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«Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which is part of the foundation of the European Union. The persistent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities makes protecting and promoting this freedom inside and outside the EU all the more essential.»

H.E. Jean Claude Juncker President of the European Commission

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Former Presidents of the Association
List of all the presidents of the AIDLR Association

Eleanor Roosevelt (1946-1962)
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What the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt underlined on 13 April 1945, has the same or more value today. He said: “We seek peace – enduring peace. More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars – yes, an end to the brutal, inhumane, and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments. Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, of peace”. Roosevelt truly believed in the possibility of a world.

The same legacy for peace and human rights, have been continued internationally by Roosevelt’ wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt that could have contented herself with inheriting a name universally revered by free men. Yet, by wanting more she became a champion for the cause of human dignity in the world. Through her own merit, she warranted the respect and recognition of all thinking men. As the first President of Honour of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty, it fell to her to launch the broadcast of “Conscience and Liberty” on Radio Monte-Carlo.

Here is a short part of her magnificent address:

“Freedom is a key issue for the settlement of various key policies that divide peoples and governments today, and is, therefore, an issue that will affect the future of the United Nations. The decisive importance of this issue was fully recognized by the founders of the United Nations, in San Francisco. Concern for the preservation and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms stands at the heart of the United Nations. The United Nations has made it clear that it intends to uphold human rights and protect the dignity of the human personality. First of all, it is necessary for us to fully understand the essential freedom of democracy.

Basic human rights are simple and easily understood: freedom of speech and a free press; freedom of conscience and worship; freedom of assembly and the right of petition; the right of men to be secure in their homes and free from unreasonable search and seizure and from arbitrary arrests and sanctions. The immediate test is not only to the extent to which human rights and freedoms have already been achieved, but the direction in which the world is moving. This reflects the basic premise of the charter that the peace and security of mankind are directly linked with a mutual respect for the rights and freedoms of all.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1962-1965)
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We cannot abdicate our conscience to an organization, nor to a government. 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Most certainly I am! I cannot escape my responsibility by saying the State will do all that is necessary. It is a tragedy that nowadays so many think and feel otherwise.

Only when an ideal of peace is born in the minds of the peoples will the institutions set up to maintain this peace effectively fulfill the function expected of them. May the men who hold the destiny of peoples in their hands, studiously avoid anything that might cause the present situation to deteriorate and become even more dangerous. May they take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” These words are valid not only for individuals, but for nations as well. May these nations, in their efforts to maintain peace, do their utmost to give the spirit time to grow and to act.

The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up. That is possible for him who never argues and strives with men and facts, but in all experience retires upon himself, and looks for the ultimate cause of things in himself.

Paul Henry Spaak (1966-1972)
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Throughout his whole life Paul-Henri Spaak remained unconditionally attached to the values of freedom, humanism and democracy that had been drilled into him since his childhood. Faithful to his own beliefs, he never wavered from defending these principles during his long and prolific career in politics, both nationally and internationally.

Intelligent, generous and sensitive, and open to dialogue, Spaak was not a man to become shackled by rigid or unshakeable positions and attitudes. A pragmatist, he was acutely aware of the non-stop development of ideas and events. He was also willing to bend to these constraints, sometimes at the price of having to make painful concessions.

Spaak gained international prominence in 1945, when he was elected chairman of the first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. He was a staunch defender of the independence of the European Commission. “Europe of tomorrow must be a supranational Europe,” he declared. In honor of his work for Europe, the first building of the European Parliament in Brussels was named after him.

René Cassin (1972-1976)
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Madame Cassin described Rene as one: He believed that with the cooperation of statesmen, one had to mobilize moral, secular and religious forces without excluding any single denomination; he sought out conversations with representatives from all faiths. A genuine ‘resistance fighter’ against everything which oppressed mankind, he was an awakener of consciences, a passionate defender of peace and of the brotherhood of men of goodwill. In this he was religious.

Once more he recalled this memory from the 1914 war: At the end of September 1914, I had been gravely injured by a bullet to the stomach and I can see once again before me the fire that burnt down the aid station of the village of Dompcevrin. In the early morning, I was lying on the ground in misery like my companions. At daybreak, I saw the heavy silhouette of the curate moving around the area. When it came to my turn I was fully conscious, and whilst thanking the curate for his visit I said to him in all honesty, “I am a stranger to your way of worship and I don’t share your convictions”. He replied in his rugged voice, “My child, if you have to appear before the Supreme Judge shortly, know that He will be a judge of love”. This scene is one that I will never forget. For Rene Cassin, the most elective remedy for hatred is justice, and it is by that inspiration upon which the law is formulated. He waged this battle until his dying days.

Edgar Faure (1976-1988)
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Edgar Faure being invited by Dr. Pierre Lanares, Secretary General of the AIDLR to be the President of Honorary Committee, answered:

Dear Sir,

In response to your letter and the contact already established between Mr. Andrew Dufau and my colleague Professor Hubert Thierry, I am pleased to inform you of my willing acceptance to succeed my late lamented friend, Rene CASSIN, s president of the Committee of Honour of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty. This is a cause in which I have a profound interest.

The presence within the committee of personalities such as President SENGHOR and Professor ELLUL, for whom I have the utmost esteem, is a further reason for accepting your courteous proposition. In the sincere hope that we have the opportunity to meet in the near future, please allow me to offer you my very best regards. Edgar Faure”.

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1988-2001)
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In 1978, the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty was given the statute of a non-government organization (NGO) by the United Nations. It obtained a participative statute from the European Council, in 1985.

Ms. Mary Robinson (2002 - )
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Mary Robinson, served as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002. She first rose to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). She defeated Fianna Fáil's Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael's Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming–as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers' Party and independent senators–the first elected president in the office's history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

She is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigned the presidency two months ahead of the end of her term of office to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure she visited Tibet (1998), the first High Commissioner to do so; she criticised Ireland's immigrant policy; and criticised the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extended her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa; the conference proved controversial, and under continuing pressure from the US, Robinson resigned her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson formed Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which came to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities were 1) fostering equitable trade and decent work, 2) promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and 3) working to strengthen women's leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supported capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returned to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and has set up The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, which aims to be 'a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten - the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.'

Robinson is Chairman of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is also a B Team Leader, alongside Richard Branson, Jochen Zeitz and a group of leaders from business and civil society as part of The B Team. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson served as Oxfam's honorary president from 2002 until she stepped down in 2012 and is honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chairman of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chairman of the Council of Women World Leaders. Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.