John Humphrey

As A.J. Hobbins, editor of On the Edge of Greatness, notes:

“Canadian lawyer and human rights advocate John Peters Humphrey (1905-1995) taught law at McGill University before becoming the first director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, a position he held from 1946 until 1966 … After authoring the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt, he shepherded the Declaration project through to its completion in 1948. He was involved in the development of the various human rights covenants and protected the division from a number of threats, including investigation by the staff for un-American activities and Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld’s attempts to bring the human rights program to a standstill. Later in his career Humphrey introduced a highly successful technical assistance program in which international and regional seminars were held on specific human rights topics in countries all over the world. He was also deeply involved in the attempt to create the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the 1960s.”

Humphrey was also involved in organizing celebrations across Canada for International Year for Human Rights in 1968. In addition to being a widely consulted expert on human rights, he worked with various human rights organizations, such as the Canadian Human Rights Foundation and the Canadian Council on Human Rights.

  • Hobbins, A.J. “Eleanor Roosevelt, John Humphrey, and Canadian Opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Looking Back on the 50th Anniversary of UNDHR.” International Journal 53, 2 (1998): 325-42.
  • Humphrey, John P. On the Edge of Greatness: The Diaries of John Humphrey, First Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, Vol. 4, ed. A.J. Hobbins. Montreal: McGill University Libraries, 1994.

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