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John Peters Humphrey

John Peters Humphrey, (1905 - 1995) was a Canadian legal scholar, jurist and human rights advocate. Born in Hampton, New Brunswick[?]. He practised law from 1929 to 1936, when he joined McGill University, Faculty of Law in Montréal. In 1946, he was appointed as the first Director of the Human Rights Division in the United Nations Secretariat, where he was the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After consulting with the executive group of the Commission, which included Eleanor Roosevelt, Professor Humphrey prepared the first preliminary draft of what was to become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the night of December 10, 1948, the General Assembly unanimously passed the Declaration, dubbed by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt as "the international Magna Carta of all mankind."

He remained with the U.N. for 20 years. During this period he oversaw the implementation of 67 international conventions[?] and the constitutions of dozens of countries. He worked in areas involving freedom of the press, status of women[?], and racial discrimination. In 1988, on the 40th anniversary of the Declaration, Professor Humphrey was awarded the U.N.'s Human Rights award.

Professor Humphrey retired from the U.N. in 1966 to resume his teaching career at McGill University. He remained active in the promotion of human rights in Canada and internationally until his death at the age of 89. He was a director of the International League for Human Rights[?]; served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women[?]; part of the team that launched Amnesty International Canada; and, with colleagues from McGill University, was instrumental in creating the Canadian Human Rights Foundation[?]. He took part in a number of international commissions of inquiry, including a mission to the Philippines investigating human rights violations under Ferdinand Marcos. In Japan he represented Korean women forced to act as sex slaves[?]. He also campaigned for reparations for Canadian prisoners of war under Japanese captivity.

Among his many honours, Professor Humphry 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."

In 1963, he put forth the idea of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights[?]. While the idea was initially received quite positively, it was only after more than thirty years, under then-U.N. Secretary General Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, that the office became a reality.


  • Humphrey, John P., Human Rights and the United Nations: A Great Adventure (New York: Transnational Publishers, 1984) (autobiography)

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