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Careers Centre

Human rights

Sector Overview

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

—Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)


As a field, Human Rights work encompasses a broad spectrum of organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, which share the basic goal of improving the "inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human Rights organisations accomplish this through the promotion and protection of economic, cultural, social, political, and civil rights and freedoms for people around the world. There are a variety of roles available in this field, from working directly with individuals and organizations, to advocacy or policy-making, to academic research. But keep in mind that human rights organisations will also need a range of support services, so there will be roles in finance, HR, PR, and IT, for example.

The following resources should be used as a starting point for learning about current issues in human rights. You’ll want to have as much background knowledge as possible about the topic before applying for jobs or specialized graduate programs.

 

Human rights attributes profile

 

 Key attributes/skills needed for the role
Where you could develop these skills or attributes
The ability to advocate for others and to persuade

Presentations within your course and  mooting or debating experience. A student representative role would also offer opportunities to develop these skills. CAPOD offers Communications Skills courses as part of its   Professional Skills Curriculum

Project management skills Organising roles within societies eg for events. CAPOD also offers courses on Project Management regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Also master the use of EXCEL
Research abilities Developed through your academic studies and relevant work experience

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Integrity:  a necessity to persuade others about your messages
  • Determination: the career path and day to day work are very demanding
  • Resilience: set backs are inevitable

 

Nature of sector or roles

Working in human rights is exciting and challenging: issues involving peace and security, development, legal justice, humanitarian assistance, and economic and social affairs are always at stake. To succeed, you need to be willing to work in difficult conditions and show sensitivity to cultural differences. Excepting permanent positions in the United Nations, compensation for Human Rights workers is rarely generous.

There are many different ways to get involved with Human Rights. Perhaps the most high profile job is that of a Human Rights lawyer, but there are also positions available as analysts, researchers, lobbyists, and other positions. If you’re more interested in exposing human rights abuses, you could develop a career as a journalist or a communications officer for a human rights organisation.

Even if you don’t choose a career directly in human rights, there are many other ways to offer up your time and expertise. For example, you could be a corporate lawyer but take up the occasional pro bono human rights case, or a writer who sometimes profiles abuse, or simply a volunteer in your community who gives some time each month to a human rights organization.

The following resources give some background information on what having a career in human rights entails. Use these sources as a starting point.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to assist you with your application. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (the Fast Stream has its own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have been accepted on the European and Generalist Fast Stream as well as jobs within the Scottish Government. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

What to study

Many undergraduate degrees can be adaptable to a career in human rights. Law, International Relations, Languages, and area studies might be particularly relevant. Achieving some sort of graduate degree is becoming increasingly critical to acquiring a job. This could mean a law conversion course (or law school if you’re American), or an advanced degree in a variant of international relations, international development, human rights, areas studies, languages, humanitarian crises, or some other related field.

Fluency in English is a must, and any other language skills would be considered highly desirable. Consider the region you are particularly interested in working in and try to attain some level of fluency in a language applicable to that region. If you have no current regional preference, French and Spanish are always good languages to start with as they are widely spoken in multiple areas.

How to gain experience/internships

It is helpful if you have lived and worked abroad, particularly in a developing country. You should consider teaching or volunteering in a developing country in order to gain first-hand experience with issues facing global communities and how people are responding to them. Try to secure an internship with a human rights organisation, as this will provide you with contacts and may lead to a full-time job offer. 
 Seek work shadowing and longer placements or internships, as this can help you to decide on your particular niche within the field and create contacts when you are looking for a job. Paid internships are rare and intensely competitive, and you may have to consider working voluntarily in order to gain relevant experience but some students manage to combine this with part-time paid work in other sectors. You might want to adopt a speculative approach - see our web pages on networking and speculative applications for more advice.

Internships

Here is a list of Human Rights internships to get you started:

OrganisationLocationSpecialisation
Human Rights Watch Locations Worldwide Defends the rights of people worldwide, investigating abuse, exposing the facts
US Human Rights Network Atlanta, GA. National network of organizations and individuals working to strengthen a human rights movement
Human Rights First Washington D.C., New York An independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals
Physicians for Human Rights New York, Boston, Washington D.C. Independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Washington D.C. Autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights
Internship Nepal Nepal Internship Nepal is a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) established with a view of developing the society through volunteering opportunities for Nepali and foreign people. Programs include human rights research
Amnesty International Offices worldwide The world’s largest grassroots human rights organisation
Oxfam 15 organisations working in 98 countries Oxfam is determined to change that world by mobilizing the power of people against poverty
One World Offices in London, UK; Washington, DC, USA; Abuja, Nigeria; and Dakar, Senegal Has a mission to innovate internet and mobile phone applications that the world's poorest people can use to improve their life chances


If you’re looking for a job in the U.S. you should also check out the following resources:

How to get a (graduate) job

The skills and knowledge required will obviously depend on the type of position and organisation you seek. Successful candidates have excellent oral and written communication skills and are typically able to speak multiple languages. They are flexible and culturally sensitive, and have a strong desire to make a difference through their work.


People interested in this area may find themselves doing tasks as varied as health care, finance, journalism, research, media, grant writing, education, and community organising.

In order to be successful in a Human Rights career you will need to run a very vigilant job search. Compile list of organisations you would interested in working for and then keep a constant eye on any open positions. Persistence will be key. You might also consider sending in a speculative application to an organization you’re particularly interested in.

Where to start your job search

You should also browse through the following list of sample employers to find organisations and companies that might interest you and then go directly to their careers pages.

 

Sample Employers

UK Employers

OrganisationLocationDescription
Article19 London ARTICLE 19 envisages a world where people are free to speak their opinions, participate in decision-making, make informed choices about their lives.
British Institute of Human Rights London A UK-wide independent human rights charity working to bring rights to life here at home.
Department for International Development (DFID) London, Glasgow A government agency devoted to international development
Liberty London A non-party membership organisation at the heart of the movement for fundamental rights and freedoms in the UK.
North of England Refugee Service Newcastle An independent and charitable organization which exists to meet the needs and represent the interests of asylum seekers and refugees
Woman Aid International London WomenAid's mission is to provide relief and assistance to women and children suffering distress

 

Leading Barristers, Solicitors, and Lawyers in the UK that specialise in Human Rights

OrganisationLocationType
Blackstone Chambers London Barrister
Doughty Street Chambers London, Manchester, and Bristol Barrister
Matrix Law London Barrister
Bindmans London Solicitor
Leigh Day & Co London Solicitor
Bhatt Murphy London Solicitor

 

US Employers

OrganisationLocationDescription
The Advocates for Human Rights Minneapolis Helps individuals fully realize their human rights in the United States and around the world
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program New York, Washington D.C. The Program is committed to advancing the human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) New York Works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties
The Carter Center Atlanta Guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering.
Center for International Policy Washington, DC Promotes cooperation, transparency and accountability in global relations
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) Offices in Washington, DC, USA; San Jose, Costa Rica; Rio di Janiero, Brazil; and Buenos Aires, Argentina Contributes to the full enjoyment of human rights in the Americas through the effective use of the tools of the Inter-American System
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Oakland, CA. Giving people opportunities and skills to work together to strengthen our communities
Freedom House Washington, DC and New York An independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world
Global Exchange San Francisco An international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice
Human Rights First New York, Washington D.C. An independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals
Justice Africa London An independent non-governmental platform to amplify the voices of Africa’s civic activists
International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) New York An international non-profit organization specializing in the field of transitional justice
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Oakland, CA. Works to defend and expand the rights of all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status
Physicians for Human Rights Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC An independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities
U.S. Agency for International Development Washington D.C. The lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty
Witness for Peace Washington D.C. A politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence
Kamarah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights Washington D.C. A U.S.-based non profit organization that derives its name from the Arabic term “karamah”, which means dignity

 

International Employers

OrganisationLocationDescription
Amnesty International Offices Worldwide The world’s largest grassroots human rights organisation
Asia Centre for Human Rights Janakpuri, New Delhi Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Asian region
Avocats Sans Frontiers (Lawyers without borders) Multiple locations ASF intervenes in countries where human rights are not respected
Center for Economic and Social Rights Offices in Madrid and Brooklyn Works to promote social justice through human rights
Derechos Human Rights Human Rights Education Associates An international organization working for the respect and promotion of human rights
Human Rights Education Associates (HERA)   An international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning
Human Rights Watch Offices worldwide Defends the rights of people worldwide
International Rescue Committee Based in New York with work in 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities Responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives
Just Vision Offices in Washington, DC and Jerusalem Highlights the power and potential of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future
One World Offices in London, UK; Washington, DC, USA; Abuja, Nigeria; and Dakar, Senegal Has a mission to innovate internet and mobile phone applications that the world's poorest people can use to improve their life chances
Oxfam 15 organisations working in 98 countries Oxfam is determined to change that world by mobilizing the power of people against poverty
Peace Women Offices in New York and Geneva Ensuring women's rights and participation are not disregarded in international peace and security efforts
United Nations Headquartered in New York and Geneva A complex international organisation aimed at international peace and cooperation
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Based in Geneva Represents the world's commitment to universal ideals of human dignity