Today’s Guardian column by David Aaronovitch begins connecting the dots on John Laughland and the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.

The BHHRG has been very active this week defending the Ukrainian election result, accusing Western powers of meddling there and smearing Yushchenko supporters to neo-Nazis.

Running this story hasn’t done the Guardian many favours in the blogosphere — at least the part I regularly inhabit.

Aaronovich writes:

Founded in 1992, the BHHRG sends observers to elections and writes reports which … almost invariably dispute the accounts given by better known human rights organisations. …

So what on earth is going on here? I know nothing about BHHRG’s finances, but the ideological trail is fascinating. Take the co-founder of the group, Christine Stone. She was a lawyer before she helped set up BHHRG. Since then she has “written for a number of publications including the Spectator and Wall Street Journal on eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union”.

I know at least one thing about the BHHRG’ finances. On 29 January 1998, the Guardian reported that BHHRG had recieved money from the Thatcher Foundation. The former Prime Minister’s foundation also supports the eurosceptic Europe Foundation, which lists Laughland as its “European Director”.

Also worth reading is this FreeDictionary article:

Despite its name, the BHHRG is not an official Helsinki Committee Helsinki Committees for Human Rights exist in many European countries (the OSCE region) as volunteer, non-profit organizations devoted to human rights and presumably named after the Helsinki Accords. They are organized into the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights that is currently based in Vienna.

The Helsinki Committees began as Helsinki Watch groups. The United Kingdom’s official Helsinki Committee is the British Helsinki Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group. This apparently deliberate confusion has prompted the International Helsinki Federation to publicly disclaim any connection with the BHHRG.

The BHHRG has a policy of only publishing reports from first-hand observers, concentrating particularly on election monitoring in the OSCE countries. It has been criticised by other human rights activists and genuine Helsinki Committees for publishing views which are markedly at odds with the generally accepted picture of affairs in Europe. …

… A common theme in many of its reports has been a critical view of perceived Western “meddling in the internal affairs” of central and east European countries

They’re not kidding about the human rights revisionism! A quick Lexis-Nexis search finds Laughland defending President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus (Guardian, 22 November 2002, p24), penning a Spectator profile of French national Front leader Jean Marie Le Pen that concludes that he is not a racist (Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2002, p8), a Daily Mail article describing “Le Pen’s triumphant performance in the first round of the French presidential election” (22 April 2004), an analysis of OSCE’s double standards with regards to Zimbabwe’s 2002 election (Guardian, 18 March 2002, p24).

And that excludes a regular slot denouncing the European Union in the Mail on Sunday.

Update: I now see that I should have read Dan Drezner and Crooked Timber before re-inventing the wheel.