International Federation for Human Rights

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme - History


-1940, France: because of their positions against Nazism, the FIDH, the LDH and the Italian, German and Spanish sections in exile are shut down and their offices are closed. Many members are deported by the occupying forces. The organisation’s archives, seized by the German police then the Soviets when the Nazi regimes falls in Berlin in 1945, will only be returned to Paris by Moscow in 2000. As for the LDH president Victor Basch, a Jew and a freemason of Hungarian descent, he will be killed with his wife by Vichy’s regime’s militia on the 10th of January 1944. Out of 40 members of the LDH’s central committee in 1939, only 24 will survive after the war.
-1942, United States: Roger Nash Baldwin launches the International League for the Rights of Man and for New Democracy, which becomes the ILHR (International League for Human Rights) in March 1976. A founder of the National Civil Liberties Bureau in 1917, which took the name of ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in 1919, Roger Nash Baldwin models the new group upon the LDH, whose meeting of the Central Committee he had observed in Paris in 1927. After France was invaded by Germany in 1940, he facilitated the exile of FIDH members to the United States. These provide the nucleus of the International League for the Rights of Man. Amongst them are Henri Bonnet, a French ambassador to the United States, Max Beer, a Jewish journalist from Germany, Charles Malik, the former Foreign Minister of Lebanon and future chair of the early UN Commission on Human Rights, and Henri Laugier, the Cultural Affairs director of Charles de Gaulle’s wartime government in London and the organiser of the escape of French scientists from Occupied France.
-1943-1946, France: in exile in Algiers, the LDH sets up a provisional central committee with followers of Charles de Gaulle (René Cassin and Henri Laugier), members of the Radical Party (Pierre Cot) and Socialists (Félix Gouin). When the Germans leave France and the war is over, the communists propose again to merge it with the "Red Relief" (the Secours populaire de France) but the organisation refuses as in 1936. Thanks to an interest-free loan from the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in 1945, the League can eventually resume its lobbying activities and influence the new Constitution of the Fourth Republic. For instance, it advocates the suppression of public subsidies to private schools, especially religious ones, and to do so, it takes part in the creation of a “national cartel” with the CGT, the SFIO, the Communist Party, the Socialist Radicals and the Education League (an organisation which often share the same members as the LDH). While the murderer of Victor Basch, Joseph Lécussan, is sentenced to death and executed in 1946, Paul Langevin, the president of the LDH since 1944, is replaced by Doctor Sicard de Plauzolles, who will keep this position until 1953. As the leader of the “French Society of Health and Moral Prophylaxis”, Sicard de Plauzolles is one of those “hygienist” doctors who claim that “the physical and intellectual lower status” of the poor is hereditary! Close to the views of the Alexis Carrel Foundation, which recommends the therapeutic sterilization of the “dangerous classes” in order to protect the elite, Sicard de Plauzolles is in favour of a kind of social eugenics aimed at keeping the “civilized nations” free from the risks of contagion from the proletariat. Such positions are indicative of the anachronism of an organisation still composed of many freemasons and elders of the French Third Republic. A victim of the Communist Party’s success and the marginalization of the secular pro-Dreyfus elite that used to be in government before the war, the LDH can hardly attract young militants. The proportion of elected representatives and professional politicians in the central committee of the LDH also falls from 47% in 1947 to 28% in 1974. As it looses members, the organisation’s income falls down, with a deficit of 600,000 French Francs in 1947, 2,500,000 in 1950, 2,000,000 in 1951 and 1,350,000 in 1953. Almost bankrupted, the LDH withdraws into itself, stops trying to educate the population through conferences in provincial towns, and fails to reconstitute a parliamentary group; meanwhile, its central committee concentrates all the power, there are few internal debates and resolutions are voted unanimously.
-1947, Madagascar: the French LDH informs against the colonial repression of a revolt that makes tens of thousands of casualties. In October 1948, it then participates with the Communist Party and the "Red Relief" (the Secours populaire de France) to the creation of a committee which aims to review the mock trials of two Malagasy Members of Parliament, Joseph Ravoähangy and Joseph Raseta, who were condemned to jail and who are liberated in 1956.
-31st of October 1948, France: the FIDH is reconstituted with the Portuguese, Greek and Romanian sections in exile Paris, but without the leagues from other Eastern countries, closed during the war and never reopened because of the Soviet totalitarianism. Through René Cassin, the Federation takes part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on the 10th of December of 1948. René Cassin (1887-1976) was the legal advisor of the “Free France” with general Charles de Gaulle in exile in London after 1940, and the vice president of the Conseil d’Etat (the French Administrative Supreme Court) between 1944 and 1960. He will also chair the European court of human rights between 1965 and 1968; that same year he will receive the Nobel Peace prize.
-1949, United States: Roger Nash Baldwin, who just left ACLU, leads the International League for the Rights of Man but does not attempt to unify it with the reborn FIDH. The two organisations are going to develop separately. The inability of the FIDH to attract the ILHR shows the new leadership of the United States regarding human rights, as opposed to the passed glory of a war-torn country on the French side. Yet the two bear some resemblance. Both maintain an international network of correspondents or affiliates, and their presidents in 1977, Daniel Mayer and Jerome Shestack, think about launching a common confederation. Moreover, the two organisations rely on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that they do not defend political rights only, but also social, cultural and economic ones. Opposed to the death penalty, the ILHR nonetheless has a more individual understanding of human rights. Thus it does not promote self-determination as a collective right and will not support the struggle of people’s movements like the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) in the territories occupied by Israel. Regarding economic rights, it will inform against famine in East-Timor only because this former Portuguese colony will be invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Another difference with the FIDH is that the ILHR is more closely involved in the anti-colonial protest. Very soon, for instance, it condemns South Africa because of its occupation of Namibia, and not because of racial segregation. In 1949, the ILHR appoints an Anglican Reverend from Johannesburg, Michael Scott, to testify about Namibia at the UN and uses considerable energy with the American authorities to bring him to New York since he was alleged earlier to have had  Communist associations (in 1966, the General Assembly will formally terminate the South African mandate on the former German colony, which will become independent officially in 1981 and effectively in 1991). In the same way, the ILHR will support self-determination for East Timor, Western Sahara, Tahiti and the American Trust on Pacific Islands.