Government of New Brunswick

John Peters Humphrey
Main author of the Universal Declaration


The principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a native of New Brunswick, John Peters Humphrey. He wrote the first draft of what eventually became perhaps the most important human rights document in history.

The Declaration was unanimously passed by the United Nations' General Assembly on December 10, 1948. To mark this milestone, December 10 is recognized worldwide as Human Rights Day. In 1998, special events were held throughout the world to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration.

John Humphrey was born in Hampton, NB and went to school in Rothesay, NB. John did not have an easy childhood. His father died before John was one year old and his mother when he was eleven. His left arm was amputated when he was six because of a severe burn. Undeterred by these handicaps, John Humphrey pursued his studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB and then at McGill University in Montreal. He earned four degrees at McGill and later became a professor and dean of law.

In 1946, Humphrey was asked to set up the UN's Division for Human Rights, of which he became the Director. In this capacity, he prepared a 400 page background paper for the proposed Universal Declaration and wrote its first draft in 1947. After further drafts and revisions by various UN officials and committees, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN in 1948. Humphrey was Director of the Human Rights Division until 1966.

Humphrey then returned to McGill, where he devoted himself to human rights teaching and advocacy. He was the founding president of the Canadian Section of the International Commission of Jurists and he helped establish Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Foundation.

Humphrey authored numerous articles and several books. He received 13 honourary degrees and, in 1974, was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Humphrey died in 1995 in Montreal. Canada Post issued a stamp in his honour in October 1998.