WASHINGTON (Oct. 29)
An office to monitor Soviet emigration and human rights practices has been opened in Moscow, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews has announced.
The Moscow Bureau on Exit, Human Rights and Rule of Law in the USSR was opened Monday as a joint venture of the Union of Councils and the Moscow-based Public Committee on Exit and Entrance and Other Human Rights.
“We are excited to be the first Western human rights organization to open an office in Moscow,” David Waksberg, the union’s vice president, said at the opening ceremony.
He said that the center will provide direct assistance to prisoners of conscience, refuseniks and Soviet Jews fleeing anti-Semitism as well as provide resettlement information for those emigrating to the United States and Israel.
The center opens at a time when the Union of Councils is urging a revival of the grass-roots efforts in the American Jewish community on behalf of Jews in the Soviet Union.
“We in the Jewish community have been complacent because the immigration figures are high,” said Pamela Cohen, the group’s president.
Cohen said that because Jewish emigration figures have gone from tiny numbers to “twice what we had hoped,” the Bush administration and Congress believe American Jews are no longer concerned about human rights in the USSR.
Cohen spoke here last week to some 70 people, representing Soviet Jewry councils around the country, who were last week to attend the organization’s annual leadership conference.
The conference focused on reviving the grass-roots movement to press the human rights agenda at the next meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The meeting, which will take place in Paris in November, will be attended by President Bush Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the leaders of the other countries in the CSCE.
‘LOWERING OF VOICE’ ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The CSCE has been the forum for discussion of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. But Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils, said the CSCE has been recently concentrating on security and economics, two of the three baskets of the Helsinki Accords, and barely mentioning the third, human rights.
This was most evident when the CSCE foreign ministers met in New York earlier this month and only British Foreign Secretary Dennis Hurd stressed human rights, Naftalin said.
He added that the Union of Councils was not only concerned that there “has been a general lowering of voice on human rights,” but that non-governmental organizations like the Union of Councils have been frozen out of the process. “Suddenly we are out in the cold,” he said.
The change in focus is due partly to the success of the Helsinki process, which inspired the democratic movement in Eastern Europe, Naftalin said. He said the Paris meeting is aimed at building the “architecture for a new Europe” in which democratization will be the focus.
“Gone (from the CSCE agenda) is anti-Semitism, gone is psychiatric abuse, gone is political prisoners,” as well as continued barriers to emigration, Naftalin said.
To reverse the trend to neglect human rights, the Union of Councils is urging its members to raise the issue in their localities and with their representatives in Congress.
Mark Kotlyar, a recent immigrant to Los Angeles from Kiev, has joined the Union of Councils and will be pressing the issue in speeches across the country. The 42-year-old Kotlyar was active in pleading the refusenik cause with thousands of visitors to the Soviet Union.