The declaration heralded a revolutionary change in the theory and practice of INTERNATIONAL LAW because of its recognition that human rights are a matter for international concern. Although the principles of the declaration are routinely violated, it is one of the UN's most important achievements, for it has become part of the customary law of nations.
John Humphrey was the director of the United Nations Human Rights Division for 20 years; he retired from the UN in 1966. He returned to McGill University where he taught full-time for 5 more years and then part-time until he retired in 1994. He remained active in international affairs and the protection of human rights, and authored several important volumes on the subject. He applied his experience to international efforts to investigate human rights abuse in the Philippines and represented Korean women forced into sexual slavery to Japanese soldiers during the Second World War.
It was not until late in his life that Humphrey's contribution to the declaration was formally recognized, after a first draft in his handwriting was discovered. Among the many awards and honours he received, John Humphrey was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974. He was awarded the United Nations Prize for human rights advocacy in 1988. The John Humphrey Award is given annually to an individual who actively protects human rights by Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development).
Author WILLIAM KAPLAN Revised: LAURA NEILSON
Links to Other Sites
Watch the Heritage Minute about John Humphrey from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Tribute To John Humphrey
This Canadian Heritage website offers a brief biography of John Humphrey and information sources about human rights.
The John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights
This website features a profile of John Peters Humphrey and an overview of the Centre’s human rights initiatives.
Canadian drafts human rights declaration
A CBC Radio feature about John Humphrey and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
John Humphrey Freedom Award
The John Humphrey Freedom Award, presented every year to an organization or person who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of human rights and democratic development. From the Rights & Democracy website.
John Peters Humphrey
A virtual online exhibit devoted to the life and career of John Peters Humphrey, the first Director of the Human Rights Division in the United Nations Secretariat. From the website for the McGill University Archives.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
View a digitized copy of the first page of the third draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, showing John Peters Humphrey's annotations. From the "Tolerance.ca" website.
A quarterly Canadian magazine devoted to peacemaking, disarmament, conflict resolution, global stability, and related concerns. Offers online articles and letters from current and previous editions (from January 1983 to present). Also, the first Canadian magazine to be produced with desktop publishing software. From the Canadian Disarmament Information Service.
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