HL Deb 26 January 1987 vol 483 cc1236-40WA
Lord Killearn

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in the implementation by the USSR and Eastern European Countries of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act during the last six months.

Lord Trefgarne

During the six month period to 30th December 1986 implementation by the Soviet and Eastern European countries of their commitments under Helsinki Final Act and Madrid Concluding Document has continued to be generally unsatisfactory although compliance has varied from country to country. As a whole, the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe continued to take a one-sided view of the CSCE process, emphasising security and economic aspects at the expense of humanitarian issues. Indeed, there have been widespread breaches of the provisions relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, most notably in the Soviet Union.

Security in Europe: Principles Guiding relations between Participating States; Confidence-building Measures and Certain Aspects of Security and Disarmament (Basket I)

The most striking feature of Eastern performance over the period was the continued violation of Principle VII which covers "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief". There has been no substantial change in the Soviet Union's unsatisfactory implementation of the Helsinki Final Act and Soviet performance in the field of human rights continued to be poor. Soviet persecution of dissidents, refuseniks and religious activists continued as did suppression of national minorities and persecution of political prisoners and their families. Prisoners of conscience continued to die while serving sentences. In August Mark Morozov, a member of the free trade union SMOT died in Chistopol prison, while in December, Anatoly Marchenko, a founder member of the Moscow Helsinki Group who had gone on hunger strike in August in protest against penal conditions, also died, He had similarly been transferred to Chistopol prison. In November, his family had evidently been told to re-apply for permission to emigrate to Israel. The level of harassment to which believers, among others, were subjected, continued to be very harsh.

The Jewish community continued to face difficulties over emigration and in practising its religion and culture. The monthly figures for Jewish emigration, although slightly higher than the previous reporting period, remained still unacceptably low. Confiscation of religious material from the homes of Soviet Jews, particularly of refuseniks, was widespread and the pressures on the teaching of Hebrew maintained. Details of the ill-treatment of the Hebrew teacher Alexi Magarik (currently serving a three-year sentence) became known. He has reportedly been subjected to beatings while in camp.

The Russian Orthodox Deacon Rusak who wrote in 1983 to the World Council of Churches detailing the obstacles placed in the way of religious education in the USSR and subsequently sought permission to emigrate, was on 27th September sentenced to seven years in a labour camp and five in internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda". Others imprisoned for independent religious activities such as Alexander Ogorodnikov, remained in labour camps.

Other religious groups also suffered persecution and the penal conditions to which believers were subjected continued to be harsh in the extreme. Soviet law requires any such groups to register with the authorities and aims to ensure that they play no part in the wider community except when called upon to support official policies or deny reports of oppression. Members of unregistered Baptist groups were harassed as were unofficial activists of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches. Groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Uniate Catholic Church remained proscribed organisations. The period was marked by continued efforts of Lithuanian Catholics to recover use of several of their most venerated churches which has been seized by the authorities. The Soviet authorities continued to exert steady pressure to encourage Moslem inhabitants of Central Asia and Azerbaidzhan to abandon their religion, although Soviet sources suggested that such efforts were not particularly successful. Very few mosques in these regions were open for use and there were few officially recognised clergy. Moslem clergy not sanctioned by the authorities were attacked in the official press. Even tiny religious groups were not immune to pressure. Hare Krishna followers in particular suffered arrest, persecution and confinement to psychiatric hospitals. They have been refused permission to register formally as religious communities.

During the period under review, members of the Group to Establish Trust Between the USSR and USA continued to be subject to official harassment and arrest. Trust group member Larisa Chukayeva was sentenced in July to two years general-regime labour camp and deprived of parental rights over her child. However, she was reportedly released in December as was another member, Nina Kovalenko, who had again been committed to a mental hospital in October after trying to demonstrate on behalf of the arrested US journalist, Nicholas Daniloff. This was another example of the continued abuse of psychiatry.

There were a number of promising developments, most notably the decision announced by Mr. Gorbachev personally on 16th December to permit Dr. Sakharov and his wife to return to Moscow from Gorky without laying down any conditions. In addition there was the permission granted for a long term victim of psychiatric abuse, Nikolai Baranov, to emigrate to the UK in August; the sudden release from prison in October of Irinia Ratushinskaya, a poetess from the Ukraine and the permission granted to her and her husband to come to the UK in December; the release of Yuri Orlov, the founder of a Helsinki Monitoring Group; the emigration permission granted to a few well known refuseniks such as the Medvedkovs and the family of Natan Sharansky and to Dr. Vladimir Brodsky, founder of the trust group. But many other well-known individuals continued to suffer imprisonment and harassment. Dr. Koryagin who helped to expose the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes remained in prison and in ill health. Bulgarian implementation of CSCE commitments remained poor. Bulgaria continued to violate Principle VII on respect for human rights. The practice of religion, in particular that of Islam, remained difficult with Moslem rights restricted or forbidden. The Bulgarian authorities also continued to exert total control over all other religious communities and to limit their rights to practice their beliefs. Recent reports suggest that the general situation of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria remains profoundly unsatisfactory in most areas including culture, religion, education and information.

Czechoslovak performance on CSCE implementation remained unsatisfactory. Concern was heightened by the arrest in September of seven leading members of the Jazz Section.

CSCE documents and other material relevant to the fulfilment of Czechoslovakia's CSCE commitments were confiscated from the section's offices. Freedom of conscience remained severely restricted and access to information tightly controlled. The right to know and act upon human rights was similarly restricted.

The East German implementation record, while showing improvements in some areas, remained on the whole unsatisfactory. Restrictions on human rights and individual freedoms remained a central problem. Although a larger number of East German citizens below pensionable age were allowed to visit the West, the GDR authorities continued to limit severely travel to non-communist countries, and to use force if necessary to stop individuals who wish to exercise their right to leave the country; on 24th November East German border guards shot and probably killed a young man trying to enter the Western sectors of Berlin from the GDR. Compared with some other Warsaw Pact countries, the Church enjoyed considerable freedom of movement, although Christians continued to face problems and discrimination. The GDR continued to be highly restrictive in the dissemination of information and working conditions of journalists remained unsatisfactory.

Overall Hungarian compliance with CSCE commitments remained good in comparison with other East European states. Relations between churches and the state remained harmonious. However, freedom of expression was still limited and selective action taken against potential internal opposition.

Human rights in Poland have improved somewhat in the last six months. A new clemency law in July led to the release of political detainees (although those people charged with offences such as terrorism and espionage which may have been politically motivated, remain in prison). The authorities also made available non-custodial penalties for more political offences. A new Social Consultative Council was established in December and there are proposals to create ombudsmen. These steps are all welcome, although the prospects for permanent improvement remain uncertain. There continued to be a high degree of religious freedom in Poland and few impediments to foreign travel. In spite of censorship, the level of real debate in the press remained relatively high.

The human rights situation in Romania has deteriorated even further. Basic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were ruthlessly denied. The practice of religious belief continued to be circumscribed by the authorities. Members of religious groups who did not keep within the strict limits prescribed were liable to harassment and arrest and in some cases beatings. Travel in general became more difficult and contacts with foreigners were discouraged.

Confidence and Security-building Measures

Two major military manoeuvres were notified by Warsaw Pact countries in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act: one in the GDR from 8th–13th September, and one in Czechoslovakia from 10th–12th September: observers were invited to the latter exercise only. The principal development in the area of confidence building measures was the adoption of the Stockholm document on 19th September. This represents a significant step forward from the modest confidence building measures in the Helsinki Final Act.

The main elements of the document are:

  1. (i) the annual exchange of forecasts of military activities;
  2. (ii) notice 42 days in advance of military activities involving at least 13,000 troops or 300 tanks;
  3. (iii) notice 42 days in advance of amphibious or airborne activities involving at least 3,000 troops;
  4. (iv) mandatory invitation of observers to all military activities involving at least 17,000 troops, or to amphibious or airborne activities involving at least 5,000 troops;
  5. (v) on-site inspection from the ground, from the air or both.

Co-operation in the Field of Economics, of Science and Technology and of the Environment (Basket II)

In General, little improvement occurred in the conditions for conducting business in Eastern Europe, with Western businessmen confronted by considerable obstacles of a purely practical nature. The same bureaucratic foreign trade structure has continued to prevail which, because of tedious procedures and delays, discourages many foreign business interests. Poor economic and trade performance in some countries, coupled with a general tendency to secrecy, have resulted in an unwillingness to publish information and statistical data, although the Soviet Union published for the first time figures for the harvest for the last five years. Much more important data—that is, on hard currency resources—remains unavailable. However, a law providing for joint ventures came into form in Poland in July and the Soviet Union has shown signs of changing its laws to facilitate joint ventures; and to loosen its state monopoly on foreign trade and facilitate access to end users in some areas.

Co-operation in Humanitarian and other fields (Basket III)

Most East European countries continued to show a largely negative record in the fields of family visits, family reunification and contacts with individuals from states outside the Warsaw Pact. Hungary and Poland were notable exceptions. Overall, emigration to the West continued at a low level. In the Soviet Union exit visas were difficult to obtain and persons applying for exit visas continued to suffer discrimination and harassment by the authorities. New legislation governing entry to, and exit from, the USSR was passed in August (to come into effect on 1st January 1987). It was criticised by many refuseniks and others for containing restrictive wording and failing to close loopholes permitting arbitrary decisions. Family reunifications were still a problem and a hard core of cases remained unresolved. The Czechoslovak situation regarding family visits also remained unsatisfactory. Romania in particular took steps to discourage contacts with foreigners. With very few exceptions restrictions remained in force in all Warsaw Pact countries on individuals wishing to visit the West, as well as on access to Western diplomatic missions.

Censorship and lack of information for the general public continued to be a dominant feature in Warsaw Pact countries, although the record varied from country to country. Interference with Western broadcasts continued, especially by the Soviet Union which consistently jammed BBC Russian and Polish service broadcasts on shortwave. Availability of Western newspapers also continued to be limited.

Co-operation and Exchanges in the field

of Culture and Education

Bureaucratic and economic restraints continued to be the main impediments to active bilateral relations. On the whole existing agreements and projects were implemented in a satisfactory manner, although Romania reduced its cultural exchanges and narrowed its co-operation with Western nations in the educational sphere.