Captive Nations Week Summit 2021

On July 20, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation hosted our annual Captive Nations Week Summit, viewed by an in person and online audience of over 3,700 people who heard noted speakers and personal testimonies of communist captive nations survivors.. This year’s Summit focused on the role a free press, dissidents, and the international community play in advocating for human rights in captive nations.

The Summit provided an opportunity for policymakers and human rights advocates to hear first-hand to from witnesses of the captive nations of China, Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, as well as Hong Kong, and from experts on the Czech Republic,Soviet Union, and Ukraine.

This year, VOC honored the San Isidro Movement with its Dissident Human Rights Award. The Movement, formed in 2018 by a group of Cuban artists, journalists, and academics who staged major protests against the communist government’s increased control and sweeping censorship of artistic expression, has now become a channel for Cuban dissidents within and outside the Caribbean nation.

Featured participants included Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Victims of Communism Caucus member Representative María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), U.S. Department of State Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lisa Peterson, VOC Trustee Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Charter77 signatory Ambassador Martin Palouš, Cuban freedom fighter Rosa María Payá, and Cuban rapper and leader of the San Isidro Movement Maykel Castillo a.k.a. “Osorbo.”


8:30 a.m.

9:00 a.m.
Welcome by Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, President and CEO, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Remarks by Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Trustee & Harvard University’s JFK Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Senior Fellow in the “Future of Diplomacy Project”

Remarks by Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State

Remarks by Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, Chairman, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

9:30 a.m.
Panel Discussion: Freedom of the Press vs. State Control
The fourth estate has played a vital role in protecting democracy, but recently states have worked to both repress and coopt the news. In many places around the world journalists face threats to their safety simply for telling the truth. At the same time, authoritarians are building a new, perverse kind of propaganda apparatus that is meant to resemble traditional news media. This panel will explore how the position of the press greatly affects the degree to which a captive nation is free.

  • Dr. Daniel Garrett, author, photographer, political scientist, and visual sociologist
  • Myroslava Gongadze, Ukrainian journalist and political activist
  • Brian Whitmore, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center
  • Milda Mataciunaite-Boyce, Director of Fellowship Programs, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (moderator)

10:30 a.m.
Panel Discussion: The Role of Dissidents in Gaining Freedom
Throughout history dissidents have played a central role in propelling captive nations toward freedom. It is because of their sacrifices that millions of people are able to embrace freedom in nations that used to toil under the boot of communism. Today, many dissidents around the world continue to bear the burden of advancing freedom for their people. This panel will explore the role dissidents have played and continue to play in driving captive nations toward freedom. 

  • Ambassador Martin Palouš, Director, Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University
  • Dr. Elizabeth Spalding, Senior Fellow, Pepperdine University School of Public Policy & Vice Chairman, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
  • John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba
  • Dr. Jianli Yang, Founder and President, Citizen Power Initiatives for China
  • Kristina Olney, Director of Government Relations, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (moderator)

11:30 a.m.
Panel Discussion: Human Rights and the International Community
The U.S. and its allies have the power and obligation to uphold the international human rights regime. The past decades have seen the slow expansion of human rights across the globe thanks to the efforts of freedom-loving countries, however the rise of authoritarian powers may threaten to roll back these gains. This panel will explore the role the international community plays in affecting the human rights of people of captive nations. 

  • Rushan Abbas, Founder and Director, Campaign for Uyghurs
  • Dr. Suzanne Scholte, President, Defense Forum Foundation
  • David Smolansky, Former mayor of El Hatillo municipality in Caracas, Venezuela
  • Dr. Carlos Ponce, Senior Fellow & Director of Latin American Programs, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (moderator)

12:30 pm
Dissident Human Rights Award Ceremony
Awarded to the San Isidro Movement
Presented by Dr. Lee Edwards,
Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Accepted by Maykel Castillo a.k.a. “Osorbo” via smuggled audio recording out of Cuban prison

Remarks by Representative María Elvira Salazar (R-FL)

Remarks by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Remarks by Rosa María Payá, Promoter, Cuba Decide

1:00 p.m.
Event Concludes

All speaker biographies and further information is available here.

Event Recording

Watch the 2021 Captive Nations Week Summit here.