Arguing that individual right are "too important to be left to governments alone," a group of prominent Americans have formed a committee to monitor U.S. compliance with human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki agreement.
The leader of the group, Robert L. Berstein of Random House, said in an interview that the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee is going to cooperate with similar private organizations established in other countries.
"One of the great things about the Helsinki accord is that it is for the citizens," he said. "And the advancement of international harmony and security is linked to the promotion of fundamental rights."
The Helsinki accord on European security and cooperation was signed by the leaders of the United States, Canada and 33 European countries. Among other things it pledges the signatories to protect "human rights and fundamental freedoms" in their countries.
The American committee, Bernstein said, took its name from the Helsinki Watch Committee formed in Moscow by a group of Soviet intellectuals. The Moscow committee has drawn public attention to Soviet violations of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki pact.
"We have as good a system of government as any country and yet we have certain shortcomings," said Orville Schell, former president of the New York Bar Association and vice chairman of the watch committee. "You can't complain about other countries unless you put your own house in order."
Other persons on the committee include the presidents of the University of Chicago, MIT. New York University and the University of California; authors Arthur Miller and Robert Penn Warren; former U.N. ambassador Arthur Goldberg, who represented the United States at the Belgrade conference on the Helsinki accord; and prominent labor and civic leaders.
Berstein said that the committee plans to work closely with the Mexican-American League. American Civil Liberties Union and the legal department of the NAACP. He said that one of the group's objectives is to bring into sharper focus human rights questions to be discussed at the next followup conference to be held in Madrid next year.
The Ford Foundation has extended a $400,000 grant to the group to cover expenses over the next two years.