UN Watch pays tribute to John Humphrey

John Humphrey (1905-1995) was a Canadian law professor, a principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and founding director of the UN Division on Human Rights.

In 1965, when the Soviet Union attempted to equate Zionism with racism, Humphrey said this was itself racist and “a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer pays tribute to John Humphrey, principal draftsman of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in a plenary address to the UN Human Rights Council’s September 2008 session.

Thank you, Mr. President.

This year we celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration. Its signal contributions include the independent office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

United Nations Watch continues to support the effective mechanisms of this office, and we are determined to safeguard its independence.

The president of this council has rightfully recognized the power of words. Indeed, it is written in the book of Proverbs that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver”.

To borrow a metaphor of Abraham Lincoln, the 1993 Vienna Declaration is like a picture of silver, whose purpose is to adorn the word fitly spoken in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose underlying principle is that all human beings are equal and enjoy fundamental rights.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of this “apple of gold”, the universal declaration, let us pay tribute to those who helped create it.

As a student at the Faculty of Law of McGill University in Canada, I had the privilege to know one of these great individuals, the late John Humphrey, and recall his life and career as an inspiration for all of our work.

It was in 1946 that John Humphrey answered a higher call. Taking what became a 20-year pause from his teaching, he left Montreal for New York to become the founding director of the United Nations’ new fledgling human rights division.

He drafted a 400-page blueprint that became the foundation of the Universal Declaration, the Magna Carta of all mankind. He was later engaged in international efforts to investigate human rights abuses, and remained involved in human rights law for the rest of his career.

He once said: “There is a fundamental link between human rights and peace. There will be peace on earth, when the rights of all are respected.”

Professor’s Humphrey legacy of human rights was universally felt, including at his own Faculty of Law at McGill, for its bilingualism and bi-juridical teaching, as well its engagement with comparative law, multiple legal traditions and legal pluralism.

It is fitting this December that the Lord Reading Law Society will be granting its annual award posthumously to John Humphrey, to be accepted by a member of his family. I will have the honor to represent UN Watch and deliver the keynote address on this occasion, and to reaffirm the universal principles that we all hold dear.

UN Watch is also proud to be supporting these principles today at a parallel event to promote the new accord reached in Zimbabwe, to be held in room XXII at 1:00 pm.

To conclude, this year let us all reaffirm the principles of the Universal Declaration. The distinguished Algerian representative asked today whether the opposite of relativism is dogmatism. We believe, rather, that the opposite of relativism is the bedrock principle of universal moral clarity, and the principles of the Universal Declaration.

Let us all reaffirm our commitment to adorn and preserve this apple of gold.

Thank you.

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