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Human Rights

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Careers in Human Rights

The international human rights field is comprised of a broad spectrum of governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations which focus on the alleviation of human suffering and the protection and promotion of human rights as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, addressing the full spectrum of human rights -- economic, social, cultural, political, and civil. The field of human rights overlaps with key issue areas of peace and security, development, law, humanitarian assistance, and economic and social affairs.

Work in human rights can be challenging and intense. Organizations use a variety of disciplines in their approach to social justice, including direct service, advocacy, policy development, and research. Activities include research focusing on preventing and ending human rights abuses in all regions of the world, monitoring human rights development, conducting on-site investigations, writing reports on human rights conditions, engaging in advocacy to publicize and curtail human rights violations, litigation, lobbying, and promoting human rights practices in social and political structures. In addition, human rights professionals provide advisory and educational services, refugee assistance, policy analysis for national and international institutions, assistance in institution building, and economic development monitoring.

Career Paths

The field of human rights is broad and multidisciplinary and, therefore, there is no direct or specific career path to follow. Over the past 20 years, the variety of career opportunities in human rights has broadened to include grassroots/community organizers, media specialists, grant writers, educators, financial analysts, journalists, researchers, health care professionals, and human rights monitors. The energy behind human rights work is often found in local/indigenous grassroots groups. Support to these groups can be provided in the form of technical assistance, research, or training.

Qualifications Necessary

The skills required to work in the human rights field vary depending on the organization and type of work. Human rights advocates must be skilled in research, writing, analytical thinking, public speaking, and/or grassroots organizing. Those working in policy development, legal cases, or complex international treaties typically require an advanced degree in law, medicine, anthropology or something similar.

Regardless of the individual requirements of human rights organizations, all candidates should possess excellent oral and written communication skills, the ability to speak more than one language, cross-cultural skills, flexibility, and a willingness to carry out a wide range of responsibilities with limited resources. Experience living and working abroad, especially in a developing country is highly recommended. Internships with human rights organizations is one way to gain valuable experience and they also provide professional contacts in the human rights community. In many cases, internships lead directly or indirectly to full-time jobs. It is also helpful, if not critical, to be familiar with primary human rights documents and declarations such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In addition to skills, knowledge, and experience, dedication and commitment to social justice is mandatory. Because of the intensity of human rights work, having a desire to make a difference and the ability to work collaboratively with other agencies, groups, and cultures all working toward the same goal is crucial.

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