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10 Top Human Rights NGOs in the US

NGOs, the abbreviation for “non-governmental organization,” have existed for many years. While the term “non-governmental organization” first appeared in 1945 in the United Nations Charter, organizations dedicated to human rights and social justice were already existent in many countries. Today, you can find thousands of NGOs working locally, nationally, and internationally. Human rights NGOs focus on the rights protected in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and social justice issues. Here are ten of these organizations based in the United States:

Children’s Defense Fund

Founded in 1973 by Marian Wright Edelman, the Children’s Defense Fund focuses on the rights of children. It was inspired by the work of civil rights organizations. Through programs and advocacy, the CDF works to end cycles of poverty, protect children from abuse, and make sure every child receives an education. This NGO is based in Washington, D.C. with offices around the country.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the largest and best-known civil rights organization in the US. Its mission is to eliminate racial discrimination and hatred while promoting the rights (political, social, economic, and educational) of all citizens. Their work includes making sure civil rights laws are established and enforced and educating people on their constitutional rights.

Human Rights Action Center

Established by Jack Healey, a famous human rights activist, the Human Rights Action Center seeks to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It focuses on the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights groups around the world. By partnering with the creative arts, the center draws attention to human rights abuses. The HRAC is based in Washington, D.C.

Human Rights Defense Center

This NGO focuses on prisoner rights in the United States. It advocates for prisoners wherever they’re found, including federal prisons, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers. Areas of focus include free speech, government accountability, and issues with the private prison system. HRDC is also the parent organization of Prison Legal News. This monthly newspaper about criminal justice issues and litigation is the country’s longest-running newspaper developed by and for prisoners.

Center for Victims of Torture

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, the CVT is an international non-profit that serves survivors of torture. It also trains partner organizations, researches how people heal from torture, and advocates for the end of torture. In addition to providing care at its center in St. Paul, the CVT goes to refugee camps and trains the local community. CVT also has an office in Washington, D.C.

Center for Justice and Accountability

Based in San Francisco, California, the Center for Justice and Accountability was founded in 1998. It represents people who’ve endured torture or other violations of their human rights in American and Spanish courts. CJA’s litigation and advocacy work focuses on survivors from countries transitioning from an authoritarian government to a democratic one. In order to truly move on from the past, CJA believes redress from human rights abuses is essential.

Human Rights First

This New York-based NGO was founded in 1978. Its goal is to defend human rights around the world. Through promoting laws and policies, HRF’s mission is to ensure everyone’s rights are respected. The organization focuses on people at risk. This includes those who are discriminated against, political refugees, and human rights advocates. In addition to its New York office, it has another base in Washington, D.C.

Human Rights Campaign

The HRC is the country’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group and political lobbying organization. It focuses on protecting and increasing LGBTQ+ rights. This includes marriage equality and anti-discrimination legislation. The HRC also prioritizes HIV/AIDS advocacy. The HRC Foundation offers resources on coming out, healthcare, and workplace issues. Since 2007, the Foundation has published the Healthcare Equality Index. The Index examines how well hospitals are doing on issues like hospital visitation rights.

Human Rights Watch

Founded in 1978 with the name “Helsinki Watch,” Human Rights Watch has since expanded its view to global human rights. Through research and advocacy, it pressures governments and policymakers to speak out against human rights abuses and respect rights. HRW publishes its reports on international human rights and human rights violations, drawing awareness to problems around the world.

The Advocacy Project

Founded in 1998 (the org reached a nonprofit status in 2001), this organization’s mission is to support and strengthen community-based human rights advocacy groups. Based in Washington, D.C, the Advocacy Project sends out peace fellows (usually graduate students) to different organizations throughout the world. The goal is to provide support to local communities in their human rights work by giving them advocacy tools and developing long-term campaigns. Throughout the years, AP has worked with over 100 organizations.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.