3 steps to kick start your human rights career

Palestinian children walk past a mural on their way to their United Nations-run school.

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

If you are someone who aspires to start or even further your career in the human rights field, then you may already know that while a career in human rights is rewarding, it comes with its own set of challenges.

Degrees specialising in human rights have become more popular and important in recent years and cover a wide range of issues involving the fair and humane treatment of migrants and refugees, child labour, war crimes, human trafficking, religious persecution, bioethics, climate change, health care access and even freedom of speech.

A career in the human rights field is not easy to break into if you do not already have sufficient working experience in the field. However, there are many ways to start.

Start by volunteering and interning locally or even abroad

There are many NGOs already working on various issues related to the human rights field. These NGOs rely on volunteers to carry out important tasks as they rarely have sufficient resources to hire full-time personnel to carry out aid missions.

This is where you can offer to help, and it can be by simply offering your skills. You can start by volunteering to raise funds for a mission, write for their social media accounts, or even assist in providing direct aid.

This will be a great way to start your career in this field but at the same time, it cannot be denied that getting an education in this field is also a great way to start your career. While you may not have a degree in this filed, you can learn about it through blogs and books as well as by keeping up with current issues and news.

It is also a great idea to pick up a new language which will improve your chances to volunteer abroad. Knowing another language can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to international fieldwork. Additionally, you can also learn languages for free through these recommended resources.


Identify the right role for yourself

There are thousands of roles available in the highly diverse human rights field. For instance, human rights majors find themselves in a wide array of roles, predominantly in advocacy, law, social services, international relations, and communications.

Careers in advocacy could be broken down into domestic and international advocacy, humanitarian services, development (economic, community, housing), disaster/disease relief, HIV/AIDS advocacy, policy development, programme administration, education, volunteer coordination, grant writing, fundraising/development, and even research.

If you already have a degree in law, some upskilling in this field of specialisation can land you a role in human rights law, international law, immigration law, education law, public interest law, lobbying, government relations, elected or appointed leadership, public policy, research, intelligence, campaign management, special interest advocacy or even programme administration.

If you prefer to work in a social services-oriented role, these are some roles that you could find yourself in: administration and planning, human services provision, public health, disaster/disease, economic development, HIV/AIDS work, policy development, program administration, programme evaluation or even volunteer coordination.

A career in international relations will require you to have the right skills to work in diplomacy, peacekeeping, foreign affairs, program administration, community development, economic development, resource development, public-private partnerships, governance, policy-making and analysis, legislative services, political advising, public sector reform, poverty-reduction strategy, ethics and anti-corruption and human rights roles.

Lastly, if you are in communications and already have some experience working in this field, you may work in the human rights field as a foreign news correspondent, reporter, editor, writer, journalist, photographer, researcher, or even carry out freelance work.


Consider getting a Master’s in human rights qualification

Graduate programmes in human rights can lead to graduate certificates or Master’s degrees. A postgraduate qualification in this field is always nice to have if you are keen to work in this field.

These Master’s degree programmes are mainly available as a standard Master’s degree or a second law degree.

A Master’s degree in human rights programme curriculum is designed around human rights issues in the areas of education, health, work, environment, children, and family.

A sound programme will provide you with an option to choose between a research and a management track. In the former, your programme will equip you with the research skills that will prepare you for a doctorate level programme.

However, opting for the management track will help you develop your skills in non-profit or advocacy management.

Fundamentally, a Master’s degree in human rights will help you develop the right knowledge and skills in the following areas such as border justice, economic crimes, environmental justice issues, social analysis, and even grant writing which will prepare you for a career in the human rights field.

Alternatively, a Master’s of Law in human rights degree will prepare you to tackle the legal issues surrounding human rights issues. These programmes are suitable for law graduates and will cover topics on civil liberties, global justice, genocide and war crimes, juvenile rights as well as constitutional law.