Human Rights and the Peoples of the Third World

By Saya Takegami

John Peters Humphrey was a firm believer in equal rights for all human beings, which undoubtedly included citizens of less developed nations. In his speech “Human Rights and the Peoples of the Third World”, Humphrey addresses the issue of the widening inequality gap between First and Third World countries. His fundamental idea for achieving human rights in the Third World consisted of economic development, for which he claimed that First World countries like Canada were morally obligated to offer help. Thus, despite the lack of documentation about the date the speech was delivered or its intended audience, it is safe to assume that it was an attempt to promote the issue of global equality amongst the privileged populace of industrialized Canada. Nonetheless, when closely examining Humphrey’s use of language, one may argue that it demonstrates a clear distinction between ‘us’ and ‘the Others,’ for instance, “if we were created in the image of God so were they.” Hence, Humphrey inadvertently uses the language of Othering that reinforces the historically embedded segregation between the two worlds even as he attempts to create a sense of universality when promoting global equality.

As a human rights activist, it was Humphrey’s desire to preserve international peace  and security by tackling the problem of the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Global economic inequality stemmed from the Eurocentric colonial project since the Early Modern period. The experiences of colonial domination established the social classification of the world’s population around the idea of race (Quijano, 2000, p. 533). With further developments of the Western capitalist countries, the world economy continuously exploited cheaper labour and resources from less developed areas of the globe. Humphrey articulates this systematic racial division of labour as the consequence of fewer material resources in the Third world, which interfered with the establishment of well-ordered societal mechanisms. He therefore draws a strong correlation between a nation’s material wealth and its ability to enforce basic civil and political rights on their citizens. Furthermore, in accordance to international standards, he suggests that privileged members of Canadian society have a responsibility and moral obligation to help the economic development of impoverished peoples in the Third world. Such provision of aid would contribute in preserving peace and security in “a world [that is] threatened by nuclear destruction.”

Notwithstanding his efforts to stress equal rights for all people, one may notice a subtext of embedded Otherness of the Third world citizens in Humphrey’s seemingly neutral and universal language. In the first paragraph, even as he discusses the similarities of all human kind, his language highlights a clear distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that conceivably hints the idea of difference; “they are human beings like ourselves” In English, some of the words used to refer to the Others such as “foreigner” derives from the Latin forãs meaning “out of doors,” which by the early 15th century gradually transformed into the metaphorical meaning of “of other countries” (Hadley, 2013). Many sociologists have argued that these words do not merely designate those from elsewhere as separate, but also connotes the notion of strangeness and unfamiliarity. Edward W. Said, a cultural critic, argued in his book Orientalism that the construction of the Other highlights the hegemonic structure of colonialism that distinguished the “rational West” and the “irrational Other” (Shahinaj, p. 1). Therefore, the imperialist mindset driven from the Eurocentric colonial project has evidently infiltrated our daily language and is reproduced in the connotations of our vocabulary.

Humphrey’s core legacy of universal human rights undeniably opposed the embedded segregation of the First and the Third world countries. Nevertheless, one should question his constant insertion of the language of Othering when referring to the peoples of less developed areas. It remains unknown as to whether Humphrey did so with the intention of consolidating a shared identity among his fellow Canadians, or was hardly concerned about his phraseology so long as he delivered his message about First World responsibility. Nonetheless, further research may benefit in understanding the possible subtext of imperialist discourse within the language employed in scripts of universal human rights.



Hadley, L. (2013, November 13). The Language of Othering. Retrieved from

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Retrieved from

Shahinaj, E. (2015). The Construction of “the Other” in Said’s Orientalism and Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks. Retrieved from

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