Public figures as diverse as Victor Basch, René Cassin, Emile Durkheim, Albert Einstein, Emile Kahn, Caroline Rémy de Guebhard (Séverine), or Kurt Tucholsky had one thing in common: they were all committed members of a human rights league. Taking as a starting point a research project on “Civil Society and the Austrian League for Human Rights”, a research group headed by Professor Wolfgang Schmale at the Department of History, University of Vienna, is now investigating the history of various human rights leagues whose formation was inspired by the Ligue pour la Défénse des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen. The foundation of this French organization in 1898 signalizes a new phase in the history of civil society and its institutions, as a considerable number of individuals, mainly in Europe, followed the French example and formed national human rights leagues in their respective countries. They joined forces in establishing an international umbrella organization, the Ligue Internationale des Droits de l’Homme resp. Fédération Internationale des (Ligues des) Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), launched in 1922 in Paris.
In May 2014, the research group organized an international workshop on the history of these human rights leagues at the University of Vienna. The main focus was on the interwar period. However, as some leagues were founded only after World War II or even decades later, some contributions were also dealing with the history of these newer leagues. In several panels countries such as Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, and the FIDH were covered.