International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

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FIDH is founded by some twenty national organisations on the initiative of French and German member organisations. It is the first international human rights organisation. Its motto is: “Peace for human rights.”

FIDH proposes the creation of an “International declaration of human rights” and an International Criminal Court.

FIDH adopts an additional declaration touching, in particular, on the rights of mothers, children and the elderly, the right to work and to social security, leisure and an education.

FIDH joins the fight against Nazism. Its chairman, Victor Basch, is assassinated by members of the Vichy government militia in Lyon.

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 Post-war years
Dispersed or forced underground during the Second World War, FIDH reforms after the war and develops its human rights activities. It launches its first fact-finding missions and judicial observation missions. FIDH’s positions are supported by accounts gathered from victims by its officials on mission. Two of its most eminent leaders, René Cassin and Joseph-Paul Boncour, help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 The 1980s
FIDH expands its field of activities, particularly within the United Nations. Its fact-finding missions become more diverse and are supplemented by more intensive activism within international organisations.

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 The 1990s
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War mark a major step forward in the development of national human rights NGOs across the world. FIDH supports this development within the framework of legal cooperation programmes in political transition contexts in Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, and Latin America. The number of FIDH member organisations increases from 66 to more than 100. In 1990, FIDH brings together, in Prague, for the first time, all of its members and partners from Eastern Europe, who are finally free from dictatorship. In 1997, it holds its first International Conference in a southern country, in Dakar. This conference underlines the urgent need to combat the flagrant human rights violations resulting from economic globalisation.

FIDH holds its conference in Morocco. The application of the principle of responsibility to perpetrators of human rights violations, whether states, companies, institutions or individuals, lies at the heart of the movement’s actions. During this conference, the first chair of FIDH from a southern country - the Senegalese lawyer Sidiki Kaba[6] - is elected.

The International Criminal Court enters into force. It is the culmination of one of FIDH’s longest campaigns.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and long-standing partner of FIDH, honouring the day-to-day commitment to victims shown by human rights defenders.

CCR, FIDH’s new American affiliate organisation, files a complaint in Germany against Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense, for torture and mistreatment at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; the proceedings are to last 4 years and become one of FIDH’s landmark cases in the field of human rights compliance in the fight against terrorism.

FIDH takes a public stand against the execution of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, and deplores the fact that a historic opportunity to judge the crimes of Saddam Hussein according to the principles of a fair trial turned into a parody of justice.

A complaint for torture and maltreatment in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is lodged against the former American Secretary of State for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in an attempt to combat high-level impunity. The same year, Souhayr Belhassen, a Tunisian journalist and human rights defender, becomes the first woman (what’s more, an Arab/Muslim woman) elected as the chair of FIDH.

The year 2008 is a turning point for the death penalty: the UN adopts a universal moratorium on the death penalty and it is abolished by Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Togo is to follow their example in 2009, as a result of ongoing action by FIDH and its member organisations. In 2008, unprecedented events mark the campaign for international justice that FIDH has been fighting for years: FIDH and its Member Organisations win some great victories, such as the opening of the ICC’s first case involving the Central African Republic; new charges of gender-related crimes are filed against certain Congolese defendants by the ICC prosecutor; Senegalese law is aligned with the Statute of Rome and with international human rights conventions; a Tunisian vice-consul is convicted of acts of torture. But universal justice remains a challenge, as does the need to protect those exercising their rights in national and international courts. The conviction of Alberto Fujimori and the 2009 arrest warrant issued by the ICC against the Sudanese president are also key victories. 2008 also sees the adoption of the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which finally enables the victims of rights violations to seek individual remedy at the international level. This advance is the culmination of years of FIDH action in favour of full and fair recognition of economic, social and cultural rights for all. This step forward also comes at a time when economic globalisation is increasingly called into question and when debate is focused squarely on the responsibility of corporate actors, particularly multinational organisations. FIDH calls for economic relations to incorporate human rights and for all stakeholders, including Governments, businesses and financial institutions, to be held to account for their actions.

FIDH’s campaign for women’s rights also bears fruit, with the European Union adopting guidelines on women’s rights, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ratifying the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in February, followed by Cameroon in May. In April, Burkina Faso adopts a law on quotas, requiring lists of candidates for National Assembly and municipal elections to include at least 30% women and in December, Uganda adopts legislation prohibiting female genital mutilation.

On 4 March 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, Omar el-Béchir. This decision marks a crucial stage in the development of international justice. It is, in fact, the first time since its creation in 2002 that the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against a sitting president. FIDH was particularly committed to this brief: by performing fact-finding missions and calling for the United Nations Security Council to bring the matter before the ICC, it helped ensure the opening of an enquiry and the issuing of arrest warrants against the most senior members of the Sudanese government - including President Béchir.

For the first time FIDH holds its World Congress in the Caucasus, in Armenia. The governing bodies now comprise 19 nationalities from all continents, and over 40 % women. There are now 178 member organisations.
Debbie Stothard, Altsean Burma coordinator, and Zoran Pusic, president of Civic Committee for Human Rights, at the FIDH Congress.

 Arab springs
Throughout the Arab Spring, FIDH does its utmost to defend the rights of those in the countries involved. In Libya, for example, it is responsible for ensuring that human rights are a central plank of the transitional regime’s reforms.

FIDH secures the release of political prisoners in Burma, and contributes to securing partial openness from the authorities.

FIDH celebrates its 90th anniversary. This year, it carries out 60 fact-finding missions, judicial observation missions and appeals. It welcomes the increasing number of victories it is winning throughout the world.

FIDH, 90 years of battles and victories

As of 1927, FIDH appealed to the international community to adopt a “Worldwide Declaration on Human Rights” and to create a permanent international criminal court. A few decades later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and the International Criminal Court was created, two major victories for FIDH. A legal framework was created for human rights, rights for each and every individual to claim.

Our ambition now is to incarnate a worldwide human rights movement whose actions focus on six priority fields: protection of human rights defenders, women’s rights, migrants’ rights, the fight against impunity, respect for human rights within the framework of globalisation, and interventions in countries in conflict.

We act to defend universal values and rights through FIDH fact-finding, denunciation and dialogue, working with all political forces and influential people. And although the path, sometimes, is strewn with obstacles, our fight is never in vain. We have achieved considerable results and won many victories.

Demanding the universality of rights requires abnegation and courage. This is a daily battle and in some countries the risks are endless. Our Vice President, Ales Bialiatski (Belarus) and our Secretary General, Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain), along with 26 other members of FIDH have been imprisoned for showing their commitment to fundamental freedoms. Today we should like to pay tribute to them and repeat our pledge to relentlessly work to get them released said Souhayr Belhassen. 

The annual FIDH dinner to celebrate this anniversary was held at the Paris city hall and was attended by Bertrand Delanoë, Paris Mayor, Stephane Hessel and many other eminent guests.

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, dedicated this evening to the human rights defenders emprisoned all over the world. She especially honored Ales Bialiatski, Nabeel Rajab and Nasrin Sotoudeh.

For the 90th anniversary, FIDH produced a documentary on 90 years of fights and victories and five 45-second clips on FIDH activities (Click here to view the videos in French).