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Pressing Soviets on human rights. Former dissident urges abrogation of Helsinki pact

By Carol O'HallaronSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 4, 1986



Palo Alto, California

``For 10 years, the Helsinki Accords have existed beautifully, we continue to have periodical review conferences, and the situation continues to degenerate in the Soviet Union.'' So says Vladimir Bukovsky, a founding member of the Soviet human rights movement in the 1960s. He subsequently spent 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals before his release to the West in 1976.

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The opening of a followup meeting of the Helsinki Accords in Vienna today again throws the spotlight on the plight of dissidents in the Soviet Union, one of the 35 states to sign the accords.

Although the Helsinki process is endorsed by the United States government, which signed the accords, the majority of Soviet ``Helsinki monitors'' exiled to the West are calling for the abrogation of the accords because, they argue, they have not brought progress in human rights.

The accords fall into three baskets: one on human rights and security in Europe; one on East-West cooperation in science, technology, trade, and environment; and one on cooperation in humanitarian fields (such as family reunification, freedom of travel, and cultural exchanges). In theory, the baskets are linked: Progress in one depends on progress in the others.

The following is a condensed version of an interview here with Mr. Bukovsky for the Monitor:

Do you think that the Helsinki Accords created a healthier environment for relations between East and West?

The Helsinki Accords have two positive elements which were important, provided somebody uses them. One is linkage, the statement that all three baskets are connected. As long as nobody is going to use this linkage, it does not exist.

The second positive element built into the agreement is that there would be periodical review conferences which would allow performance to be scrutinized and action taken.

These two aspects were a step forward, although the rest of the formula of the Helsinki Accords was a step backward. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights speaks about the right of individuals to emigrate, while the Helsinki Accords underlines the right for families to be united. The heavy emphasis on reunification of families in the Helsinki Accords is a significant step backward compared with the previous agreement.

[The West] agreed to certain concessions before we signed the accords. The concessions were that the formula would be weaker, we would have reunification of families instead of emigration, we would have no violent intrusion of postwar borders, which for the Soviets was very important. Those are all concessions to the Soviets.

The Soviets made the concessions of accepting the linkage and the periodical review conferences. Now if those concessions are not used, then on the balance we are left only with the concessions of the West.

Isn't there value in directly confronting a representative of the Soviet government at the conference table with the names of incarcerated dissidents; and the Soviet negotiator unable to claim that this is interference in internal affairs?

First, there are several forums in the world where this is done. You can present any case to your delight in the United Nations apparatus, let it be the General Assembly or the Human Rights Commission, which is created for that purpose. Second, if you present the cases behind closed doors like at the Helsinki meetings, so what? What's the difference between presenting cases in some kind of a conference behind closed doors or presenting a petition to the Soviet Embassy in Washington?