We started as the VOICE OF THE REFUSENIKS successfully working for free emigration from the Soviet Union, democracy, human rights, and against anti-Semitism. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, we continued to pursue our goals and, as in the past, we continue to listen to those who live in these countries today. Asked by our friends in Ukraine to help pass the Magnitsky Bill, which targeted human rights violators in Russia in 2012, we created and led a coalition of religious freedom NGOs who lobbied the US Congress to pass the legislation. Today, the efforts from working for this legislation are being felt in our national inquiry into Russian interference in the US elections. Putin is still fuming at the Magnitsky Bill, indicating that our work is still effective.
For the last seven years, our office in Lviv, Ukraine, led by Meylakh Scheykhet, has been fighting against the local government who wished to build a hotel on top of the ancient Jewish cemeteries in Lviv. The UCSJ has brought multiple law suits in the Ukrainian courts to stop this desecration and enjoin the city of Lviv from destroying these Jewish heritage sites. This has been successful with the courts siding with the UCSJ. When the city still refused to abide by the court’s decision, the UCSJ lobbied the US Ambassador’s office in Kiev who has supported our efforts. It appears that the city of Lviv has finally agreed to let the Jewish community preserve the Jewish cemeteries.
Through its offices and partnerships in the former Soviet Union (FSU), UCSJ is able to give first-hand reports of human rights abuses as they occur in the region. Our direct fact finding is used by the U.S. Department of State and other organizations in their work.
UCSJ has partnered with over 55 other NGOs to report on and discuss incidents of human rights transgressions through the blog “Coalition Against Hate (Коалиция против ненависти).” The main purpose of the “Coalition Against Hate” is to unite the NGOs in their struggle against xenophobia, neo-Nazism,and extremism in the FSU.
UCSJ has also joined with other U.S. organizations concerned with international religious freedom to form an informal mutual alliance. This alliance lobbies the U.S. Congress, State Department, and the President for help in defending religious freedom around the world. The alliance also jointly petitions offending countries to cease their wrongful activities.
What the UCSJ’s doing uniquely different from other Jewish human rights organizations in the United States?
- Cooperates with donors, private and federal, and provides free depository to transfer funds to and support operations of the independent human rights organizations in countries of Former Soviet Union (FSU) with repressive regimes without costs to the recipients.
- Builds support for the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage and human rights in Ukraine and elsewhere.
- Builds partnership with non-Jewish NGOs to increase resilience of the human rights movement in countries of the FSU, including but not limited to encourage implementation of the economic sanctions and support human rights respect in that territory.
- Develops coalitional activities in fighting xenophobia, hatred, and intolerance, including participation in horizontal networking, such as International Religious Freedom Round-table and lobbying for new legislation that benefits NGOs in the FSU.