How to Become a Human Rights Officer

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Human rights include economic, social, and cultural rights that help ensure a life without fear, harassment, and prejudice. Helping safeguard these rights for everyone — regardless of personal characteristics such as race, religion, or sexual orientation — is vital, not only to promote American ideals such as religious freedom and employee rights, but to support a secure and stable global community.

The United Nations (U.N.) Universal Declaration of Human Rights details 30 basic rights protected by the international organization around the world. This declaration addresses civil, social, political, and cultural rights, which the U.N. calls “the highest aspiration of the common people.” But the world has considerable work to do to make certain everyone enjoys these basic human rights. Only four in 10 people believe everyone in their country enjoys the same human rights, according to a 2018 global survey by consulting firm Ipsos.

Violations of human rights include discrimination in the workplace, forcible eviction of people from their homes, and segregation of children with disabilities from the general school population. Human rights officers are responsible for identifying and investigating violations like these to help protect individuals and promote human rights domestically and abroad.

The path to pursuing a career as a human rights officer includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a bachelor’s degree focused on a discipline such as sociology.

A human rights officer meets with clients.

What Does a Human Rights Officer Do?

In their role safeguarding basic rights, human rights officers monitor, chronicle, and resolve human rights violations. They frequently work with the U.N., but also may hold positions with other organizations, businesses, and government agencies that are working to protect individuals’ rights.

Human Rights Officer Job Responsibilities

A human rights officer’s work may support measures such as diplomatic efforts, foreign assistance, and economic sanctions that are levied to protect the human rights of people in the U.S. and abroad. Human rights officers’ responsibilities often include the following:

  • Conducting legal research
  • Coordinating efforts with other departments of an agency
  • Drafting reports
  • Gathering information from parties involved in reported violations
  • Informing legislation, policies, and practices
  • Reviewing, monitoring, and evaluating practices
  • Supporting the work of official and informal groups
  • Training and supervising staff

Human Rights Officer Workplaces

With its focus on collaboration between nations to address global problems, the U.N. employs many human rights officers. Professionals in this role at the U.N. support a variety of efforts to protect human rights. Among those efforts are:

  • Assisting governments in fulfilling their obligations
  • Speaking out against violations
  • Offering a forum for identifying and responding to issues

Human rights officers also may work for other human rights organizations, education institutions, businesses, and government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State.

How to Become a Human Rights Officer

An advanced degree, relevant experience, and key skills can provide a strong foundation for a career as a human rights officer. Earning a bachelor’s degree is typically among the first steps toward pursuing this role.

Educational Requirements for Human Rights Officers

Human rights officer roles frequently require at least a master’s degree. Study of subjects such as international relations, law, political science, or the social sciences can help prepare individuals for a human rights career. Sociology, for example, often includes the study of the history and practices related to human rights and approaches to support human rights globally. A bachelor’s degree in this subject can help pave the way toward master’s work as well as a career advancing human rights.

Experience Expectations for Human Rights Officers

Work experience typically is a prerequisite for human rights officer positions, so internships are key to building a resume that can lead to opportunities. U.N. positions for human rights officers, for example, often call for a work background in human rights, international relations, law, or political affairs. Experience in a particular aspect of human rights as targeted by a specific role — protection of vulnerable groups, for example — may be a requirement, depending on the job.

Important Skills for Human Rights Officers

Interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to communicate with a broad range of individuals, are critical for human rights officers. Among the helpful skills for success in this career are:

  • Communication skills
  • Proficiency in speaking and writing
  • Practicing active listening
  • Working to understand issues and concerns
  • Professionalism
  • Understanding of effective approaches to addressing sensitive and complex issues
  • Willingness to research and negotiate possible solutions
  • Teamwork
  • Aptitude for collaborating with colleagues and an organization’s partners
  • Soliciting and analyzing input
  • Learning from others

Proficiency in a foreign language is helpful and may be a requirement of some human rights officer jobs. The U.N., for example, often requires English proficiency and recommends knowledge of French, the two working languages used by the organization’s administration. An understanding of current social issues and human rights laws is also beneficial.

Human Rights Officer Salary

Salaries can vary by factors such as education level, experience, and location, but the median annual salary for a human rights officer in August 2021 was about $74,000, according to PayScale. The highest 10% of earners made an annual salary of $181,000 or more, while the lowest 10% made $45,000 or less.

The U.N. classifies many human rights officer positions as P-3 or P-4. In 2021, jobs at the P-3 level paid base salaries that ranged from $37,000 to $80,000, based on factors such as an employee’s number of dependents and the cost of living where the job was based. Jobs at the P-4 level paid between $67,000 and $106,000. The jobs also offered benefits such as housing rental subsidies and educational grants for employees’ children.

Make a Global Impact

If you’re ready to make an impact on the security and stability of communities locally and throughout the world, explore a career as a human rights officer. Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in sociology program can help you take that brave step, with courses that delve into current events and the challenges facing modern society.

The program also features a track that focuses on social justice issues, encouraging students to work toward practical solutions. And the program offers the convenience of 100% online learning and flexible start dates.

Discover how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology degree can help you reach your professional goals.

Recommended Reading

Exploring Services: Human Services vs. Social Services

The Study of Human Nature: A Communication Degree vs. Sociology Degree

What Are Social Justice Issues?

Sources

American Sociological Association, Sociology of Human Rights

Ipsos, Human Rights in 2018

PayScale, Average Human Rights Officer Salary

United Nations, About Us

United Nations Careers, Job Opening: Human Rights Officer, P4

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Key Concepts on ESCRs — What Are Examples of Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, What We Do: An Overview

United Nations, Pay and Benefits

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

U.S. Department of State, Human Rights and Democracy

When Women Inspire, “What Are Human Rights and Why Are They Important?”