Translated into 321 languages and dialects, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is quite probably the most cited legal document ever drafted by a Canadian. In 1946, John Humphrey, then a Professor of Law at McGill University, was asked to work with a committee of the United Nations Secretariat to help the organization draft a statement on human rights.
In providing guidance to the 18-member international committee, Humphrey created a 400-page blueprint that became the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also drafted by Humphrey. Committee chair Eleanor Roosevelt famously called it "the Magna Carta of all mankind."
For 20 years, he was Director of the United Nations Human Rights Division, before returning to McGill in 1966, where he served as Professor of Law and Political Science. It was only late in his life that Humphrey's true contribution to the Declaration was acknowledged. For years, a French delegate was thought to have drafted the Declaration. A discovery of a first draft in Humphrey's handwriting led to his belated recognition and the McGill professor was awarded the United Nations Prize for human rights advocacy on the 40th anniversary of the United Nations.
Humphrey was also involved in international efforts to investigate human rights abuses in the Philippines and represented Korean women forced to act as sex slaves to Japanese soldiers in World War Two. A New Brunswick native, Humphrey would remain involved in human rights law for the rest of his career. "There is a fundamental link between human rights and peace," he believed. "There will be peace on earth when the rights of all are respected."