John Peters Humphrey is famous for having been the initial drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
McGill University law professor John Peters Humphrey is famous for having been the initial drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, it sets a standard of rights and freedoms to be respected around the globe. While governments all too often have not lived up to these standards, the UDHR is a yardstick against which their shortcomings can be measured, and a rebuke to those who would use state sovereignty or cultural differences to justify reprehensible behaviour.
At the time, Humphrey had been the director of UN’s human rights division, a post he held for 20 years. In 1966, he returned to Montreal to teach at McGill; he died in 1995 at age 89.
The instrumental role he had played in drafting the UNHR was little known when this portrait was published in the Montreal Gazette on Feb. 8, 1968. It accompanied an interview focussing on Humphrey’s having been appointed to Canada’s landmark Royal Commission on the Status of Women. He was one of two men on the seven-member commission.
We reported that Humphrey “says his wife should have been appointed, not he.” But in fact, he had long experience in women’s rights. “At the UN, I was usually the only man in meetings of the Status of Women Commission. I see nothing extraordinary in that, though; why shouldn’t it be that way sometimes?” he told our reporter.
The royal commission was the first chaired by a woman, Florence Bird (in the story, we referred to her as Mrs. John Bird).
Its final report, tabled in 1970, included 167 recommendations for establishing equality between men and women, setting the agenda for the numerous legal and policy reforms that were to come.