Human Rights Careers Advice

Key Information and Resources for Finding a Career in Human Rights

When looking to find a job within the human rights field it is important to bear in mind that there are many different ways to get involved. Jobs in this area are diverse and range from working for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO); an Inter-governmental agency; as a diplomat; as a legal practitioner; to working for an academic institution, among others. There is no right or wrong way to find a job in human rights but you do have to persevere. Unfortunately, competition for jobs is high and therefore the key thing to bear in mind is to be open to any opportunity that may come your way, no matter how small, and to approach any position whether it is a volunteer position, internship or paid position with the same professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm. Many people find a paid position only after having first undertaken volunteer work.

Job search resources


Many NGOs advertise jobs and/or internships on their website as well as on the Guardian website. Here are a few NGOs to consider:

Amnesty International – One of the largest employers of human rights activists. As well as paid jobs, Amnesty also has a long running volunteer/internship programme.

International Secretariat


Human Rights Watch – A large NGO whose main headquarters are in the US but they do also have offices in other regions of the world

CEJIL – A key NGO working within the Americas. They have a main office in Washington but also have offices in Costa Rica, Brazil and Argentina. They run an internship programme details of which, including deadline for applying, can be found on their website.

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) – An NGO whose headquarters are in Geneva, which provides legal expertise at both the international and national to ensure that international standards are adhered to and implemented 

International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) - A federation of around 155 organisations with an International Secretariat based in Paris. They conduct advocacy and campaigning on human rights at the international, regional and national levels.

International Service for Human Rights – A Geneva based NGO with a small office in New York, which provides training on human rights issues and helps other NGOs to work with and within the UN system and regional human rights systems.  

REDRESS Trust for Torture Survivors – A UK based NGO which focuses on obtaining justice and reparation for torture survivors.

Freedom from Torture – A UK based organisation providing treatment to torture survivors, which will be of particular interest to persons with a background in medicine, psychology or social work. They have an established practice of taking on volunteers.

Penal Reform International – An NGO with its headquarters in the UK, which has seven regional offices. It focuses on working on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture – A Geneva based NGO working to prevent torture and other ill-treatment worldwide. The APT offers a limited number of internships, normally to young graduates in human rights law, political sciences or international relations.

UPR-INFO – A small organisation based in Geneva that aims to raise awareness and provide capacity-building tools to the different actors of the Universal Periodic Review process. They offer unpaid internships for a minimum of 3 months.

International Organisations

United Nations:

The UN offers a range of different ways in which to get involved with human rights but competition for jobs is high. Remember there are many different organs and institutions within the UN and so your search does not have to be restricted to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. They do also run internship programmes.

International Criminal Court:

The ICC prefers to fill posts only with nationals of a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, or of a State which has signed and is engaged in the ratification process or which is engaged in the accession process, although nationals from non-state parties may be considered. Internships are available as well.

International Committee of the Red Cross

Regional Organisations 


European Union: The EU runs an internship programme which can offer a good opportunity to gain experience work with and within a range of different institutions. You must met certain criteria (e.g. hold a passport from an EU country) and you need to apply within a specific time, which can be up to a year in advance of the start date.

Every year the Court of Justice of the EU offers a limited number of paid traineeships of a maximum duration of five months. Traineeships are generally undertaken in the Research and Documentation Directorate, the Press and Information Service, the Directorate-General for Translation or the Interpretation Directorate. There are two traineeship periods:

  • from 1 March to 31 July (form to be sent no later than 30 September)
  • from 1 October to 28 February (form to be sent no later than 30 April)

Council of Europe: The COE also have internship and job opportunities from time to time.


African Union: The African Union also lists job vacancies and internships but you usually have to be a national of an AU state in order to apply.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also runs internship programmes.

The Americas

The Inter-American Commission run an internship programme details of which, including deadline for applying, can be found on their website.

National Human Rights Institutions

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) such as Human Rights Commissions may from time to time offer internships. For information and contact details of existing NHRIs throughout the world see:

Legal Profession

There are a number of opportunities to work in human rights if you want to enter the legal profession. You will need to take the necessary Law Society (solicitors) or Bar Council (barristers) exams and the period of training before you can practice in UK courts. In some ways human rights law pervades a lot of the work that is dealt with by solicitors and barristers in any field. There are also a large number of solicitor firms and barrister chambers that deal with human rights and civil liberties specifically. A search of the Law Society and Bar Council sites will identify those that do so in the areas of the country you are interested in. See Law Society Gazette for a range of job opportunities:

Academic Resources

Another way into human rights work is to consider the academic pathway. Undertaking research as part of a PhD will give you a specialism and enable you to make contacts which could stand you in good stead for a career in human rights. You need to:

  • identify your specific area of focus for your research and why it can make an original contribution to the field
  • consider appropriate supervisors and where these might be based
  • apply to the relevant university

There are some funding opportunities available, both internal to universities and externally (e.g. AHRC, ESRC) for PhD scholarships. You should consult the relevant university Law School webpages and other organisations for details of these.

You can also consider research assistant or research associate posts. These are temporary contracts where you assist in the research on a specific grant or project that is being carried out at a University. They can be a very useful and practical way to become engaged in the issues and make relevant contacts. They will be advertised on the particular university sites and also often on

Internships and placements

A great way of entering the human rights field and gaining valuable experience is to do internships or voluntary work for NGOs, international organisations or academic institutions. You could consider tying this in with your dissertation if you are doing an LLM or your research if you are already carrying out a PhD.

Staff in the Law School have a huge range of contacts with organisations and individuals both in the UK and abroad and are also undertaking a wide range of work on human rights for which they may require some assistance (paid and unpaid). If you are interested, please get in touch with us and let us know your specific interests.

Some universities also have dedicated human rights centres that offer internships. For example, the Human Rights Centre of the University of Pretoria runs an established internship programme and also advertises human rights vacancies from other organisations on its website.

Summer Schools

For those of you looking to take a course looking specifically at human rights but who may not be able to undertake an M.A or LLM, you may want to consider the following summer schools:

Abo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights (Turku, Finland)

European University Institute (Florence, Italy)

Contact Us

Rachel Murray, Director of the HRIC:

Debra Long, Research Fellow at the HRIC:

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