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The founding of the League of Human Rights

The founding of the League of Human Rights

The Dreyfusards mobilize

The violence unleashed by the Zola trial led Senator Trarieux, a witness for the defense and former Minister of Justice, to call a meeting of several Dreyfusards on Sunday, 20 February 1898. They included Emile Duclaux, Edouard Grimaux, Arthur Giry, Louis Havet, J. Héricourt, P. Meyer, Paul Viollet and Jean Psichari. It was Psichari - the future secretary of the French League for the Defense of Human and Citizen's Rights - who circulated leaflets in intellectual circles. By early April he had received more than 250 applications for membership. On 10 April, Henry Leyret announced in L'Aurore that a league had been founded in order to "defend the principles and traditions of the French Revolution" and that it called on those who were "convinced that every form of arbitrariness and intolerance risk leading to civil divisions, and are threats to civilization and progress." Hailing the first hundred subscribers, including "a large number of those who uphold France's intellectual heritage," he recalled the proclamation of the attorney general of the Court of Cassation, for whom "these intelligent men are the honor of the country." On 17 June 1898, at the end of its first manifesto, which called on members to stand up against the "winds of madness" and to remain "the living, active conscience of the country," the League proclaimed, "The convicted man of 1894 is no more Jewish to our eyes than another, in his place, would be Catholic, Protestant or philosopher. We see in him only a citizen whose rights are our own, and we reject, as an unexpected retreat of the ideas of freedom, the religious distinctions that others claim to establish in his person."

The principles of liberty, equality, fraternity and Justice

On 4 June 1898, at the first general assembly of the League of Human Rights, Georges Bourdon lamented that no one had breathed a word about the Dreyfus Affair: "We are only here because of it and for it." But the League's founders wished to go beyond the specific case of Captain Dreyfus, and Article 1 of its statutes set the course: "to defend the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice set forth in the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789." According to Emmanuel Naquet, a historian of the League and of associations involved in political action, the bypassing of the Dreyfus Affair was immediately claimed, and in a twofold manner. Jean Psichari rejected a league founded for Dreyfus, while Yves Guyot wanted the LHR to intervene "wherever individual freedom is threatened or violated", and to contribute to changing legislation or practices that worsened it. The first paragraph of the manifesto of 17 June 1898 asserted the League's ambitions: "From today onwards, any person whose freedom is threatened or whose rights are violated can be assured of our help and assistance."


Senator Trarieux at the Zola trial

J. Psichari's photograph, given to Dreyfus with dedication