsinki committees.
The American Helsinki Group was announced in December 1978. Similar organizations later emerged in Canada and a number of Western European countries. Their goal was to stop the persecution of their colleagues and put pressure on their national governments to strongly demand that the Soviet Union implement the Helsinki Accords.
Fruits of work
These efforts have borne fruit. Beginning with the Madrid Conference in October 1980, the democratic participating states began to voice these demands unanimously at every meeting. Graduallycompliance with the obligations of the third "basket" has become one of the main aspects of the Helsinki process. During the Vienna Conference in 1986, an additional protocol was signed, according to which the human rights situation in the country that is a party to the agreements is recognized as the work of all signatories.
Thus, the MHG became the seed that gave birth to the international Helsinki movement. It exerted a growing influence on the content of the Helsinki process. Perhaps, for the first time in the history of diplomacy, a human rights organization played such a role in interstate agreements. The Soviet Union was accused of violating humanitarian articles based on documents provided by the Moscow, Ukrainian and Lithuanian groups.
Under pressure from democratic countries, not only the Moscow Helsinki group, but also all those imprisoned under the political articles of the Soviet Criminal Code, were released in 1987. In 1990, citizens of the USSR were granted the right to freely leave and return to the country, and the persecution of believers stopped.
The experience gained from this close cooperation with non-governmental organizations is reflected in the fact that the OSCE became the first international association to include them in the process of work as equal partners. At human dimension conferences, representatives of non-governmental organizations participate on the basis of parity with official representatives of the OSCE member states, and they are given the floor on equal terms.
Back in service
MHG, which at the time of its founding was the only independent public organization in the Soviet Union, today plays a leading role in the human rights movement and civil society that has emerged in the Russian Federation. The main direction of the work of the MHG continues to be the monitoring of the situation with human rights. Today, however, it is carried out not only on the basis of the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Accords, but also with the support of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms and other international human rights treaties signed by the Russian Federation.
Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva headed the MHG in 1996. Three years earlier, she returned to Moscow from forced emigration to the United States in February 1977. All this time, the woman continued to work in this human rights organization, and also broadcast on Radio Liberty and Voice of America.
In 2012, a new law of the Russian Federation came into force, which determined that the Moscow Helsinki Group was a foreign agent receiving funds from abroad and having connections abroad. To get rid of the stigma that has historically been used as a synonym for the word "spy", the organization decided to limit itself to the help of Russian citizens.
In 2015, Lyudmila Alekseeva received the Vaclav Havel Award for outstanding work in the field of human rights. Handing over 60,000 € at a ceremony held at the Palais de l'Europe inIn Strasbourg, on the opening day of the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE President Anna Brasser said that the human rights activist, having assumed the responsibility to fight for justice, inspired several generations of Russian and foreign activists. For decades Alekseeva was threatened, lost her job and was forced to leave the country in order to be able to continue talking about human rights violations in the Soviet Union. She now leads the Moscow Helsinki Group, a free-thinking NGO that often faces hostility but continues to denounce lawlessness and provide assistance to victims.
The attacks continue
Recently, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the creation of the MHG, the state television channel Rossiya-1 aired a "documentary" film in which allegations were made that opposition leader Alexei Navalny received funding from British intelligence, including with the help of the Moscow Helsinki Group. “Documents” and “correspondence” were presented that allegedly testify to his connections with the head of the Hermitage Capital investment fund, William Browder. An analysis of the "materials" of MI6 and the CIA showed that they are replete with factual and verbal errors typical of Russian-speaking authors. The MHG chairman denied the allegations from the state-run media, saying that she never received any money from Alexei Navalny and did not give him any money. The human rights activist said that the Moscow Helsinki Groupdoes not conduct financing and does not engage in financial transactions, such as placing funds in hedge funds.
Apparently, another attempt to denigrate the MHG and the opposition failed miserably.