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4 Ways to improve your skills as human rights professional

Working in the field of human rights can be exciting and challenging, with new developments and initiatives creating a fast-paced and dynamic working environment. Keeping up to date with these developments is difficult; human rights careers are demanding and often leave little time for professional development and work-based learning. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is, in some professions, such as law and medicine, mandatory, and is designed to ensure that the services provided by professionals in these fields are high quality and based upon the most recent knowledge and innovations. Human rights professionals are, too, providing a service, whether that service is at the front line of humanitarian assistance or related to policy and programme development, and it is essential that this work is grounded in the latest developments and best practices in the profession.

Take part in Human Rights MOOCs

One of the most accessible ways to stay up to date is by participating in one or more of the many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which are offered by a range of prestigious universities and international organisations, including UNICEF and Amnesty International. While some of the general human rights courses are more tailored to those who are new to the field, there are also more specialist courses and advanced topics available, such as children’s rights, international criminal law, non-profit leadership and governance and sustainable development, which offer valuable insights to those already working in the profession who are looking to expand their knowledge.

These courses are generally free of charge, with a small fee if formal certification is required. Financial help is available for those who qualify.

Sign up for specialised trainings

Many international organisations and NGOs offer specialised training in human rights related subject areas, as well as practical areas such as monitoring and evaluation and diplomacy. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies offers an Online Diploma Course in Humanitarian Diplomacy, a 12-week course covering international humanitarian law, research skills and advocacy and negotiation skills. In addition to the online modules, participants are required to complete 7-10 hours of self-study per week and a final research paper of 5000 words. The course costs €990, although some bursaries are available.

RedR UK offers an accredited five-day, face to face, Training of Trainers (ToT) course for the humanitarian sector, covering principles of adult learning and training and facilitation techniques specifically for the humanitarian context. The target audience for this course is human rights and humanitarian and development professionals who already have some experience and technical grounding in the profession, but want to be able to develop and facilitate workshops and capacity development initiatives in their subject. Course fees vary depending on the type of organisation that the prospective participant works for. Details of these and more short courses can be found at Reliefweb.

Register for a distance learning degree

For more long-term and in-depth options, universities are increasingly offering accredited courses that can be completed on-line or by distance learning, allowing professionals to continue working while enhancing their knowledge. This provides an excellent option for those who wish to combine work and study and enables professionals to gain accredited qualifications that increase employability and chances of career progression while continuing to accrue practical experience. Some masters-level courses also allow students to study for stand-alone certificates and diplomas which can be counted towards a full masters degree at a later date.

The University of London’s International Programmes offer post-graduate courses in human rights law, international development, international humanitarian law, global diplomacy and more. An LLM degree (specialisms include international human rights law), under the programme administered by Queen Mary and University College London, is made up of four courses, each consisting of four modules which can be studied independently or combined to make up the full LLM qualification. Each stand-alone module costs around £500 and can be counted towards a post graduate certificate in law (total cost £3,400), a post-graduate diploma in law (total cost £5,900) or a full LLM (£8,900). Other distance masters programmes offered by the University of London include an MA in Global Diplomacy with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) which takes two years and costs £10,000, and an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration with the School of Advanced Studies, which takes between two and five years to complete and costs £8,100. Full details can be found on the University of London’s International Programmes website.

Attend in-house trainings and seminars

Other more informal options are also available, and many organisations will organise in-house training and seminars; in addition, organisations might offer funding to employees to attend courses and conferences to enhance practical knowledge and professional skills, although such funding can be difficult to secure when on a fixed-term or short-term contract, as is often the case for human rights professionals. Without a mandatory CPD scheme in the human rights sector, much of the onus is upon individuals to seek out information and updates regarding best practices and legal developments in the field. To this end, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) publishes an online database of human rights jurisprudence which collates all the jurisprudence emanating from the UN mechanisms that consider individual complaints. The free database was designed and developed by the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights at Utrecht University and provides professionals with easy access to decisions of bodies such at the Committee against Torture (CAT), Committee on the Eliminations of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), enabling human rights professionals to stay up to date with the most recent developments and interpretations of international human rights law.

Whatever form it takes, CPD is essential, both in terms of staying well informed about new developments and decisions, and to enable future career progression. From the many options available, there is a course or programme to suit a range of needs while also being compatible with the busy and demanding work schedules of human rights professionals.

About the author

Natalie Matranga

Natalie Matranga is a lawyer and human rights professional from the United Kingdom. After practicing as a lawyer in the UK, Natalie worked in South East Asia (Cambodia and Myanmar) for a range of human rights and international development organisations, including local and international NGOs and the United Nations, specialising in rule of law and human rights in criminal justice systems in transitional and post-conflict contexts. Natalie is currently a partner at Amicus Legal & Advisory LLP, a consultancy firm providing research services and project support to NGOs and international organisations.