The Necessary Conditions of Peace

By Madeline Ford

Although the students of Brigham Young University may not have realized it in March of 1987, they were being presented with a topic, by a founding father in International Human Rights – John Peters Humphrey – that needed immediate international attention. In his speech, The Necessary Conditions of Peace, Humphrey argued that through the promotion and implementation of individual human rights and the exercising of fundamental freedoms from an individualistic perspective, international cooperation could be achieved. Instead of using global disarmament as a condition to achieve the highest possible standard of universal human rights, Humphrey analyzed the issue through an alternative lens, noting that the implementation of fundamental human rights were ultimately the conditions for international peace. It is important to understand that the nature of the audience was not lost upon Humphrey. As a human rights activist, he found it imperative to impress his point upon a young and educated audience, as these were the actors that held the potential to alter the monopolization of state power in the present and in the future.

After Humphrey retired from the United Nations as the director of the United Nations Human Rights Division in 1966, he chose to return to McGill and continue his academic career as a law professor until he chose to fully retire in 1994 (Historica Canada, 2011). The fact that Humphrey remained at the university until a year before his passing showed his dedication to enlightening young minds; but moreover, it displayed his sense of urgency in persuading the younger leaders of the generation to take action against human rights violations on an international scale. During his late academic career, Humphrey gave the speech in question to the students at Brigham Young University located in Provo, Utah. The tone of the speech is far from light hearted, as it challenges future generations to advocate for a change in the international order, and to eliminate war zones globally. Simultaneously, it is somewhat threatening, warning people of the potential consequences if the world is left to idle hands. This tone of urgency plays into the fact that Humphrey wanted the younger generation to act, and essentially become the “necessary conditions for peace”.

Human rights were born to prosper in an environment where human dignity is respected and equal rights are inherent to all. It is clear that once these building blocks are established, the world can rest upon them in a peaceful manner. Humphrey relies on two historical examples to solidify his claim: The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a the member of an oppressed minority, which led to World War One, and the gross violations of human rights in World War Two. Overall, “The principal cause of that war had been the consistent, persistent, systematic and cynical gross violations of the most fundamental human rights.” Therefore in turn, honoring human rights as the necessary conditions for peace allows international peace to be achieved.

It is incredibly important to the present-day that Humphrey viewed human rights as the fundamental conditions for peace in the global community instead of seeing disarmament as the necessary condition for universal rights because it signified a solution being built from the bottom up. Instead of pursuing an international weapons ban, which was sure to be contested and potentially create more conflict, a bottom-up approach allowed the solution to come from within. Once human rights are completely solidified and respected by all, this will lead to a peaceful situation on a global scale, therefore providing no purpose for weapons nor war. So why isn’t peace occurring? This question leads us to realize that international law is still weak, as it does not always successfully lead to the persecution and conviction of violators. Humphrey notes that this is because certain individual nations continue to control the monopoly of coercion, which allows anarchy to rule. In order for this to change, the world needs young leaders to step up and work together in order to advocate for structural change in the international order.

Although this specific John Peters Humphrey’s speech seemed to go unnoticed on a large scale in 1987, it had a significant impact on those to whom it was being projected. Without the generations of activists in the past, the universal human rights movement would not have the concrete foundations that it does today. However, with global conflict persistently increasing, it is clear that more change needs to occur, starting with a united respect for individuals and their inherent human rights.

Works Cited:

Bonikowsky, Laura. Kaplan, William. “John Peters Humphrey”. Historica Canada. March 16th, 2011. Web.


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