The world can be a deeply unfair place. Those who work in human rights choose to do so, often at their own peril, because they believe that something must be done to redress this. It is not an easy path, but it is possibly one of the most rewarding ones there is.
However, paid jobs in human rights are relatively scarce, which is where internships come in. A human rights internship can give you an advantage when it comes to pursuing a career, as well as provide you with real, hands-on insight into the challenges and rewards of the job.
Many groups and organizations around the world are dedicated to improving human rights. Placements exist in non-profits, local governments, and even international organizations like the UN.
Human rights groups require all kinds of work, so you are not limited to any particular area of expertise. You could be on the front line of the most vulnerable communities in the world, or you could be based in a central office as part of an operations team.
Human rights law is a particularly common subset, especially since internships are such an important part of becoming a lawyer. These placements are generally similar to any other legal intern position, assisting with general office needs and helping lawyers prepare for cases.
You essentially have a choice between going to where human rights work is most needed -- mostly developing countries -- or to where the big international organizations are based -- usually developed Western countries. You can do great things in both, it’s just down to what kind of work you would rather be doing.
Geneva in Switzerland is home to the UN’s Human Rights Council as well as several other similar organizations. As such, it is one of the biggest global hubs for human rights work, and has many excellent internship opportunities. These tend to be extremely competitive, but they can set you up for a prestigious career in human rights advocacy.
Like many African countries, Kenya still struggles with many human rights issues, especially surrounding poverty, gender, and sexuality. However, it is also one of Africa’s most economically stable countries, which means it has more resources in place to help.
As a human rights intern, you will usually be working with a non-profit organization to address inequalities across the country.
India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion inhabitants. The vast majority of these still live in poverty, a problem that is worsened by deep societal inequalities around gender and class.
Human rights groups in India do everything from campaigning for better infrastructure to upskilling vulnerable women, providing education in schools, and helping the country’s homeless.
Up until 2016, Colombia was caught up in an armed struggle between revolutionary forces and the government. While a peace treaty has been reached, violence has started to erupt again.
The country also has to worry about a dangerous drugs trade, gender inequality, and vulnerable indigenous groups, not to mention a huge influx of refugees from neighboring Venezuela. Several organizations fight for human rights in the country, many of which need interns to operate.
Many large international human rights groups have structured internship programs. These are competitive but practical, since they will deal with most of the planning and admin. Smaller organizations may advertise internships as needed, but these programs will not always include additional support to get you settled in the country.
How to Choose a Human Rights Intern Program
The best way to choose a human rights intern program is to start with what you’re passionate about. What issue do you most care about? Whether it’s gender equality, LGBT rights, poverty, indigenous rights, or freedom of speech, everyone has something that they would like to see improved in the world.
Once you have identified what this is for you, start looking at the places in the world where those rights are most at risk. These are the places in which you will be able to make the biggest difference.
Alternatively, you could seek out a program with one of the big international human rights groups. Internships in these organizations will not be as specialized, as you are less likely to be focusing on a particular area. They can, however, give you a broader view of human rights if you are not sure where your focus should be.
Health & Safety
It is worth mentioning that, although they are working to protect the most vulnerable in society, human rights campaigners are often vulnerable themselves. Before you go to any specific country, look up its track record with human rights groups. As an intern, it is highly unlikely you will ever be in any particular danger, but you should still be aware of what the situation is.
Other Need To Know
Most human rights internships around the world are unpaid, but there is a select number of paid placements with big organizations. These are especially common in the area of human rights law and in developed countries in Europe.