International Federation for Human Rights

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


-1970, United States: while the FIDH hardly develops and has little international impact, its American equivalent, the ILHR, experiences a new phase of growth. Its budget, which was only $15,000 in 1967, reaches $40,000 in 1968 thanks to a sizable bequest which helps to hire its first full-time Executive Director. Yet the financial resources of the organisation are limited: the ILHR does not accept funding from governments and fails to get a tax exempt status from 1957 until 1977 because the American authorities claim it is not a humanitarian outfit but a political lobby at the UN (incidentally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also confuses the League’s director Roberta Cohen with someone with the same name who has engaged in radical leftist activities). As for membership dues, they are low since the ILHR is quite elitist; at the most, membership stands at 2,000. It is thanks to foundations funding that the ILHR’s income goes from $50,000 in 1975 to $200,000 around 1985.
-From 1971, Russia: the FIDH leads no investigation on the Gulag and human rights violations beyond the Iron Curtain. It protests against the imprisonment of Andrei Sakharov in 1973 and the use of psychiatric hospitals to jail opponents in 1978. But its American equivalent, the ILHR, is much more active on the issue. A pioneer in the West, it takes the unprecedented step of adopting in June 1971 the Moscow Human Rights Committee, which was founded in November 1970 by scientists Andrei Sakharov, Valery Chalidze and Andrei Tverdokhlebov. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, Andrei Sakharov is named Honorary Vice-President of the League in 1976 but is arrested by the Soviets and kept in total isolation in Gorki, a closed city. The ILHR considers his situation as fitting the category that is applied to the military dictatorships in their repression of opponents in Latin America. So in 1984, it uses the UN Working Group on Forced and Involuntary Disappearances to ask for Andrei Sakharov’s release. After the Final Helsinki Act of 1st August 1975, which opens the way for a détente between Moscow and Washington, the ILHR also starts a family reunification programme for Eastern European political refugees in the West. Because it focuses on the mistreatment of Soviet dissidents, the League is nonetheless accused of being a weapon in the US propaganda war against the USSR, and of diverting public concern from human rights violations in countries that are allied to Washington. Undoubtedly the ILHR is close to the American administration. Its Executive Director, Roberta Cohen, becomes the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in 1978; its President, Jerome Shestack, is the US representative at the UN Commission for Human Rights. Yet the organisation does not investigate communist countries only. In 1972, it examines the conduct of British military authorities in the “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Londonderry in Northern Ireland; in 1973, it seeks the release of seven lawyers arrested by the junta in Greece; in 1974, it expresses major concern about Paraguay and South Korea; the following year, it produces an elaborate document on India and chastises its emergency proclamation of June 1975; in 1976, again, it sends a fact-finding mission in Chile. But some positions firmly put the ILHR on the American side. Thus the League almost affiliates Freedom House, a very conservative and anticommunist organisation. Moreover, it is on the Israeli side in 1975 when it disapproves the UN resolution on Zionism as a racist ideology. Last but not least, it publishes in 1986 a controversial report on human rights violations in Nicaragua, where the Ronald Reagan Administration fights the Sandinistas.
-1972-1974, France: on the 9th of July 1972, as the bill against racial discrimination is passed, the LDH is able to bring actions as a civil plaintiff. The organisation’s lobbying action makes it develop its communication policy with the media. In 1974, the central committee of the LDH starts publishing a newsletter, Hommes et libertés (“Men and Liberties”).
-November 1975, France: during its 58th congress, the LDH changes the third article of its Constitution in order to take political stances during parliamentary or presidential elections in France. As a 75 year-old age limit is imposed, the central committee of the LDH is renewed and made younger; besides, the reform of its election system allows candidates to run freely and promotes the provincial leaguers by contrast with the Parisian ones. While Amnesty international becomes famous, Daniel Mayer reactivates the FIDH, which improved its consultative status at the UN in 1968, and which will have him as a president from 1977 until 1982. The LDH also gets global and sends many observers to political trials abroad, often in partnership with the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, an organisation which at the time of its creation in 1946 was presided over by René Cassin until he resigned because of the organisation’s alignment with the USSR.
-1976-1978, France: in August 1976, a so-called commando “Peiper” claims responsibility for a terrorist attack on the head office of the LDH, in Paris. Indeed the positions of the organisation against death penalty and for the freedom of contraception and abortion provoke a strong opposition from far-right-wing militants. Another issue is that of the military service. In June 1978, the LDH launches a collective body, Droits et Libertés dans l’institution militaire (“Rights and Liberties in the Military”), along with admiral Antoine Sanguinetti, who was fired because he had publicly talked about social problems in the army. The LDH thus defends Trotskyite militants who want to create soldiers committees during their national service. The organisation also informs against the restrictions of asylum rights since the adoption, in November 1976, of an Anti-terrorist European Convention which makes extradition procedures easier. On the 16th of November 1977, for instance, the LDH mobilizes its supporters against the deportation to West Germany of Klaus Croissant, arrested in Paris on the 30th of September, and accused of collusion with the terrorist leader of the Fraction Red Army, Andreas Baader, whose lawyer he was.
-From 1977, Tunisia: created in 1976 and a member of the FIDH, the LTDH (Tunisian League of human rights), one of the first human rights organisation on the continent, is legalised in May 1977. Since there is no official opposition party, it can present itself as politically independent and becomes a melting-pot for all causes. Of course, the destitution of President Habib Bourguiba in November 1987 changes the situation. Two founding members of the LTDH, Mohamed Charfi and Saeddine Zmerli, are appointed to the cabinet of general Zine el-Abidine ben Ali. Even if they later go back to the opposition, their move splits the organisation, whose Islamic-oriented wing, persecuted by the government, leaves the League and begins to act illegally. Soon the new regime wants to suppress criticism by putting itself in charge of the defence of human rights. It starts to support a rival organisation, the ADDHLP (Association for the defence of human rights and civil liberties), led by a former minister of home affairs and officially launched on May 5, 1988. Thanks to a bill tailored for that purpose in 1992, the party in power, the RCD (Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique), then tries to impose its militants in the LTDH, which dissolves itself. Refounded in 1994 with a much more modest agenda, the organisation has to conform closely with the government and its vice president, Khemais Ksila, is put in jail from 1997 to 1999. In October 2000, an action before a court also begins for flaw during the fifth congress of the LTDH, which claims to have 4,000 members and whose executive committee does not have any official from the regime. Despite strong support by student movements, the general union of Tunisian workers and French personalities like historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, the headquarters of the organisation are given to a legal administrator from November 2000 to June 2001. In September 2005 and May 2006, again, the RCD forbids the sixth congress of the LTDH, which is chaired by a lawyer, Mokhtar Trifi. As a consequence, the League’s general secretary, Ayachi Hammami, goes on hunger strike in October 2005 to protest against violations of freedom of expression.
-1978, United States: within the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) the FIDH is accused by the Argentine government of having been represented in the Human Rights Commission by the leader of the women branch of terrorist movement Montonero, a former Uruguayan senator who has been in prison for two years and who is suspected to co-ordinate from Paris revolutionary actions throughout South America. The accusations made by the military dictatorship in Argentina and which aim to destabilise human rights organisations, don’t come to anything and the FIDH keeps its consultant status with the ECOSOC.
-From 1979, Morocco: a wing of the USFP (Union socialiste des forces populaires), the AMDH (Association marocaine des droits de l’homme), a future member of the FIDH, is founded on June 24, 1979. Because it aims to publicise human rights violations abroad, it is quite different from its rival organisation, the LMDDH (Ligue marocaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme), which was launched in 1972, which focuses its activities only at the national level and which is not recognised by the FIDH, maybe because it was established by conservative politicians from the nationalist party Istiqlal. In a country where self-censorship is quite common, the AMDH faces many difficulties. But the situation improves after the enthronement of King Mohamed VI in 1999. In 2004, Instance équité et réconciliation, a governmental structure, starts inquiries about human rights violations in the reign of Hassan II. The FIDH’s general secretary, Driss El Yazami, is a member of the panel. Yet the AMDH criticises the structure because victims are not allowed to name publicly the torturers and the television broadcasting of their testimonies is limited.