We are an organisation established in 1989 by the members of the Helsinki Committee in Poland.
Our mission is - the development of the human liberties and rights culture, both domestically and abroad.
Since 2007 we have Consultative Status with the United Nation's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The Helsinki Committee in Poland
The team which currently manages the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is one of the few groups that were able to switch from underground activity to functioning openly under democratic conditions. The members of the Helsinki Committee in Poland established the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
The Helsinki Committee in Poland was founded by a group of intellectuals in 1982, during the period of martial law. It was an underground organisation, which established a network of collaborators throughout the entire country. In 1983, the Committee prepared its first report, “Poland during the period of martial law”. This thousand page document consisted of two volumes. Volume one compared Polish law, including the regulation of martial law, to accepted international standards and the legal systems of countries with long-term democratic traditions. Volume two described the methods used by the Polish authorities when it came to executing the law. The report was smuggled into the West, translated into French and English, and presented to government delegations participating in the Madrid Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. According to many political scientists, the report significantly influenced the course of the Conference. In the following years, such reports were prepared annually. The Helsinki Committee also prepared specific reports at the request of the International Labour Organisation or the UN Human Rights Committee, in situations when the Polish government was about to present its own report concerning the implementation of the resolutions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to those organisations.
As a consequence of the Committee’s underground activity, the credibility of its reports was sometimes questioned. Lech Wałęsa certified the authenticity of the first reports. Later, when the Committee made a reputation for itself and gained the respect of the West, these kinds of guarantees were no longer necessary. In early 1989, the Committee published an incomplete list of its members, before gradually moving towards fully open activity. Following the partly free elections in June 1989, exactly half of the Committee’s members were elected to the Polish Parliament, and some even served in the first non-communist government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. It was decided then, that these people would be suspended as Committee members, because a member of parliament, or of the government, would be unable to simultaneously monitor adherence to human rights. This principle applies until this day.
At the end of 1989, the members of the Helsinki Committee made a voluntary contribution and founded the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights with an initial capital investment of only 200 US dollars. The Foundation, which acts more as a scientific institute active in the field of human rights, does not quite match the customary Western meaning of this concept. At the time of the Foundation’s establishment, Polish law did not allow for the creation of independent institutes of this sort; so it was decided that by forming a foundation, which was permitted by law, the objectives set by the Committee’s members could best be met.
Currently, the Helsinki Committee in Poland, which meets during monthly assemblies, fulfils the role of the Programme Council of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and publishes its opinions concerning national affairs of key importance to human rights.