Luncheon Speech, Conference on Human Rights, Foreign Policy and Development, McGill University, March 29, 1988

By Adi Beckett

The basis of John Peter Humphrey’s Luncheon Speech, Conference on Human Rights, Foreign Policy and Development given at McGill on March 29, 1988, is the role of the individual in traditional international law. Humphrey, a McGill graduate and Professor, discusses the primitive state of implementing human rights forty years after the creation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Humphrey describes the situation as follows: “The law protecting the individual is there. What is lacking is adequate measures of implementation.” Humphrey’s solution is to build an international order based on the role of the law. Such an order would maintain peace between nations and protect the basic rights of individual men and women. This speech merits further study as it raises important ideas about international law and its importance in protecting human rights. Humphrey, in preparing this speech based on ideas that were then forty years old, argues that human rights law in the years after WWII was revolutionary, yet primitive and in need of of further change. In other words, the proper implementation of human rights was greatly needed.

Humphrey takes an interesting approach to the question of implementation by looking at Alexander Hamilton’s The Federalist, in which he analyzes the Articles of Confederation as the basic constitutional laws of the United States. Humphrey compares the American confederation – an alliance between separate states of the union – to what Canada was in danger of becoming. He uses this example to show there was no legal relationship between the central government in Philadelphia and the individual American men and women – thus the first Parent of Anarchy was created, from this point on Humphrey expands upon the idea of Three Parents of Anarchy and applies these to the relationship between International Law and the individual.

Throughout his speech, Humphrey draws attention to the idea that human rights have had a rapid growth in the forty years between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the date of this speech. Although he describes international law as being a primitive system, the largest problem with regards to this system, according to Humphrey, is the lack of enforcement and implementation mehcanisms. In regards to the future, Humphrey predicts that states will place more importance on protecting their sovereignty than in enforcing individual rights. He calls these states out saying they need to look towards the future and help create mechanisms of implementation that will give more meaning to the international law of human rights. Humphrey feels that Canadian foreign policy needs to take this approach so that international law will looks more towards protecting the individual.

His second parent of anarchy uses the example of Malta (a country the same size as the Island of Montreal), which had the same voting rights in the General Assembly of the United Nations as the Soviet Union. He says that this is the reason “many of the resolutions adopted by these bodies lack political reality… there has developed an anti- United Nations sentiment, where there is now a movement against all forms of international multilateralism.” The problem here is that countries are not working together on a given issue, and yet is this was the very bass of international law. The United Nations defines International Law as,

“the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. Its domain encompasses a wide range of issues of international concern such as human rights, disarmament, international crime, refugees, migration, problems of nationality, the treatment of prisoners, the use of force, and the conduct of war, among others.”[1]

Humphrey admits that figuring out how voting should be represented is extremely hard, but he would be much happier if he knew the Canadian government was working on a solution. This admission then leads to Humphrey’s third parent of anarchy.  The third parent of anarchy can be described as the concept of collective responsibility for violations of international law. Humphrey gives the example of a country suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism against another country. This country then would be tempted to bomb the cost of said country, which could result in the death of innocent men, women and children. The violation here consists of innocent people suffering while those responsible hide behind the notion collective responsibility. Individual responsibility for such actions is recognized only in very few cases (Humphrey uses the examples of war criminal trials after the Second World War as individual responsibility). Humphrey is making the point that international law should towards the protection of the individual, in the same way that it looks towards the sovereignty and protection of entire countries.

Humphrey lists the three parents of anarchy as the major barriers towards the creation of a peaceful world. Labeling the international legal system as primitive, Humphrey says that a good place to start in protecting the rights of the individual would be to expel the parents of anarchy. Within his speech, Humphrey does not seem to be asking for a lot. He wants the Canadian government to at least attempt a solution when it comes to the voting power of countries under the United Nations General Assembly. He also asks for the breaking down of collective responsibility, feeling that guilty people hide behind this idea, and that individual responsibility should be recognized. He feels that these changes would help build an international order that would maintain peace between nations and focus on the protection of individual rights.

[1] United Nations Global Issues, International Law,


Comments are closed.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.