My Quixotic Quest to Get the Drafters of the 1951 Refugee Convention Added to Wikipedia

Alex Jean
3 min readMar 10, 2023

About ten years ago, I was upset to see that Paul Weis, noted refugee expert, holocaust survivor, and co-author of the 1951 Refugee Convention did not have an Wikipedia page. In fact, the only drafters of the Convention who had made the cut on Wikipedia were Eleanor Roosevelt and American delegate Louis Henkin. This seemed a shame, so I wrote short articles about Weis, Chance, the Canadian delegate, and Brass, the UK delegate, who had a short stub that didn’t mention his contribution to refugee law, but had a weirdly detailed amount of information about his grave. I also attempted to add information on Roosevelt’s contributions to refugee law to her page, which is limited, for some unknown reason, to her contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To my surprise, all of my contributions to Wikipedia were rejected. In the case of Brass, Weis and Chance, I was told they were not notable historical figures and did not qualify for a Wikipedia article. Ouch.

My article on the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, the body that drafted the convention, was also rejected. Information about it currently appears nowhere in the article on the 1951 Convention, which does contain this humorous phrase: “The Convention specifies that complaints should be referred to the International Court of Justice. It appears that no nation has ever done this.” The Wikipedia article also tells me that “public shaming” is one of the only ways to get states parties to comply with the Convention, which I suppose is accurate, though most experts wouldn’t exactly put it that way. But who cares about expertise when you can have articles like this?

I recently discovered the Weis has finally made the cut on Wikipedia (not that he would have cared), with a short stub that I took the liberty of expanding. I also expanded Sir Leslie Brass’s page to make note of his contributions to refugee law (not that he would care). My page on Canadian Leslie Chance, however, was rejected.

So here it is:

Leslie Chance served as the Canadian delegate to the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems in Lake Success, New York to draft the 1951 Refugee Convention, the key international instrument in refugee protection. He was supported in this work by Professor John P. Humphrey, the eminent McGill legal scholar and drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mr. Chance, Head of the Consular Division within the Canadian Foreign Affairs department (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 1951), chaired the committee, but later reluctantly withdrew due to Canada’s objections to the final draft of the Convention, which they feared would impede Canada’s ability to deport persons deemed to be a security risk. Canada finally ratified the Convention in 1969.

Here’s a small list of topics that did make the cut on Wikipedia:

A couple of fake towns made up as a joke: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatosu_and_Goblu

A wall covered in chewing gum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_Wall

A grave belonging to a random person: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Ellis_grave

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