Helsinki Accords

Charter 77

Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted

Civic Forum



Czechoslovakian Human Rights Movements/Documents

Helsinki Accords:

The Helsinki Accords (a.k.a. the Helsinki Final Act) is a major diplomatic agreement set and agreed upon in Helsinki, Finland on August 1st, 1975 at the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) by 35 nations, including the then communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. The documents drawn by the CSCE as a whole served as an attempt to preserve peace, security, justice and cooperation in post World War II Europe, especially as a measure to ease tensions between the Soviet and Western blocs. Most importantly, the final act in all these guaranteed basic human rights such as:

"The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction to race, sex, language, or religion.

"They will promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and other rights and freedoms, all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development.

"Within this framework the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.

"The participating States on whose territory national minorities exist will respect the right of persons belonging to such minorities to equality before the law, will afford them the full opportunity for the actual enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and will, in this manner protect their legitimate interest in this sphere."

The violation of some of these fundamentals by the repressive communist government of Czechoslovakia prompted protest, as well as the drawing and circulation of the manifesto document Charter 77 there from 1977, which cited the Helsinki Accords in criticizing and addressing oppression and injustice in the country.

*Full Document:

Charter 77:

Petition created by Czechoslovakian writers and intellectuals in 1977 in opposition to the normalization agenda proposed and carried out by the communist government in Czechoslovakia, seeking "the respect for human and civil rights in [Czechoslovakia] and throughout the world." It addressed the oppression, and human rights violations of the said regime, for despite what was stated in the Czechoslovakian Constitution, the Register of Laws No. 120 published in October 13, 1976 by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed on behalf of the republic in 1968, and reiterated by the final act of the Helsinki Accords of 1975 which came into force on March 23, 1976, none of the promises of increased rights had been carried out by the state. Originally published in a West German Newspaper in 1977, it was endorsed by two hundred and three signers on January 1st of that year, including prominent figures such as Vaclav Havel, Jan Patocka, and former communist foreign minister Jiri Hajek, all three who were specifically named spokespersons of the charter. The number of signers rose to one thousand two hundred people in the mid-1980's, and to about two thousand by the near collapse of 1989. Soon after it was drawn, it was translated into many major languages, published in foreign newspapers around Europe, and broadcast throughout the Western part by radio stations. On the whole, most signers were apolitical, common Czechoslovakian citizens who acted alone, due to a law banning any organized opposition.

In retaliation, the government harshly persecuted, ostracized and isolated the dissidents who had signed the Charter 77. Many, including Havel himself, were arrested and jailed indiscriminately for long periods of time, interrogated (as Patocka was), followed, put on trial or held in detention by the police, or sentenced to hard labor. Others were dismissed from their current jobs and forced to work at low-paying jobs, denied educational opportunities for their children, exiled, had their driver's license suspended, or lost their citizenship. All this was on the grounds that the document was "antistate, antisocialist, and demagogic, abusive." Some of those who signed were maligned as "traitors and renegades", "loyal servant and agent of imperialism," "bankrupt politician" and "international adventurer."
These reactions by the government against signers eventually resulted in the formation of the support group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS) in April of 1978.

Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted

One of whose six cofounders was Vaclav Havel, VONS was a support group created in reaction to the persecution of dissident Charter 77 signers by the Czechoslovakian government, then a communist regime, in April 1978. It made known the fate of various signers, and document human rights violations by the government and persecution. Up to 1984, over 400 hundred cases were collected.

Civic Forum (CF):

Coalition of communist opposition groups, one of whose leaders was Vaclav Havel, in November of 1989, for the promotion of democratic change in Czechoslovakia before the toppling of the communist regime after the Velvet Revolution, which it partly orchestrated along with the Slovak group, Public Against Violence. Post-revolution, some of its members were freely elected to office for the new republic in May 1990, e.g. Havel as the first president. It financially supported the founding of the Civic Forum Foundation (a separate organization) in May 1990. This new group which has borrowed the name of the former pursues strictly non-political, non-profit charitable projects in Czechoslovakia seeking the rejuvenation of the ideals of the original Civic Forum, as well as, more recently, the revival and preservation of the culture heritage of the Czech republic.