The Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS) is a human rights organization composed of scientists, engineers, and scholars who promote academic and personal freedom for their colleagues worldwide. The Committee supports the rights of scientists to collaborate on research and share data, travel to conferences and meetings, and emigrate if they choose. More broadly, CCS advocates human treatment of all individuals and government compliance with human rights agreements.
The group began in 1972 as an ad hoc committee of scientists based in New York City and Washington DC. It originally concentrated on helping Soviet colleagues, especially refusenik scientists. The term refusenik refers to citizens of the USSR who applied to leave the country and were denied exit visas. Most refusenik scientists were refused on the grounds of possessing "state secrets" that they might share with foreigners. They often lost their jobs at universities and research facilities and were barred from attending scientific conferences. Some were stripped of academic titles, forced to work in labor camps, or charged with parasitism when they could not find work. Persecution was especially harsh for Jewish scientists, who often faced anti-Semitism in addition to the refusenik stigma.
The Committee argued that any secrets these scientists might possess were too insignificant and outdated to be of any threat to security and sent dozens of letters asking the country to change its emigration procedures. On a more immediate level, CCS members translated and published papers for refusenik scientists, subsidized subscriptions to scholarly publications, and visited the USSR under the guise of tourists to deliver books and offer moral support. In 1988, CCS sponsored the Frontiers of Science Conference in Moscow. Held in the private apartments of refuseniks, the conference allowed scientists to present their research at a time when they were barred from most international meetings.
Although Eastern Europe was a major focus at first, CCS quickly expanded its reach and has monitored human rights violations in over seventy-five countries, protesting travel restrictions on Israeli scientists, the imprisonment of professors in China, and violence against students in Ethiopia, among many others. The Committee often takes action by writing letters of protest directly to government officials and by sending alerts and contact information to other scientists, encouraging them to do the same. The group also contacts members of the United States Congress and the Executive Branch who can address human rights issues during diplomatic meetings. In the 1970s, CCS sent representatives to meetings of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE; also known as the Helsinki Commission), which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. The Committee reported to CSCE with information about the hardships faced by scientists, particularly refuseniks. The group may follow a case for years, repeatedly reminding officials of the violations in their country in the belief that international pressure will lead to change. There have been many successes, particularly in freeing scientists from prisons and acquiring exit visas.
The Committee also raises awareness among the scientific community by attending conferences, circulating petitions, and writing press releases. It helps persecuted scientists on an individual level when possible through calls, visits, and financial help. The Committee manages two grant programs; the Marc Kac Memorial Fund, which defrays the costs of membership in the American Physical Society for scientists in Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine, and the Program for Refugee Scientists, which assists recent immigrants to the U.S. by providing financial support and aid in job searches.