Sub-Fonds SOA - Human Rights (1st Series)

Identity area

Reference code



Human Rights (1st Series)


  • 1946-1957 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

44.5 boxes.

Context area

Name of creator

Administrative history

As part of the Department of Social Affairs, the Division of Human Rights was headed by John Humphrey from 1946 to 1966. The Division was responsible in the Secretariat for the work of the Commission on Human Rights, which had been given a clear mandate by the Economic and Social Council to draft the international bill of rights. It was responsible as well for the Commission on the Status of Women, the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination, the Sub-Commission on Freedom of Information and the Ad Hoc Commission on Questions of Prisoners of War.

In 1962, the Division was composed of 5 units manned by 49 staff members. Due to lack of office space, United Nations New York approached United Nations Office Geneva to explore the possibility of housing the Division in Geneva, to which UNOG expressed its willingness. In April, the Acting Secretary-General decided that it would not be advisable to move the Division to Geneva at that time. Eventually, the Division was relocated to Geneva in 1973 (ref G.IIA 5/36). From 06.1974 the Division of Human Rights was officially transferred from United Nations Headquarters to United Nations Office Geneva.

In 1982 the Division of Human Rights (DHR) became the Centre for Human Rights (CHR) and shortly thereafter (01.1983) the Head of the CHR was reclassified to the level of Under-Secretary-General. In 1987, the Secretary-General designated the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva as the head of the Centre for Human Rights. In 1992 the Assistant Secretary-General was appointed as head of the Centre, reporting directly to the Secretary-General.

In 1994 the first High Commissioner for Human Rights was appointed and in 1997 the Centre for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner were consolidated into a single Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Archival history

In 1973, Geneva Registry, Archives and Mailing Unit was informed by the Headquarters Registry Section of the relocation of DHR to Geneva and proposed to send to Geneva the Headquarters Registry classification series so that Geneva Registry could became operational immediately upon the move (ref G.IIA 5/36).

Headquarters Registry offered that as they maintained periodic files for four years cycle, all files opened during the current cycle which started in 1970 would be sent to Geneva for reference purpose. The first transfer of Human Rights files from the Headquarters to Geneva was in June 1974.

In order to allow for continuity of the classification of the human rights records, the Geneva Registry decided to adopt the NY file classification system and with time expanded it to accommodate new subjects which were not covered by the original system. To avoid confusion with Headquarters records, special prefix "G/" was added on files created by Geneva.

With the continuing requests from the Division of Human Rights to have closed files for reference in Geneva, in 1975 the DHR requested the entire collection of records be sent to Geneva.

In 1976, for reason of space, the Geneva Registry undertook the microfilming of the records with the approval of UN NY Registry. The microfilming operation produced 131 reels of microfilms for these records. Some paper series were destroyed after microfilming. There are still 30 lm paper records of these files.

NY Archives still holds some records relating to the Division of Human Rights covering the period from 1942 to 1953. These include records pertaining to the Status of Women (1947 - 1950), ad hoc Committee on Forced Labour (1949 - 1955), Freedom of Information and of the Press (1949 - 1955), International Bill of Rights Project (1942 - 1953), and the ad hoc Commission on Prisoners-of-War (1951 - 1957).

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

UN NY Registry Section

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The sub-fonds consist of the records of the Division of Human Rights covering the period 1946 to 1957. The collection documents the wide ranging work of the Division not only in the drafting of the International Covenants on Human Rights with the Commission on Human Rights, but also in servicing the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Sub-Commission on Freedom of Information and the Ad Hoc Commission on Questions of Prisoners of War.

The collection includes voluminous correspondence with individuals, groups and governments regarding violations and complaints related to human rights. It was the task of the Division to respond to these communications and to compile a summary for the Commission on Human Rights and to governments concerned. The records document the Division's work on the repatriation of prisoners of World War II, in addition to addressing the plight of survivors, refugees and displaced persons. One especially interesting series of these records is the documentation concerning victims of Nazi so-called scientific experimentation, compiled in an effort to assist these individuals in receiving compensation from the German government.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Numeric file code.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Archive Employee

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Other

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    Finding aids

    Finding aid available

    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    Existence and location of copies

    Microfilm reference number: ARR 1157/Reels 119 - 131

    Related units of description

    Papers of John Peters Humphrey, McGill University Archives; Archives René Cassin (382 AP), Archives nationales de France, Papers of Charles Malik, Library of Congress; Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park NY.

    Related descriptions

    Notes area


    Protection period to: 1976-12-31

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    Level of detail

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        Archivist's note

        Protection period duration: 20

        Archivist's note

        Protection period note:

        Archivist's note


        Archivist's note

        Physical usability: Without limits

        Archivist's note

        Term of protection: UN Classified (20)

        Accession area