41.8 The [Helsinki] Monitoring Group

No 41 : 3 August 1976

The Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR was formed in May 1976 (CCE 40.13) by 11 participants [1] in the movement for human rights in the USSR. In the two and a half months of its existence the Group has passed five documents detailing violations by the Soviet authorities of the humanitarian articles of the Agreements to the public and to heads of the governments which signed the Final Act of the European Conference. They are:

Document 1. On the persecution of Mustafa Dzhemilev (18 May 1976);

Document 2. On infringements of contacts between people in the sphere of international postal and telephonic communications (27 May 1976);

Document 3. On the conditions of imprisonment of prisoners of conscience (17 June 1976);

Document 4. On separated families trying to be reunited (17 June 1976);

Document 5. On repressions against religious families (17 June 1976).

In addition, members of the group have issued several appeals requesting the formation of International Commissions to look into documents 1 and 3, and also concerning the sending of Valentin Moroz to the Serbsky Institute for a psychiatric examination. Each of the documents was signed by several members of the Group.

Before 1 August 1976, the anniversary of the signing of the Final Act, the group issued “An appraisal of the influence of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in regard to human rights in the USSR” [note 36]. The Appraisal was signed by nine of the Group’s members: L. Alexeyeva, A. Ginzburg, P. Grigorenko, A. Korchak, M. Landa, A. Marchenko, Yu. Orlov, V. Slepak, and A. Shcharansky.

The general conclusion of the report’s compilers is as follows.

The Soviet Government does not intend to fulfil its international obligations on human rights. As before, many hundreds of political prisoners are languishing in the prisons and camps… The regime under which they are held has in some respects grown markedly more cruel in this year. The practice of psychiatric repression has not been condemned or curtailed. There have been no changes for the better, either on the issue of freedom to emigrate, or on the more private issue of reunification of families … All independent sources of information are persecuted. All attempts to create associations independent of the leadership of the CPSU are persecuted.

The report notes that recently the reaction of the Soviet authorities to accusations of violating human rights has intensified noticeably. This is explained by the coincidental effect of a series of internal and international factors:

(1) the Soviet government undertook the obligations on human rights contained in the Final Act “in exchange” for important political concessions by Western governments; this led to admittedly very tentative, but nonetheless unprecedented, attempts by the latter to insist that the Soviet government should implement the obligations it had accepted;

(2) information persistently forwarded to the world public by members of the movement for civil rights in the USSR have apparently “begun to reach the consciousness of wide circles of Western society and even to exert an influence on the tactics of Western Communist Parties”.

The compilers of the report write:

Further extrapolation on the basis of the experience of the last year seems to show that:

— if the movement for civil rights in the USSR could expand its work of informing people within the country and informing the West;

— if at the same time the Western public … actively supported the movement for human rights in the USSR; then

— the Soviet authorities would be forced to moderate their repressive policy, and this would facilitate the implementation of democratic rights by citizens prepared simply to assert them. The small likelihood of such a development should not check our efforts, since it is precisely these efforts which will increase the chances.

[Soviet] official reaction to the European Conference has evolved, from an energetic condemnation of the demand for “the free exchange of people and ideas” before the Conference to a total disregard for the humanitarian articles of the Final Act immediately after it was signed. The cruel sentences passed on Vladimir Osipov, Sergei Kovalyov and the members of the democratic movement in Estonia; and the trials of Tverdokhlebov, Dzhemilev, Roitburd, Vinarov and Malkin, and of Igrunov, were a “demonstration of firmness”.

This was a blow against the human rights movement. It was an operation aimed at intimidating those sympathetic to the human rights movement, and a testing of the state of Western public opinion after the Conference. If the West reacted sluggishly the “demonstration of firmness” would have finally consolidated the Soviet interpretation of the humanitarian articles of the Final Act: it would have confirmed the unbalanced interpretation of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs which had already become habitual.

However, the growing attention paid by Western governments and public opinion to violations of human rights in the Soviet Union forced the authorities to make a number of demonstrative concessions: the release of Leonid Plyushch and Mikhail Naritsa; the declaration that Valentin Moroz is sane; and granting permission to emigrate to certain well-known activists in the Jewish movement; and so on. At the same time repression continued, but the people rounded up were for one reason or another little known to the public. The report names eight people who have been arrested or subjected to psychiatric repression since the signing of the Final Act. It is emphasized that the Group does not have complete information and that this is probably only a small proportion of those who have lost their freedom in this time.

On the issue of emigration the manoeuvring of the authorities followed approximately the same pattern.

At first, the authorities simply ignored references to the humanitarian articles of the Final Act on the pretext that Israel had not signed it. Then the idea was put forward that the reunification of families would be resolved in accordance with the Helsinki Agreements, but on the basis that “the interests of the State are more important than human rights”. Finally, in June, Obidin, the head of the All-Union OVIR [Visa and Registration Department], stated that permission to leave the USSR would be given strictly in accordance with the clause on the reunion of families in the Final Act. Inasmuch as Soviet law, however, considers families to be married couples and their unmarried children, permission to emigrate would be given, said Obidin, only to those related in this way.

Since then refusals because of “insufficiently close relationship” have become as common a phenomenon as a refusal “for reasons of security” had been earlier. In this way the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference has become a help in restricting emigration. Permission to emigrate for a few well-known activists and long-standing “refuseniks” is merely a cover for the growing number of refusals.

A crude violation of the letter and spirit of the Final Act is a complex of measures undertaken by the Soviet authorities to make the circulation of information more difficult. In the first place this has affected political prisoners: a mass offensive was waged on their right of correspondence; on various pretexts their meetings with their relatives, already rare, were reduced in number; and searches and inspections during which all handwritten materials, including copies of complaints to official bodies, were taken away, became common occurrences.

“One of the sources of scepticism regarding the future of human rights in the USSR”, report the authors, “is the absence of any kind of move to bring Soviet legislation into formal correspondence with international conventions on human rights.” They cite as examples the following inconsistencies:

(1) Article 126 of the Constitution of the USSR, which requires that the guiding nucleus of all organizations of workers, both non-governmental and State organizations, should be formed by the CPSU;

(2) Article 52 of the Code on Marriage and the Family, which obliges parents to bring up their children in the spirit of the moral code of the builders of communism; and

(3) Articles 70 and 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, and the corresponding articles of the codes of the other union republics.

The basic difficulties of the Group’s work, in the opinion of its members, are connected not only with receiving information on violations of the humanitarian articles of the Final Act, but also with passing on the Group’s documents to the heads of the governments which signed the Final Act. No notifications have been received of the delivery of documents sent to the ambassadors of these countries in Moscow.


[See “The Helsinki Monitoring Group”, 8 October 1976, CCE 42.10]


[1] After Vitaly Rubin’s departure for Israel (see “News in Brief”, 41.14, item //) Vladimir Slepak joined the Group. Vitaly Rubin has become the group’s representative abroad.

[36] Russian and English versions of this document may be found in “Reports of Helsinki-Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union”, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, US Congress, Washington, DC, 24 February 1977 and (in the original) in Sbornik dokumentov Obshchestvennoi gruppy sodeistviya vypolneniyu Khelsinkskikh soglashenii, Khronika Press, New York, vol. 1, 1977.