Human Rights Belong to Individual Human Beings

By Sarah Bate

John P. Humphrey’s address titled, “Human Rights Belong to Individual Human Beings”, is a challenge to the United Nations, which he refers to as “the organization of shame.” It is a powerful address to the international community about the work that still needs to be done in order to secure human rights for every individual human being. The significance of this speech lies within its message. John P. Humphrey addresses the weaknesses  in the execution of justice within international law claiming that as a result of these weaknesses, the law is more reactionary that pro-active. He states, “The international mechanisms for (the) implementation of these rights are weak (when indeed they even exist). Unless there is a threat to international peace or an act of international aggression, the United Nations cannot use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…The United Nations does not possess police with the power to enforce its findings in these matters.” The speech covers new ground on issues pertaining to the implementation of human rights. In particular, Humphrey argues for better follow through on the part of the United Nations, and an enforcement agency within the international organization to aid in the implementation of human rights for every individual. It is clear from the speech that he believes in the need for better execution in the delivery of human rights to the individual.

It is in this speech that he puts forward his own ideas for what would eventually become the International Criminal Court. Humphrey states in his speech, “If such tribunals were created it would be a precedent for the future creation of a universal court of human rights with jurisdiction over individuals.” As such, the speech covers new ground in the call for better performance by the United Nations in securing human rights for every individual. John P. Humphrey recognizes these limits within the international law system, especially as they relate to the implementation and the execution of these rights for every individual. Humphrey states, “The very name, international law, is now no longer appropriated for a legal order that reaches down to the individual, But so much more needs to be done that it could be another generation before, if ever, the world will be governed by an efficient law of human rights.” It is here that Humphrey claims the need for an International Criminal Court.

This speech addresses the weakness within the organs of the United Nations and is an important source for understanding the history of human rights in Canada and globally. In this address directed to the international community, Humphrey addresses the weaknesses and limitations within the United Nations and the necessary steps in order to make a drastic change in the execution of human rights.


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