John Peters Humphrey and the UDHR

The Historica-Dominion Institute has created one of their Historica Minutes video on John Peters Humphrey and his role in crafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Click here to watch.

John Peters Humphrey, principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was a Canadian legal scholar, jurist and human rights advocate whose work helped shape the culture of human rights internationally.

Born in Hampton, New Brunswick, Professor Humphrey was educated primarily at McGill University. He also holds a degree from the University of Paris. From McGill, he earned a Bachelor of Commerce, a Bachelor of Civil Law and a PhD in Political Science. He practiced law from 1929-1936 before joining the Faculty of Law at McGill where he remained until 1946. Leaving McGill, Professor Humphrey became the Director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Secretariat. In this capacity, Professor Humphrey created the background document that would lead to the initial draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During his twenty-year tenure at the United Nations (1946-1966), he oversaw the implementation of 67 international conventions and the constitutions of dozens of countries. Professor Humphrey was fully recognized as the principal drafter of the UDHR in 1988 when he was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award.

After retiring from the United Nations in 1966, Professor Humphrey returned to McGill to resume his teaching career. He remained extremely active in the field of human rights, both domestically and internationally. He was a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and served as a Director of the International League of Human Rights. Professor Humphrey also took part in a number of international commissions of inquiry including a trip to the Philippines to investigate the human rights violations committed by the Marcos regime. He also represented Korean women forced into captivity as comfort women in Japan and also campaigned for reparations for Canadian POWs who had suffered under Japanese captivity. In addition, Professor Humphrey was part of the group that launched Amnesty International Canada and, along with his colleagues from McGill, formed the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (now known as Equitas), from which the Human Rights Education Foundation was formed and that the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights evolved from.

Among his many accolades, John Peters Humphrey was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 "in recognition of his contributions to legal scholarship and his world-wide reputation in the field of human rights".