As we join together to celebrate the accomplishments of the Moscow Helsinki Group on its 30th anniversary, we also commit ourselves to working in common purpose for as long as it takes to realize human rights fully in Russia. It is an honor to be here.
As Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee and later Human Rights Watch, I learned from the courageous example of Yuri Orlov, Ludmilla Alexeeva, Elena Bonner, Sergey Kovalev, Lev Timofeev, and others whom I had the privilege of watching in action. The Moscow Helsinki Group inspired the Helsinki movement across Europe, stimulated the creation of human rights groups in the regions of the former Soviet Union, and became a beacon of hope for human rights activists worldwide.
Around the globe, MacArthur has supported over 4000 civil society groups in the environment, population, peace and security, urban renewal, social justice, and human rights. None has had more impact than the Moscow Helsinki Group.
The principles of human rights are now firmly enshrined norms that no government – large or small – can ignore. And while full realization takes time, this movement is irreversible – in Russia and around the world.
Russia has changed dramatically in a generation. I think back to 1990, when the annual meeting of the International Helsinki Foundation was held in Moscow for the first time. There were only a handful of Russian NGO’s then. We had a sense of pushing fragile boundaries while the prospect of a democratic transition was uncertain.
Today, we gather in a different Russia. We know that it has been a worrisome year, with some democratic gains put at risk. But this country has come too far to turn back. And the spirit in this hall is strong, determined, and hopeful about the future.
Now, there are hundreds of human rights organizations forming a robust network across Russia's regions, from Rostov to Perm, from Novgorod to Vladivostok. They are energized by a younger generation of activists, working with reform-minded government officials, who understand that the state's legitimacy depends on right, not might.
The new generation includes groups like Public Verdict here in Moscow, the Kazan Human Rights Center, and the Nizhnii Novgorod Committee Against Torture, the Youth Human Rights Movement in Voronezh, Youth Memorial in Perm – and many other committed and forward looking groups represented by delegates in this room.
Let us imagine what Russia will look like on the 50th anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group. I believe that the core values of human rights will be secure, and that the vision of the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group will be fulfilled – a Russia that respects the rights of its people and sets a standard for other nations. But achieving that vision will require continued courageous and creative hard work by all of us here.