Objectives, Mission and History

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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.


Established 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, and its diverse and vibrant community of scholars, students and practitioners working at the intersection of human rights and legal pluralism.


The Centre thrives in the cultural and academic diversity among its members: over 50% of Centre members and associate members are specialists in disciplines outside of law, including political science, philosophy, anthropology, geography, economics, education, religious studies, and social work. The Centre is also home to some of the world’s leading experts in international criminal law, comparative law, constitutional law, and legal theory.

Each year, the Centre also welcomes a community of exceptional individuals from across the globe (visiting fellows, visiting researchers, graduate students, and student members) who each add fresh voices to the already existing intellectual diversity and debate at the Centre. The invaluable support of our team of law students and interns is similarly integral to the life and work and dynamism of the Centre.


The Centre is a locus of cutting-edge research on pertinent issues at the intersection of human rights and legal pluralism, and is also focused on building communities around core themes. The dynamism and intellectual diversity of our community of scholars and thinkers provides a fertile environment for collaborative, symbiotic and innovative scholarship.

The Centre’s core areas of research include:

  1. Human Rights and Legal Pluralism
  2. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  3. Discrimination and Inclusion
  4. Globalization, Migration, and Mobility
  5. Reconciliation
  6. Scholars and Advocates in Danger
  7. Economic Justice
  8. Health and Law
  9. Transformative Clinical Education
  10. Children and Conflict


Recognizing the impact of ideas on the world and the impact of the world on ideas, we strive to connect people, ideas and communities. Our enduring partnerships with global and local civil society provide rich experiential learning opportunities to our members and students.

Since its creation, the Centre has provided McGill students with exciting experiential learning opportunities through human rights internships, which see law students work with partners in every corner of the globe each summer, an international criminal justice clinic, and judicial clerkships.

Through public lectures, seminars, conferences, the Centre brings in distinguished voices from home and abroad often in collaboration with diverse student groups (see Events).  These events bridge the distance between a multitude of actors committed to protecting and promoting diversity in human rights.  The Centre also hosts prestigious lectureships on human rights honouring John Humphrey, René Cassin, Robert S. Litvack, and Raoul Wallenberg which enable us to bring focus to pressing human rights challenges.

2017 Annual report

2017 Annual Report CoverAs we take stock of a remarkably dynamic year, it is notable the extent to which the Centre has resoundingly secured a distinct place in the Canadian and global human rights community. During 2016, the Centre has been sought out as a partner, to name but a few, by the City of Montreal, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Women Living under Muslim Laws Network, and Voices/Voix (a non-partisan coalition of Canadian civil society organizations). This small sample of partnerships underscores the impact of the scholarship and public engagement of our members’ influence on a diverse range of human rights actors and organizations, both in Canada and at the international level. The Centre continues to play a strategic role in the Scholars at Risk Network (SARN) through its representation on the Steering Committee of the SARN Canada section. Our commitment to providing a safe haven for fellow scholars escaping persecution from the state or from non-state actors is reflected in our continuous hosting of a SARN Fellow.

The Centre, more than ever before, has become a place for connecting people and ideas from the North and the South, from the grassroots to the top international organizations. On the one hand, we facilitated a conversation among the mayors of Buenos Aires, Montreal, and Berlin on the opportunities and challenges of integrating migrants into these cosmopolitan cities, which allowed for the sharing of good practices. On the other, we hosted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who spoke on the current refugee crisis confronting the global community and underscored the imperative for Canada and the international community to act.

Our ethos of building a continuum from the local to global in all our programs and initiatives is also well exemplified through our disability and human rights initiative. Our efforts at the Faculty through the seminar series are complemented by internships with disability rights organizations in Serbia and Argentina, as well as the Shadow report we submitted in April 2016 to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which reviewed Canada’s compliance with its treaty obligations.

Our strength and dynamism are rooted in our diverse and rich community. In 2016, we hosted 8 O’Brien Fellows in residence from 7 countries, sent 26 human rights interns across 5 continents, and have with us 11 O’Brien graduate Fellows from 10 countries. Our growing membership, which is at 32 full members and 6 associate members, is reflective of our intellectual diversity. From delivering the prestigious Massey lectures to receiving distinguished fellowships, awards and honors, our members are recognized as agenda-setters and influential voices in the academy as well as within domestic and international institutions. We will be ending the year yet again by co-hosting an international conference on human rights education with our long-standing partner Equitas. This conference is a testimony to our ability to create enduring partnerships with a diverse range of actors and organizations across Canada and across the world, allowing us an impact far beyond our limited financial and human resources.

In the end, we dedicate this year’s impressive achievements to our exceptional colleague Sharon Webb, whose dedicated service to the Centre and its community allows us to engage, act and impact at so many levels.

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