British Helsinki Human Rights Group

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The British Helsinki Human Rights Group is an Oxford-based non-governmental organization which monitors human rights in the 56 participating States of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Despite its name, the organisation is not affiliated to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. BHHRG has been critical of what it characterizes as Western interference in imposing democracy, and has supported the right of political independence from the west of a number of Communist and post-Communist regimes, as well as of a number of African dictators.

The group also uses the name OSCEwatch, indicating that it sees part of its mission as scrutinising the activities of the OSCE. The OSCEwatch and BHHRG websites are identical, and both websites openly refer to each other.

Membership and funding[edit]

The BHHRG was founded in 1992. It is run from the Oxford home of historian Professor Norman Stone, who has on occasion taken part in BHHRG activities, and was co-founded by his wife Christine Stone and fellow Oxford historian Mark Almond (who is also its chairman). Its trustees comprise Mark Almond, Anthony Daniels (who writes for the Daily Telegraph under the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple), John Laughland, Christine Stone and Mary Walsh. Almond, Daniels, Laughland and Stone are members of Britain's conservative intelligentsia and are regular contributors to British newspapers. Chad Nagle, an American lawyer who frequently contributes to the libertarian isolationist antiwar.com website, is also associated with the group. Noel Malcolm, a historian of early modern Britain and Europe who in the 1990s and early 2000s wrote a couple of mass market books on some aspects of Balkan history, appeared on a 1994 list of founders and spoke on its behalf as recently as 1999 but has apparently since left the group.

The BHHRG is not an "official" Helsinki Committee, as it is not affiliated with the Helsinki Committees' umbrella organisation, the International Helsinki Federation (IHF). The United Kingdom's representative in the IHF is the British Helsinki Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, established in 1976. This led to the BHHRG being mistakenly labelled the British Helsinki Committee, which prompted the British Helsinki Subcommittee to ask visitors to its website to

"PLEASE NOTE that the so-called British Helsinki Group is NOT affiliated with the IHF" .[1]

For its part, the BHHRG website says nothing on the subject.

The membership, management and funding of the BHHRG are somewhat obscure. These aspects do not appear to be discussed at all on its website, and the details of its trustees are given only in its legally required returns to the UK's Charity Commission. Its published accounts state that it received £417,332 in income between 1997–2003 and spent £449,086 in the same period. The organisation appears to have fallen on hard times recently, with its funding falling by nearly 99% after 2001. A possible reason is suggested by The Economist, which reports that

"the group lost almost all its supporters when it threw its weight behind people like Mr Milošević." [2]

The identity of its backers is also unclear. Still with them in 1999, Noel Malcolm explained that the group does not disclose its donors

"for obvious reason[s]: they [critics] would then start to campaign [against the group] with the financial backers." [3]

Only a few contributors are known by name. Material that the BHHRG issued in 1992 cited the Tory peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as donors. The BHHRG's "About Us" page states that it "does not receive funding from any government" but, according to a Foreign Office source, it did receive money from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for an election observer mission in 1995.[4] The source said funding was cut off because they found the group prejudiced, and partial and unreliable.[5]

It has received no funding from this source since then [6] and its advocates now say this proves the group is independent of governments.

Activities and achievements[edit]

The BHHRG website states as the main activities of the Group:

  • Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
  • Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
  • Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
  • Covering asylum and immigration issues

The BHHRG publishes reports from first-hand observers, concentrating particularly on election monitoring in central and eastern Europe, as well as publishing frequent unsigned commentaries (just like the Economist does) about ongoing events in the region. A common theme in many of its publications has been a critical view of Western "meddling in the internal affairs" of central and east European countries, notably the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Belarus.

Among its achievements the BHHRG's website claims:

  • 1992 – BHHRG was the first NGO to expose the human rights situation in the former Soviet republic of Georgia
  • 1993 – BHHRG exposure of fraud in the conduct of Russia's constitutional referendum was later admitted by the authorities.
  • 1996 – BHHRG report of election fraud in Armenia's presidential election was only acknowledged in 1998
  • 1998 – BHHRG predicted war in Kosovo in late February (after US envoy Robert Gelbard called the Kosovo Albanian separatist KLA a 'terrorist group')
  • 1999 – BHHRG was the first human rights group to visit the notorious Sangatte camp for asylum seekers in France
  • 2001 – BHHRG exposed the scandal of trafficking in women from Moldova

Most controversial aspects[edit]

The media connections of some of BHHRG members (especially John Laughland, a self-avowed conspiracy theorist and passionate advocate of "national sovereignty") has enabled it to propagate its views through a number of major newspapers in Britain and the US. Yet it did not really become famous until publicly denouncing what were widely perceived as democratic movements against authoritarian former Communist rulers.

Among actions critics of the BHHRG find ill-advised:

  • The BHHRG based part of a Latvia report on an interview with Alfreds Rubiks, the Communist who led the "National Salvation Committee" which would have co-ordinated repression[citation needed] had the coup against Gorbachev not failed in 1991.[7]
  • In March 1997, BHHRG member Anthony Daniels wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph: "The Media Back the Communists as Usual", in which he claimed that British journalists Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer, were "supporters of the former Stalinist regime of the late Enver Hoxha", the former communist dictator of Albania. They sued the paper for libel and settled out of court, with the Telegraph paying £10,000 to each and printing an apology.

Other statements by the BHHRG include:

John Laughland (who said that reports of mass graves in Iraq were exaggerated for political purposes) characterised some supporters of Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko as "neo-Nazis" and many of those backing him on the streets as "druggy skinheads from Lvov" whereas principal elements of the Jewish community supported Yushchenko.[dead link]

These last claims prompted the publication of well-documented articles "exposing" the BHHRG's exploits. The British weekly The Economist published "Yanukovich's friends: A human-rights group that defends dictators".[8] The daily Guardian published "PR man to Europe's nastiest regimes",[10] written by David Aaronovitch, to which John Laughland, the subject of the article, objected,[11] saying that it was "almost identical to" an article on a web site carrying "virulently antisemitic articles about the Jewish proclivity for rape, and about how the gas chambers at Auschwitz could not have existed". The controversy attracted many comments[dead link] on the internet.[dead link] The BHHRG's advocates reply by quoting Aleksandr Tsinker, "Head of the Observer Mission from the Institute for East European and CIS Nations" — an organization publicly known for nothing else — as saying that the Ukrainian election "was a free expression of the voters' will".[12]

Some of the BHHRG's statements have been favorably quoted by the isolationist right in the US, by opponents of US foreign policy, as well as governments regarded by Western authorities as authoritarian and criminal, such as that of Belarus.

Its critics have accused the BHHRG of taking a predetermined ideological line while observing elections. A British Foreign Office official quoted by Jeremy Druker said of them:

"It was very clear that they had their own agenda. They also monitored the elections in Georgia in 1995, and it would appear Almond and his people had made up their minds about the election report even before the election had taken place. People at the time were not happy with the way that they monitored the election… they didn't set out in an impartial spirit." [3]

The BHHRG is almost always more critical of social-democratic than nationalist rulers. The Economist characterises the BHHRG's opinion as "an intense dislike of liberal internationalism." Tom Palmer of the libertarian Cato Institute summarizes their position as being that

the mass movements to unseat [governments in eastern Europe] are nothing but stooges for the west, out to integrate those brave little authoritarian-socialist regimes into the 'New World Order,' privatize their state industries, and strip them of their assets.[13]

The BHHRG's commentaries indeed allege that Western governments and international organisations are seeking to implement a "New World Order" in central and eastern Europe. Its supporters claim that the organisation exposes matters which Western governments and biased international organisations such as the UN and the OSCE had rather remained unknown.

For instance, it claims it denounced human rights abuses committed in Georgia while these were ignored by the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Mark Almond, who has written on Balkan matters,[14] has criticised the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia on behalf of Albanian separatists in Kosovo as a "violation of international law" which resulted in "cultural genocide" against Serbs.[15] As self-proclaimed monitors of Human Rights in the countries concerned, they accuse other, intergovernmental organisations of being undemocratic, unelected, unaccountable, non-transparent meddlers in their internal affairs.

The OSCE has criticized the BHHRG for letting its journalists pose as impartial election monitors while publishing partisan polemics in newspapers, and for relying on short-term observer missions with a handful of people, an approach the OSCE abandoned as open to manipulation in 1996. (The OSCE now uses large-scale long-term missions of four to six weeks with dozens of experts and hundreds of observers.[16])[not in citation given] The BHHRG dismisses the OSCE's position as an attempt to stifle legitimate criticism and independent reporting.

Name issues[edit]

The BHHRG has also been denounced for failing to mention that it enjoys no recognition from the International Helsinki Federation, but has been quite at odds with other organizations with similar names, at least since 1996. The International Helsinki Federation (IHF) felt the need to issue a public statement[dead link] disclaiming any connection with the group. The Greek National Committee of the said Federation, which has been effective throughout the Balkans, also published a press release to denounce what it felt was the BHHRG's impostures, while others accused it of "nam[ing] itself so as to usurp the prestige of its elder".[17] Monika Horaková, a Roma member of the Czech parliament, said in an open letter condemning a BHHRG's report in 1999:

"I had thought that the Helsinki Group was a non-partisan body interested in exposing and helping to solve human rights abuses in the world. This report caused me to question my previously held beliefs. However, I have since learned that the BHHRG has no connection to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in Vienna. It is a disgrace that the BHHRG is using the good Helsinki name to mislead the public into thinking that their racist propaganda is somehow affiliated with the well-respected Helsinki Group." [18]

Supporters of the BHHRG reply that the name "Helsinki" is not trademarked anywhere and no official imprimatur is needed for any group wishing to monitor the implementation of the Helsinki Accords. They note that the European Commission established a "Helsinki Group on Women and Science" [19] in Helsinki in 1999, with no connection with the monitoring of Helsinki Accords.

Links and references[edit]

Articles by the BHHRG[edit]

Articles by others about the BHHRG[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1][dead link][dead link]
  2. ^ World News, Politics, Economics, Business & Finance. The Economist. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]
  3. ^ a b War of the Monitors – Transitions Online. Tol.cz. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  4. ^ [2][dead link][dead link]
  5. ^ Transitions Online. Tol.cz. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  6. ^ [3][dead link][dead link]
  7. ^ at. Atlanticblog.com. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]
  8. ^ a b Human rights: Yanukovich's friends. The Economist (2004-12-02). Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  9. ^ John Laughland: The Hague is not justice | Politics. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  10. ^ David Aaronovitch: PR man to Europe's nastiest regimes | Media. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  11. ^ Letters: In the middle of it all | From. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  12. ^ Представництво України при Європейському Союзі та Європейському співтоваристві з атомної енергії – Головна. Ukraine-eu.mfa.gov.ua. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]
  13. ^ [4][dead link][dead link]
  14. ^ Bosnian Institute – Selected Long Reviews. Bosnia.org.uk. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  15. ^ [5][dead link][dead link]
  16. ^ Letter of the week. New Statesman (2002-04-01). Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
  17. ^ Powered by: Doteasy – Bannerless Free Web Hosting and Email for Small Business and Individual. Ukar.org. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]
  18. ^ Public Interest Law – Global Network for Public Interest Law – PILnet. Pili.org (2010-12-01). Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]
  19. ^ The address you requested is obsolete. Ec.europa.eu (2009-02-23). Retrieved on 2011-03-13.[dead link]