In 1991, Senator Steve Symms and Representative Dana Rohrabacher introduced concurring resolutions in the United States Congress urging the construction of "an International Memorial to the Victims of Communism at an appropriate location within the boundaries of the District of Columbia and for the appointment of a commission to oversee the design, construction and all other pertinent details of the memorial."
In 1993, Rohrabacher and Senator Jesse Helms sponsored amendments to The Friendship Act which authorized such construction. The Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 17, 1993. The Act cited "the deaths of over 100,000,000 victims in an unprecedented imperial holocaust," and resolved that "the sacrifices of these victims should be permanently memorialized so that never again will nations and peoples allow so evil a tyranny to terrorize the world."
According to Title IX, Section 905 of Public Law 103-199, an independent organization was to be established to construct, maintain and operate the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as to collect the contributions for the establishment of the memorial and to encourage the participation of all groups suffered under communism.
In 2007, the foundation completed the Victims of Communism Memorial, which was dedicated by President George W. Bush.
In 2016, the foundation planned human rights protests during President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba. During Obama's visit, the foundation published a list of 51 "prisoners of conscience" that it aimed to have released by Raúl Castro.
The memorial was dedicated on June 12, 2007 — the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech in Berlin. The unveiling of the statue in Washington DC earned international press attention.
The land was a gift of the US Parks Service, and the remaining cost, over $1 million, was raised from private sources. Sculpted by Thomas Marsh, it is a 10-foot bronze replica of the Papier-mâché Goddess of Democracy statue made by student democracy protesters leading up to the Tiananmenn Square Massacre in 1989.
The foundation aims to build a museum in Washington, D.C. The foundation is working on a proposed budget for a museum near the National Mall, and has received a $1 million grant toward the museum from the government of Hungary. Plans for the museum include exhibit space, an auditorium, archives, and resident scholars.
The Foundation annually presents its Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom at an event which honors opponents of communism, and has been used to raise funds for the construction of the memorial. Past recipients include Myroslav Marynovych, Chen Guangcheng, Tom Lantos, Pope John Paul II, Vaclav Havel, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, Elena Bonner, William F. Buckley, Jr., Guillermo Fariñas, Lane Kirkland, Armando Valladares, János Horváth, Lech Wałęsa, Anna Walentynowicz, National Endowment for Democracy, and Henry "Scoop" Jackson.
In 2015, the foundation released a biopic video series called Witness Project, featuring interviews with witnesses of communism.
The chairman is Lee Edwards. Its chairman emeritus was Lev Dobriansky (deceased). The national advisory council includes Dennis DeConcini, Paul Hollander, Richard Pipes, John K. Singlaub, John Earl Haynes, and George Weigel. Former (deceased) members include Robert Conquest, Rudolph Rummel, and Jack Kemp.
The international advisory council includes Sali Berisha, Vladimir Bukovsky, Emil Constantinescu, Mart Laar, Vytautas Landsbergis, Guntis Ulmanis, Armando Valladares, and Lech Walesa. Former members include Yelena Bonner, Brian Crozier, Árpád Göncz, and Václav Havel.
After the dedication of the foundation's Victims of Communism Memorial, the Chinese Communist Party's Foreign Ministry Spokesman expressed opposition towards the United States and suggested that the U.S. "Stop interfering in other countries domestic affairs."
In 2016, the foundation received criticism from the Chinese Foreign Ministry for awarding Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur democracy activist from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an award for "his dedicated human rights advocacy." Chinese officials issued a démarche and a statement referring to Isa as a terrorist, a claim that remained unsupported.