Familiarize with International Human Rights Documents
Legal documents like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on the Rights of the Child will accompany you throughout your human rights studies. In many Master programmes you will be encouraged to use the book Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents – which contains all human rights core instruments – during your exams. Familiarizing with the structure, content and terminology of these documents, will help you succeed not only in drafting essays and written exams, but also during heated classroom discussions. Whatever is the focus of your human rights degree, to know these documents, is useful under any circumstances. Knowing them already in the beginning of your human rights study, will give you a tremendous advantage.
Relate human rights to your personal background
During your studies you will often be callenged to reflect on how human rights relate to your personal life. What made you choose a human rights degree? What are the issues you would like to tackle? How do those issues relate to your own experience? Brainstorming on those questions will give you more confidence during discussions with fellows and helps you underpin your statements with pratical examples. If you are not sure, what human rights are at stake in your country, have a look at the Universal Periodic Review to get an overview.
Prepare for your fieldtrip
If the curriculum of your Human Rights Studies contains a fieldtrip to a post conflict area or to one of the impressive human rights institutions like the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg or the International Criminal Court in The Hague make sure you spend time in advance to learn something about the context. In post-conflict areas try to get a better understanding of the historical context and expand your knowledge to the current issues: What human rights organizations are currently working in the area? What is their mission and purpose? If you are visiting one of the human rights courts try to investigate the basics about how the court functions: What are the admissibility criteria? What is it’s mandate? How is the court structured? How are human rights complaints received?
Take part in a FREE human rights course
There are dozens of outstanding free and open human rights courses out there in the web. Some of these courses are self-paced and you can decide wether you take the whole course in a two days marathon or stretch it over several months. In either case these courses offer high quality human rights education and are provided by renowned universities and non governmental organizations for free. While these courses can never replace the vivid exchange of thoughts and personal interaction on the campus, they are still a great and accessible source to get a better understanding of the basics of human rights.
Find out where you fit in
During your studies you will get to know a diverse group of people with various backgrounds, motives and goals. Some of them may become diplomats at the OSCE, others will work at the EU or the UN, and others will join a local, regional or global NGO to advance human rights. While all these institutions have a commitment towards human rights, the way how they work can differ significantly. Don’t try to fit in. Rather find out where you fit. If you follow your own passion, style and commitments, chances are much higher that you land a job that really suits you, where you can drive effective change for human rights.