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5 Top Human Rights Graduate Programs

Degrees specializing in human rights have become more popular and important over the past several decades. Human rights encompass a wide array of issues, including preventing torture, bioethics, climate change, health care access and freedom of speech, to name a few. Frequently, individuals who are interested in a career focused on human rights already have an undergraduate degree in another field and then seek to steer their career path to something more meaningful – human rights may be the perfect fit. Here are a few excellent Human Rights Graduate Programs for your consideration. Also check out our growing degree portal featuring many tuition-free programs.

Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights: MPH, MSc (Boston University)

Boston University is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike other human rights graduate programs, Boston University’s degree blends public health and human rights into a single degree. Public health is one area particularly relevant to human rights as international disasters lead to critical healthcare crises. The expected completion time for this degree is approximately two to three years. Examples of courses in the Boston University’s program include:

• Healthcare Rationing, Medicine, Markets and Morals – This course covers governmental control of healthcare access and how these actions result in poor health outcomes. Specifically, this course examines low income, elderly and disabled populations and financial factors that impact healthcare delivery.

• Health and Human Rights – This course focuses on the link between public health policies and how they impact human rights. Specific topics reviewed are premature infant death rates, life expectancy and access to healthcare and how these public health issues relate to human rights on both the United States and internationally.

• Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights – With technological advances in medicine and increased levels of large terror attacks, the issues of bioethics, law and human rights intersect in ways that challenge corporations, governments and human rights advocates. This course examines issues such as torture, genetic engineering, right to health and mass quarantine policies.

Other courses cover issues such as heath care access and heath insurance, public health law and other relevant topics.

Veterans of the United States armed forces are eligible for financial assistance provided through the Veterans Administration.

Human Rights: MA (Columbia University)

Columbia University is located in New York City. Their degree is part of the university’s Institute of Human Rights Studies (IHRS), one of the premier human rights graduate programs in the United States. The Institute holds a strong reputation within the field of human rights, with decades of study and research into international human rights.

The Master’s Degree is a 30-unit program that can be completed by students attending either full time or part time. This degree is an interdisciplinary program and falls under the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and under the Liberal Studies division of the school. Students take courses from both the IHRS and courses from other related departments, such as history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, religion and political science.

Columbia offers fellowships for students attending under a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS). The FLAS is a specialized program available for students interested in international studies in their field. This program requires intermediate and/or advanced language proficiency and the application must be approved by the US Department of Education no less than 30 days before starting the program.

Human Rights Concentration, LL M (Harvard University)

Harvard University offers an adjunct specialization for students enrolled in a wide variety of degree programs, including law, political science and international studies. Additionally, the Human Rights Program (HRP) is also available for students within the community who are not enrolled at Harvard, making this uniquely special among human right graduate programs.

Harvard has several programs associated with human rights. These include Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and The Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. All of these organizations interact with the local community, providing seminars, legal support and other relevant services.

The university has several fellowships available, including:

• Visiting Fellow for teachers and individuals working within the human rights field. This fellowship provides one to two semesters of concentrated study, research and professional/academic writing.

• Henigson Human Rights Fellowship, which is available for Harvard Law School graduates and current students. Prospective students are required to demonstrate interest in working in the field of international human rights. Additionally, prospective students should be prepared to make a valuable impact within the field of human rights, working with a non-governmental agency, as a building block to a career in the field. This is a year-long fellowship.

The Harvard program in human rights includes several specific international areas of study, including Myanmar, Business and Human Rights, Alien Torts, Human Rights and the Environment and Transitional Justice.

Master of Human Rights, MA, CHR (Curtin University)

Curtin University is located in Bentley, Australia. Curtin University’s human rights graduate programs can be completed either on- or off-campus. The MA degree program can be completed in 18 months of full-time study. In addition to traditional on-campus courses, Curtin also offers online courses. It is an interdisciplinary degree that includes courses in anthropology, political science, legal studies, education, philosophy and social work. In addition to examining human rights issues in Australia, students also develop skills to work internationally, understanding differing religious, cultural and political perspectives.

Students are introduced to the practical application of human rights theory. The curriculum is designed for students who anticipate working with non-government organizations (NGOs), conflict mediation, community advocacy, and international community development.

Curtin University also offers a Certificate in Human Rights. This program is a post-undergraduate program similar to the Master’s Degree. However, it is intended as an introductory certification for individuals considering pursing a graduate degree in the field of human rights.

The Certificate can be completed in six months of full-time work and it can be completed both on- and off-campus. Once completed, students are eligible to apply for the MA in Human Rights.

International Studies, PhD, (Henry M Jackson School of International Studies – University of Washington)

The Henry M Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington is one of the few human rights graduate programs to offer a doctorate level degree focused on human rights. The degree is specifically designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore innovative approaches to addressing real-world human rights issues. The wide range of contemporary human rights issues include global policy, emerging international crises, refugees, health care and more. Students are provided with opportunities to move beyond the classroom and experience real-world practice in the field. The PhD program also includes an in-depth tutorial system which allows students to complete their degree within three to four years of full-time study.

Students are exposed to a wide array of concepts relevant to human rights studies including:

• States, Markets and Societies, reviewing the political impact of political states and historical, social and political leadership.

• Religions, Cultures and Civilizations, examining how history, cultural and religious beliefs impact political and cultural practices within a society or geographical region.

• Law, Rights and Governance, investigating the consequences of legal and policy in both world affairs and international conflicts.

• Peace, Violence, and Security, providing students with the opportunity to examine how global conflicts and violence develop, and methods to prevent such developments.

Students are also required to complete a dissertation as part of their degree. This PhD program provides students with the opportunity to choose between writing a book-length monograph dissertation or a dissertation examining three article length themes that are related.

While full funding for graduate tuition is not guaranteed for students attending the Jackson School of Human Rights, upon admission, PhD students are automatically considered for a variety of financial aid programs, including Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants and numerous fellowships that are available through the school.

International Human Rights Law Certificate (George Washington University)

Georgetown University is located in the United States capital, Washington, D.C. The Certificate in International Human Rights Law is offered as a specialization for students enrolled in George Washington University’s LL M program. However, students enrolled in the university’s JD program are not eligible for this certificate program. Given that the Certificate is also part of the LL M program at the School of Law, this program does not accept students who only want to earn the Certificate.

As part of Georgetown University’s human rights graduate programs, students are encouraged to expand their knowledge of the many aspects of human rights that apply to the legal profession. This program is for LL M students and courses are taught by professors pulled from the US government with direct experience in human rights, including individuals from non-government organizations, the Organization of American States and the U.S. Department of Justice.

About the author

Human Rights Careers

Human Rights Careers (HRC) aims to help human rights students, recent graduates and young professionals to pursue a career in the highly competitive field of human rights.