Celebrating 100 years human rights advances, FIDH prepares for challenges of the century ahead

Sajjad Hussain / AFP

May 28th is an important date for FIDH, and 28 May 2022 even more so! Today marks 100 years since 15 national organisations defending human rights came together to found the first international human rights organisation. On 28 May 1922, FIDH was born. And with it, the idea that a federative model is the solution we needed to defend and promote human rights worldwide. 100 years later, we are more convinced than ever that the solidarity at the heart of this model is what we need to continue our fight for human rights for the century to come.

#FIDH100 / www.FIDH100.org

It is no accident that FIDH’s motto, at its founding, is “Peace through human rights.” In the aftermath of World War I, Europe was devastated and in shock. The national human rights organisations of 20 countries, including the organisations from France – the Ligue des droits de l’Homme – and Germany – Bund Neues Vaterland – gathered in Paris to found FIDH, to promote peace through human rights and cooperation between countries so the atrocities of World War I would not happen again.

The founding organisations came from Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

This cooperation between human rights organisations worldwide is possible thanks to FIDH’s federative model. With cooperation and solidarity central to its way of operating, FIDH has always been ahead of its time and has accomplished remarkable achievements in its first hundred years, calling for a World Declaration of Human Rights and a permanent International Criminal Court as early as 1927. These campaigns finally succeeded with the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and the creation of the International Criminal Court in 1998.

As decades passed, this federative model grew stronger. African human rights organisations joined the Federation in the 1970s following decolonisation and independence, like the Tunisian Human Rights League in 1978. FIDH kept growing, boasting 178 member organisations in 2010, and no fewer than 192 in 117 countries today.

Again and again, the need for cooperation and solidarity proved to be an absolute necessity over the years. At Poland’s emblematic Poznań riot trials, FIDH denounced the abuses of the communist regime, which wielded violent repression against peaceful protesters demanding better wages. FIDH was present again to document the crimes of dictatorships all across Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s and to take part in the trials. Standing with victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity and litigating in cases such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the atrocities perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, and the crimes committed by Bashar El Assad’s regime in Syria, FIDH remains resolutely committed to its federative philosophy and its motto.

Not only does this model promote and defend human rights worldwide; it is also a guarantee for human rights defenders everywhere that they do not face authoritarian regimes and threats alone. Each time a human rights defender is threatened, arbitrarily arrested, judicially harassed, tortured, or forcibly disappeared, FIDH conducts advocacy, raises awareness, investigates abuses, and provides legal assistance. The recent case of Salah Hammouri, a Palestinian lawyer and human rights defender, epitomises how FIDH’s federative nature supports human rights defenders worldwide by providing legal assistance: the organisation filed a complaint against NSO Group, which infiltrated Hammouri’s phone with its spyware Pegasus, and recently made a new submission to the International Criminal Court detailing the harassment by Israeli authorities he has been enduring for years.

While solidarity benefits individuals, it benefits organisations, too! In the same way that FIDH stands up for human rights defenders, it also stands up for its member organisations when they are threatened and prevented from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. In Belarus for instance, the authorities shut down 275 human rights organisations in 2021 alone and arbitrarily imprisoned seven human rights defenders from FIDH’s member organisation Viasna in 2020. FIDH has been actively working to free Viasna’s members, defend the organisation’s essential work, and denounce the repressive regime in Belarus.

As we know all too well, human rights must never be taken for granted and many challenges await us for the century to come. The war in Ukraine and climate crises are bitter reminders of this truth. But if we’ve been able to achieve a century of victories thanks to solidarity, cooperation, and our federative model, another 100 years of victories is well within reach!

Here’s to 2122.

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