MOSCOW, JAN. 29 -- A leading American activist today identified four key areas in which the Soviet Union can improve its human rights record, including eliminating psychiatric abuses and allowing unofficial groups to monitor violations.
But Mikhail Gorbachev has achieved an overall improvement in Soviet adherence to international human rights standards, Robert L. Bernstein, chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee, said today.
His comments came at the end of the first visit here by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, which monitors compliance with the accords signed by 35 nations, including the Soviet Union, in Helsinki in 1975.
"The fact that we were allowed to come," Bernstein said of the group of human rights monitors from 13 countries, "is a good indication that things have changed for the better."
Bernstein and Jeri Laber, executive director of the U.S. Helsinki Watch group, said that increases in emigration of Jews and other minorities in recent months have added to the improved Soviet human rights image. But other incidents during the visit indicate that many violations are continuing, they said. While the group met with Soviet rights activist Lev Timofeyev in his apartment, for instance, security agents in a car outside listened in through a bugging device.
One of the most important human rights is the freedom to monitor human rights abuses, and the Soviet Union has "some ways to go" in this area, said Bernstein, who is chairman of Random House publishers.
Many independent or unofficial human rights groups have sprung up under Gorbachev's rule, but they have yet to be recognized or registered by Soviet authorities.
The burden of seeing that other groups are approved falls on the Soviet Human Rights Commission, Bernstein said, referring to a newly formed group of officials and academics chaired by commentator Fyodor Burlatsky.
"Since the Burlatsky commission is the only one that is government- approved," Bernstein said, "it is up to that commission to see that other groups are registered. If it doesn't do so, it will lose its credibility."
The abuse of psychiatry, which long has marred the Soviet human rights record, is still a potential problem, Bernstein said, even though the Soviet media have campaigned against committing political dissidents to psychiatric clinics and Soviet officials maintain that standards have been improved.
Many of the key Soviet officials who instigated the use of psychiatric clinics to punish dissidents are still in place under Gorbachev, including one institute director who met with the Helsinki federation.
"With people like that still around," Bernstein said, "it doesn't exactly inspire public confidence in the leadership's commitment to change. The burden of proof on this lies on the Soviet side."
A third unresolved issue is that of prisoners still in local jails, prisons or camps for political reasons, Laber said. Altogether, about 370 prisoners in this category are still jailed, she added, including 170 held for religious reasons.
Bernstein, Laber and other members of the international Helsinki group stressed in meetings this week that Soviet officials should concentrate on giving a general amnesty to all prisoners held for "anti-Soviet activities." More than 200 such prisoners already have been pardoned, they said.
The right of Soviet citizens to emigrate is the fourth problem yet to be fully resolved, Helsinki Federation members said.
While Soviet emigration rose in 1987, Moscow continues to deny visas to a few citizens it says have had access to state secrets, Bernstein said, even in cases where such access ended so long ago that the knowledge is no longer operative.
The group of Helsinki monitors is the first authoritative, independent human rights group to visit the Soviet Union since Gorbachev began his human rights reforms. The group met with Soviet officials and some dissidents and was given the chance to see Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, in practice.
While a group of Jews, refused the right to emigrate, demonstrated on a Moscow street yesterday, for instance, police stood by watching rather than making swift arrests, now customary for protests in the center of the city.
"The reason for the change in policy is because the Helsinki monitors were in town," one of the demonstrators said.