Objectives, Mission and History

Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism

The Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism is a focal point for innovative legal and interdisciplinary research, dialogue and outreach on issues of human rights and legal pluralism. The Centre’s mission is to provide students, professors and the wider community with a locus of intellectual and physical resources for engaging critically with how law impacts upon some of the compelling social problems of our modern era.

Centre sur les droits de la personne et le pluralisme juridique

Le Centre sur les droits de la personne et le pluralisme juridique se veut un point de rencontre novateur pour la recherche, le dialogue et le partage d’informations sur les droits de la personne et le pluralisme juridique. Sa mission est de fournir des ressources physiques et intellectuelles nécessaires à ses étudiants, ses universitaires et à la communauté dans l’étude critique des impacts du droit sur certains des problèmes sociaux les plus importants actuellement.

Centro de Derechos Humanos y Pluralismo Jurídico

El Centro de Derechos Humanos y Pluralismo Jurídico de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad McGill es un punto focal para la investigación jurídica e interdisciplinaria, el diálogo y la divulgación de los derechos humanos y pluralismo jurídico. La misión del centro es proporcionar a los estudiantes, profesores y a la comunidad en general, un sitio de recursos intelectuales y materiales para relacionarse y entender críticamente el impacto de la Ley sobre algunos de los problemas sociales más impactantes de nuestra era moderna.


A key objective of the Centre is to deepen transdisciplinary collaboration on the complex social, ethical, political and philosophical dimensions of human rights.

The current Centre initiative builds upon the human rights legacy and enormous scholarly engagement found in the Universal Declartion of Human Rights.

See the First Draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [.doc] handwritten and then annotated by John Humphrey.


The mission of the Centre includes:

  • To advance innovative research on human rights and the role of law in a legally plural world;
  • To enrich the nexus of scholarship and teaching by engaging undergraduate and graduate students in human rights research projects, human rights internships, international clerkships and advanced scholarship;
  • To communicate research results and provide a forum for the exchange of ideas through scholarly publications, public conferences, seminars, and workshops.

History and Engagement

Created in September 2005, the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism was formed to provide students, professors and the larger community with a locus of intellectual and physical resources for engaging critically with the ways in which law affects some of the most compelling social problems of our modern era, most notably human rights issues.

Since then, the Centre has distinguished itself by its innovative legal and interdisciplinary approach. This was ensured by the cultural and academic diversity among its members. These members come from the Faculty of Law, the Department of Political Science, the Geography Department, the School of Social Work; and the Faculty of Education at McGill, as well as the Department of Sociology at Concordia. The Centre houses some of the world’s leading experts in international criminal law, comparative law, constitutional law, and legal theory.

Centre members have been extensively involved in research and scholarship on international and domestic human rights law, humanitarian law, comparative constitutional protection of human rights, and theoretical and historical approaches to human rights in a legally plural world. Some have been appointed to human rights monitoring and implementation bodies at the national and international levels, and are active in public policy work in collaboration with government. The primary domains of research of the Centre include: Violence: Prevention and Redress; Equality and Social Diversity; Migration and Mobility, Health and Human Rights Economic Justice; Theoretical Approaches to Human Rights, Governance and Legal Pluralism. 

Since its creation, the Centre has provided McGill students with exciting opportunities to participate in human rights internships, an international criminal justice clinic, and judicial clerkships

The Centre organizes a series of annual public lectures on human rights including the Humphrey Lecture series, the Cassin Lectures, the Wallenberg Lectures, and the Litvack Awards and Lectures. The Centre also runs many workshops, often in conjunction with diverse student groups (See Events).

The Centre has also hosted three global Echenberg Family conferences on human rights, which bring scholars, human rights activists, policy-makers, young leaders, students and citizens together to examine major human rights challenges in our global community.

Annual reports

The year 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. It also marks the passing of the torch from the Centre’s second Director to its third. Anniversaries are opportune moments both for reflection on the past and present, and to dream about the future. Are we, as a Centre, fulfilling the expectations that we set for ourselves? Are we providing our members with a locus to have challenging and thought-provoking conversations about human rights? Are we a force for good, however modest, in our community and around the world?

We are pleased to report that we are. Indeed, we are exceeding our ambitions. 2015 was a memorable one for the Centre: as the next few pages will attest, our program of activities and events is as thought-provoking as it is relevant. Our work has never been more important, not only in what we study but how we study it: collaboratively, interdisciplinarily, pluralistically. We reach out into the world and, increasingly, the world is reaching back. We are reaping the harvest of seeds sown throughout the last 10 years, and it is a bumper crop.

To give just one example, in 2015 we welcomed an extraordinary group of visiting scholars through the O’Brien Fellows program. That would be cause enough for celebration, but what makes us particularly proud is the degree to which they have been more integrated into the life of the Centre and the Faculty than ever before. We not only had the privilege of hosting Justice Johann van der Westhuizen of the South African Constitutional Court, but imagine being a first-year constitutional law student and having one of the intellectual architects of the post-apartheid South African Constitution give a guest lecture! Oren Perez of Bar-Ilan University gave a master class on legal pluralism to a group of graduate students who had spent the term wrestling with the subject in a reading group (convened by one of our O’Brien Graduate Fellows). Two of our O’Brien visitors have or will join the esteemed laureates of the Annie MacDonald Langstaff lectures, and one can scarcely imagine a roundtable more timely than that convened in late October by our visiting scholar Tanya Monforte on the Syrian crisis.

Our network of intellectual and institutional partners has blossomed in the last few years, and we can now say, with all sincerity, that the Centre has truly become a global hub for intellectual endeavor in the area of human rights and legal pluralism. We look forward to the next 10 years with confidence, commitment, and genuine excitement: if the last ten years has taught us anything, it is that there is great appetite for the kind of work that the Centre does, and how it does it, and we embrace the challenge. The

Tenth Anniversary Dialogues in Human Rights and Legal Pluralism Series

To celebrate the Centre's tenth anniversary, we have launched a series of dialogues between members of the Centre on human rights and legal pluralism, to be held over two years. These Dialogues are being filmed, both to capture this moment-in-time in the intellectual life of the Centre, and to serve as pedagogical tools both within the University and beyond. The first four of these Dialogues can be viewed below: 

Dialogue 1: Revisiting Legal Pluralism

Between René Provost & Frédéric Mégret, Colleen Sheppard moderating

Dialogue 2: Migration and Transnational Labour

Between Adelle Blackett & François Crépeau, Megan Bradley moderating

Dialogue 3: The Role of Laws in Religion, Family and Community

Between Vrinda Narain & Shauna van Praagh, Angela Campbell moderating

Dialogue 4: Canadian and Global Perspectives on Criminal Justice 

Between Alana Klein & Marie Manikis, Payam Akhavan moderating