WASHINGTON (Feb. 27)
The importance of the Helsinki process for pressing the Soviet Union on human rights was stressed Thursday by officials from the two major American organizations working for the rights of Soviet Jewry.
Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and Mark Epstein, executive director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, testified before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Congressional commission has been holding hearings this week to take testimony from non-governmental organizations in preparation for the next conference to review the Helsinki accords, scheduled for Vienna in November.
“The opportunity to call the Soviet Union to account for its activities, to be able to hold them responsible before the international community for their violations of human rights, is extremely important,” Epstein said.
He said the Soviets “are extremely concerned about what the world thinks of them, and have a strong need for legitimacy and acceptance in the world.” He added that it was thus “far more damaging to their case to hold them to account before their colleagues and nations whom they wish to impress.” Goodman said the Helsinki process was “the best opportunity to focus the spotlight” on the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union.
THE ISSUE OF FALSE HOPES
Epstein rejected charges that people in the West have raised false hopes for Soviet Jews and others in the USSR since, he noted, those who sought the help of the West “did so fully conscious of the risk.”
He said that in 16 years of daily contact with Jewish refuseniks, it is clear “the people with whom we deal and on whose behalf we inform the world … are not naive, are not unaware of the consequences of their decisions and acts.” Goodman stressed that “we can do no less than take the individual cases” to the world. He said that at the previous Helsinki review meeting, private and public discussions have been valuable for this.
But he urged that “a private qualified person” rather than a government official should be the chairman of the U.S. delegation to Vienna, as Max Kampelman was in Madrid. He also urged that informed private citizens be on the U.S. delegation as well as on the delegations of the other Western countries.
DOUBTFUL OF IMPROVEMENTS
Sen. John Heinz (R. Pa.), a member of the Commission, said he doubted there would be improvements in human rights under the Soviet Union’s new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. “I’m not going to hold my breath on that,” he said. “I think anyone who does will suffocate.”
Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. N.Y.), the Commission chairman, said “there is reason to believe” that the recent prominent developments marked by “headline cases” and reunions of some divided families are a “smokescreen behind which they (the Soviets) continue to pursue an ironhanded body of repression against dissidents, refuseniks, religious activists and others who took Soviet human rights promises seriously.”