The Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (LDH) was created in 1898 in response to the Dreyfus Affaire (1894-1906), when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian and Jewish descent, was accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. The case has become synonymous with injustice and is associated with the rise of anti-Semitism in France. It divided the French nation between those, such as the LDH, who supported Dreyfus (the 'Drefusards') versus those how condemned him (the 'Anti-Dreyfusards').
Since 1898, the LDH has been at the forefront of multiple fights for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and for justice and freedom, and stands against racial discrimination and anti-Semitism. Its long history has seen it engaging in a wide range of activities, the list below providing some of their most significant endeavours:
- Supporting trade unions in their fight for social justice and for workers' rights during the early 20th century
- Engaging in peace initiatives by joining forces with other European leagues in the wake of the First World War and setting up the Fédération internationale des Ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH) in 1922
- Fighting against the rise of fascism by signing pacts with the left-wing parties and trade unions that formed the Front populaire in 1935
- Participating in the Résistance during the Second World War (around a third of its members were assassinated, killed or deported)
- Supporting the process of decolonization following the Second World War and protesting against the use of torture by French authorities during the Algerian War for Independence (1954-1962)
- Calling for legislative reform for contraception, abortion, the death penalty and other repressive laws during the 1970s
- Lobbying on behalf of migrant populations to change restrictive laws and regularize illegal immigrants during the 1980s and 90s
- In the more recent wake of economic crisis and growing unemployment, fighting against new forms of poverty and the right to housing and healthcare.
A key priority of the LDH is to fight against different forms of discrimination and the danger represented by the rise of the extreme right in France and Europe, as well as to uphold the EU's constitutional defence of human rights in collaboration with the FIDH and other European leagues.
In terms of its engagement with memories of slavery, the LDH supported the loi Taubira and regularly takes part in the events surrounding the National Day for Remembering Slavery, the Slave Trade and their Abolitions, which takes places each year on 10 May (2006-). It has supported various initiatives to ensure that the history of slavery and its legacies achieve visibility within the French Republic, for example through the national curriculum and the protection of archives, and has worked with different associations to promote African cultures and fight against the kinds of racial discrimination that are rooted in slavery.
The LDH has a wide range of objectives relating to the defence of human rights. These include:
- Independent and citizen-led actions to defend against injustice, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination, and promote a strong and vibrant democracy in France and Europe
- To defend secularism from xenophobic instrumentalisation, as well as civil liberties, social and gender equality, and promote fraternity as the basis of a democratic society
- To defend the legal rights of those who are victims of discrimination
- To support all those who refuse to be reduced to, and defined by, particular labels, such as religion, 'race', origin, colour, ethnicity and/or any other form of imposed categorization, and all those who reject racism and wish to benefit from equal rights. It defends the rights of those who are considered as 'different', such as the Roma and/or travelling communities, who are often victims of irrational fears, social exclusion and misrepresentation
- To work with any group or persons who wish to construct a dignified society, who fight against police violence and the violation of privacy, who defend the right to work and workers' rights, the right to housing, the right to live in a healthy environment and to health and education. To work with all those who promote social responsibility among businesses and the improvement of public services
- To work with schools and universities by contributing to the develop of citizenship and the provision of an education that promotes republican values, while fighting against the kind of fears that lead to social exclusion and discrimination.