By Lori Podolsky, Archivist, McGill University Archives
“That there can be no peace unless human rights and freedoms are respected” (John Peters Humphrey, 1947)
Archivists have long played a role in the preservation and management of human rights records and have worked tirelessly to protect these records from improper destruction or unfortunate loss. Spanning across decades and centuries – before two world wars to apartheid and more recently to the atrocities of residential schools – a strong connection between the 75th anniversaries of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and International Archives Awareness has been formed. In promoting respect of diversity, equity and inclusivity, these two anniversaries are forging strides towards peace for current and future generations. Let’s celebrate!
John Peters Humphrey, the first Director of the Human Rights Division at the United Nations, and along with Eleanor Roosevelt (Chair) of the United States, Charles Habib Malik of Lebanon and Peng Chun Chang of China, formed the initial drafting committee to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Quickly the committee expanded to include five additional members – William Roy Hodgson (Australia), René Cassin (France), Hernán Santa Cruz (Chile), Alexander E. Bogomolov (Soviet Union) and Charles Dukes (United Kingdom). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights codified the basic rights for all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, class or religion, at an international level.
In December of 1948, after eighty meetings and sixty-eight countries voting to adopt the articles of the UDHR received consensus. Initially, Canada voted to abstain, then changed its vote, allowing the Universal Declaration to be adopted on December 10, 1948. Today, the UDHR stands as a pillar document recognizing the rights of life, education and employment, housing, religion, peaceful assembly, and political affiliation, to name a few, and to protect against discrimination.
The McGill University Archives holds the John Peters Humphrey fonds (MG 4127). The fonds includes the original and annotated drafts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related materials relating to Humphrey’s tenure at the United Nations, his lecture notes as a professor of law at McGill University and his personal papers and correspondence. Related fonds on employment equity, civil rights, and the United Nations include the Madeleine Parent fonds (MG 4269), Paul-André Crépeau fonds (MG 4271) and Tamer Oppenheimer fonds (MG 4267), respectively.