What does human rights work involve?
You may associate human rights with protests, marches and outrageous headlines. However, this hugely important area of work is more likely to be concerned with professors speaking at conferences, lawyers arguing and soldiers carrying out peacekeeping activities.
The field of human rights is all about the protection, promotion and enforcement of the most fundamental and basic rights that all humans have, as first set out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Why are human rights so important?
Human rights are considered to be so important because they represent the most basic rights inherent to all humans without qualification. These basic rights can affect so many aspects of our lives and you can find human rights being associated with hundreds of different issues.
The protection of human rights may be pursued via domestic or international law, protests and conferences in order to progress and ensure appropriate safeguards are in place. You might be working as a lawyer, an academic, a politician, a lobbyist, as part of a think tank, or for an NGO or charity.
Marketing and promotion are particularly important aspects of human rights charity work. Promotional activities aim to raise awareness of particular issues, promote the success of human rights, or create awareness that they exist.
Many of the largest NGOs, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, focus most of their activities around the promotion of human rights and exposing instances where human rights have been breached, By doing so they raise awareness of the steps that need to be taken in order to ensure these issues are in the public domain and dealt with by the state. Here, you may be working on large scale advertising campaigns, writing articles or actively fundraising.
Enforcement is the most difficult aspect of human rights. Human rights are generally enforced through domestic and international legal systems, such as the European Court of Human Rights or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Although international enforcement is limited outside of these bodies, the creation of the International Criminal Court may go some way to change this in the future. Here, you are likely to require a legal background but there’s also scope for pursuing other roles, from data analysts to accountants.
In some instances, the enforcement of human rights is undertaken by soldiers, such as in Somalia in 1992 (although their effectiveness as protectors of human rights is debatable).
How do I get involved with human rights?
Careers in the human rights arena are very competitive and so a strong academic background and plenty of work experience or volunteer experience will be required. It’s also worth mentioning that many roles within this area involve international interaction and additional language skills are, therefore, highly desirable.
It’s also worth remembering that human rights has many layers, from women’s rights and the rights of indigenous people, to the finer points of housing law and the freedom of expression. Consequently, you may choose to specialise in one specific area of the human rights remit.
There’s so much variety, so if you’re looking to get involved in this area of work, it’s important to decide which area of human rights is best for you. Finding your niche is important and this can be established through volunteering and other types of work experience.
Many people go into this subsector after years building transferrable expertise in other sectors. In order to prosper in this sector, you will need to have a passion for helping others and a realistic view as to what you are able to achieve. In general, most positions are not highly paid, but there are always exceptions.
A career in the field of human rights can be both stressful and, at times, disheartening but human rights charities do some of the most important work in the world. If you want to make a real difference then a career in this subsector may be exactly what you are looking for.