Human Rights

Human rights is a broad employment area with no single point of entry. Find out how to gain work experience as well as tips on job hunting.

What is meant by Human Rights?

Irrespective of who you will work for and your role, it is important that you are committed to social justice. Do your research on human rights declarations and statements of intent which define what human rights are and why they are important. One such definition from Amnesty International UK summarises some of the key issues:

Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us, anywhere in the world. Human rights apply no matter where you are from, what  you believe in, or how you choose to live your life... These rights and freedoms are based on values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. But human rights are not just abstract concepts- they are defined and protected by law.

Stay up-to-date with developments in human rights:

  • Read coverage of human rights in quality newspapers e.g. the Guardian.
  • Twitter is a really good way to survey the human rights landscape. Be strategic and follow certain people once you have built up your knowledge and use it to join in conversations. As a starting point, EachOther has a list of UK-focussed human rights tweeters of both individuals and organisations:

       EachOther - human rights commentators on social media

What are the routes into Human Rights?

There is not one single point of entry and competition for roles is fierce so you need to be resilient. A degree in law, languages, international relations or policy may be advantageous.

Possible routes include:

  • Gaining experience by volunteering and/or internships in order to apply for entry-level positions then progressing upwards.
  • Gaining a professional qualification or professional experience before moving into human rights work after some years of experience.

Find out about the varied career paths of previous graduates:

Human Rights - Graduate Profiles

Work experience and skills development

When considering career options, it is important to research which area of human rights is right for you e.g. political rights, economic rights, children and young peoples’ rights. This can be explored through volunteering and other types of work experience such as internships.

It may be difficult to get a paid internship in this sector. Before undertaking an internship, clarify the expected duration, pay, conditions and the experience you will gain. Stay positive, open-minded and seek out volunteering opportunities as early as possible since organisations often have limited resources so it can take time to secure an internship. 

Any opportunity to work, study and live in other countries and cultures should be considered if you want to demonstrate you have the capability to work overseas.

Fluency in a second language is advantageous; national/international relocation may be involved. Edinburgh University Students’ Association provides various language learning opportunities; these include free language taster classes and Tandem, a language programme where you can meet other students who are keen to swap their language skills:

Edinburgh University Students' Association - Tandem Language Exchange

Being active within student societies such as Edinburgh University Amnesty International Society or Student Action for Refugees (STAR) can provide evidence of communication skills, teamwork, negotiation and decision-making skills. Find a society using the Edinburgh University Students’ Association website:

Edinburgh University Students' Association - Find a society

The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) has a bursary scheme to support law students or recent graduates in undertaking internships, work placements, unpaid or low paid work in human rights law:

Human Rights Lawyers Association - Bursaries

JUSTICE is an independent legal human rights organisation who work to promote improvements to the British legal system. They have an internship programme which takes place in the summer and winter each year.

JUSTICE - internships

Liberty is an independent membership organisation which campaigns to challenge injustice, defend freedom and promote human rights in the UK. Two types of volunteering roles are offered:

  • Administrative support - assisting with the day-to-day running of their operations.
  • Information and advice – helping to respond to queries from the public.

Liberty volunteering opportunities

Internships for students and recent graduates are offered at the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These unpaid internships last 3 months but have the possibility to be extended. Visit the Job Openings section of UN Careers for further eligibility details and to search internship opportunities:

UN Careers - Job Openings

Idealist is a searchable database of opportunities in non-profit organisations around the world, including volunteer positions and paid internships:

Idealist

Job hunting

Unlike other sectors, human rights organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not in a position to offer mass graduate recruitment programmes. The following links provide a good starting point which includes international opportunities:

Goodmoves is a recruitment site for the charity and voluntary sector which is run by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations:

Goodmoves

Human Rights Careers has compiled a list of ten human rights international organisations which offer entry level NGO jobs:

Human Rights Careers - entry level jobs

Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) exists to promote and improve advice and representation in immigration, asylum and nationality law. Sign up to be added to their job updates mailing list:

Immigration Law Practitioners' Association - job listings

European Court of Human Rights provides information on traineeships and vacancies as well as full details of the workings of the court:

European Court of Human Rights - employment and traineeships

HG.org is an American site which has a database of law firms throughout the United States and worldwide. Results can be filtered by practice area (e.g. human rights) which may help to identify potential employers:

HG.org

ReliefWeb has humanitarian job listings worldwide – results can be filtered by experience (e.g. 0-2 years) and theme e.g. (protection and human rights). Plus, it provides up-to-date information on global crisis and disasters:

ReliefWeb - jobs

Is a postgraduate qualification required?

A postgraduate qualification is not necessary but it can demonstrate your interest and understanding of human rights.

Search for postgraduate courses using:

Prospects

FindAMasters

For example, an LLM in human rights provides an understanding of international human rights law in its broader political context.

Note: The LLM, a taught Master’s degree offers an academic, rather than a professional qualification, and as such does not provide the professional subjects required for entry to the legal profession in any particular jurisdiction. Some LLM programmes might involve a work based learning project which may help develop experience while you study.