The History of European Human Rights Leagues

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.[1] Taking as a starting point a research project on “Civil Society and the Austrian League for Human Rights”,[2] 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.

The results of the conference will be published by Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart in 2017 (within the series “Historische Mitteilungen der Ranke-Gesellschaft – Beihefte”). This volume intends to provide an overview of the state of research and will include a general introduction by Wolfgang Schmale and Christopher Treiblmayr (editors), as well as chapters on the Austrian league by Christopher Treiblmayr, on the French league by William D. Irvine (Toronto), on the French league and the FIDH by Gilles Manceron (Paris) and Patrick Baudouin (Paris). Emmanuel Naquet (Paris) und Lora Wildenthal (Houston) will portray the German league and its forerunner, the Bund Neues Vaterland, David Morelli (Brussels) the Belgian league, Zuzana Candigliota (Brno) the Czechoslovakian league, and Iza Mrzygłód the Polish organization. Stylian Deyanov’s contribution will cover the Bulgarian and Romanian league. Southern Europe is represented by Paul Aubert (Marseille) on the Spanish league, Eric Vial on the Italian league, and Michalis Moraitidis (Athens) on the Greek association. Osman İşçi will present the Turkish İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD) by drawing comparisons with the situation in Europe between and after the World Wars. This human rights organization holds a special position: Albeit a member of the FIDH, it is not a human rights league in the strictest sense of the tradition. Established only in 1986, it operates, as one can easily imagine, under completely different circumstances.

The research group is currently in the process of preparing another project to follow up on these results. Particular emphasis shall now be placed on the networks linking the individual human rights leagues. Both for the aforementioned edited volume and the planned follow-up project, we would like to invite additional contributions as well as cooperation partners who are conducting research on the history of human rights leagues, particularly the ones not yet mentioned (for example in Armenia, China, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the Soviet Union).

The research team would appreciate communication by researchers interested in scholarly discussion and cooperation:

Introductory remarks (in German) by Christopher Treiblmayr about the project on the Austrian league were broadcast by the Austrian public radio station Ö1 in August 2015:

[1] This contribution is based on: Wolfgang Schmale / Christopher Treiblmayr, Human Rights Leagues and Civil Society (1898 – ca. 1970s), in: Historische Mitteilungen der Ranke-Gesellschaft 27/2015, 186–208.

[2] The project was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, project number P 20475) and was co-designed by Thomas Brendel. The author (Christopher Treiblmayr) is writing a book on the Austrian league’s history which is planned to be published in 2017.

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