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Law Degree in Human Rights

by Maria OCadiz, studioD

Human rights such as the right to life, liberty, and freedom of expression are universal, meaning every person is entitled to them. Human rights advocacy organizations implement programs and institute legal action to protect and promote these rights. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union's lawyers and advocates work on a variety of cases each year to preserve peoples' privacy and protect them from discrimination and exploitation. A human rights law degree equips practitioners with knowledge of the legal framework for national and international human rights and the enforcement mechanisms for human rights violations.


Anyone who wishes to work in the human rights field may undertake a law degree in human rights. The degree equips lawyers with the theoretical knowledge of human rights law. It is also useful for other human-rights advocates such as lobbyists, nonprofit organizations and human rights defenders who offer protection to victims. A human-rights degree program also exposes students to other aspects of advocacy work such as research, documentation, fundraising and public relations, which are valuable skills for an effective advocate.


A law degree trains professionals who will agitate for the protection and promotion of human rights for the benefit of all people. Human rights law is a system of national and international laws designed to protect and promote political, social, economic, cultural and civil rights. However, if the standards set by those laws are to be implemented nationally or globally, then trained professionals are required to push for and oversee the implementation.

Course Material

A human rights degree program covers material such as the background, development, principles, sources, precedents and future directions of human rights. Students learn about human rights law through classroom lectures, fieldwork clinics, internships, conferences, presentations and panel discussions with experts in the human-rights field. The course material touches on both national and international human rights law. Human rights law in the United States is focused on civil rights, and students studying civil rights undertake courses such as indigenous people’s rights in the United States, law and religion in the United States, police misconduct and First-Amendment rights. International human rights law touches on issues such as citizen’s rights in armed conflict as well as refugee and asylum law.


Once candidates earn their degree, they may apply their skills to education, advocacy and research in the human-rights field. Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International monitor the human rights records of different countries, dealing with issues like the continued use of the death penalty in some nations, problems facing immigrant children and protection of whistleblowers. Graduates who find work in a human rights organization might report on emerging rights issues, identify areas where human-rights laws are underdeveloped and spearhead initiatives for expansion. For example, in its 2013 world report, Human Rights Watch said that millions of Americans face possible human rights abuses every day, citing the country's flawed, overcrowded prison system where inmates can be subject to solitary confinement, discriminatory treatment of non-citizens and arbitrary detention of terrorism suspects.

About the Author

Maria OCadiz has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in Education. She is a former university professor, curriculum facilitator and teacher.

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