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Canadian drafts human rights declaration

Canada has enjoyed a reputation for diplomacy ever since Lester B. Pearson came up with a novel solution – peacekeepers – for the Suez Crisis in 1956. We've also been recognized for our involvement in human rights issues, nuclear disarmament, and the International Criminal Court. But have our efforts made for a more peaceful world, or is the image of the "good diplomat" a convenient holdover from the days when Canada actually made a difference?

Everyone thought Eleanor Roosevelt was behind it. Or maybe a French jurist named René Cassin penned it. But, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the truth comes out: a Canadian law professor named John Peters Humphrey wrote the original draft of what's been called "the Magna Carta of humanity." Bob Carty uncovered the story for CBC Radio's This Morning.
• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a law, but a statement of ideals. There are 30 articles in the document, covering six categories of human rights: political, civil, equality, economic, social and cultural.
• Provisions for the UDHR were set out in 1945 in Article 68 of the UN Charter, which called for a commission "for the promotion of human rights." Three years later, the document was ready.

• John Peters Humphrey was a professor in the faculty of law at McGill University and expert in international law when he was asked to direct the UN's Human Rights Division after the Second World War. He also served as a bureaucrat for the Human Rights Commission: chair and former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, P.C. Chang of China and Charles Malik of Lebanon. The three were unable to produce a first draft, so Humphrey got to work.

• It took Humphrey about six weeks to write his first drafts of the Declaration. His final version, a blueprint of about 400 pages containing 48 articles, was handed over to Rene Cassin, who tweaked it further.
• Once the final draft was handed to the Commission, they held 187 meetings and went through 1400 resolutions before settling on the document's exact phrasing.
• The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

• The John Humphrey Centre for Peace and for Human Rights is an educational institute based in Edmonton which promotes understanding of human rights.
• Humphrey is also remembered with the John Humphrey Freedom Award. It's presented each year to an individual or non-governmental organization working in the promotion of human rights. The award is sponsored by the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: Dec. 5, 1998
Guest(s): John Hobbins, Margaret Kunstler-Humphrey, Ronald MacDonald, William Schabas
Host: Michael Enright
Reporter: Bob Carty
Duration: 27:16

Last updated: December 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 10, 2013

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