Eleanor Roosevelt and John Peters Humphrey shown at the United Nations debating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Courtesy FDR Library & Roosevelt-Campobello International Park.

Introduction

John Peters Humphrey, born in Hampton, New Brunswick, and educated at Mount Allison and McGill Universities, played a primary role in the preparation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in its adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Eleanor Roosevelt referred to this Declaration as "The Magna Carta of Mankind". Developed in the dark shadow cast by World War Two and the Holocaust, this constellation of rights stands as a guiding light for future generations committed to the ideals of peace, freedom and equality for all members of the human family. The preamble of the Universal Declaration states that it is meant to be "...a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms..." Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights at the time the Declaration was drafted, stressed that human rights should never be seen as the exclusive province of government officials or leaders. Her "small places close to home" speech is a classic statement of the view that human rights are the property of each and every citizen, young and old alike:
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home--so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he [or she] lives in; the school or college he [or she] attends; the factory, farms, or office where he [or she] works. Such are the places where every man, woman, or child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity, without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.


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