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Human Rights Research Jobs: Our Quick Guide

Most human rights careers have one thing in common: they depend on research. That means human rights researchers serve an essential role in the field, providing the data and analysis that can make or break an organization’s ability to reach its goals. Interested in this important work? Here’s a quick guide that answers the questions you might have about human rights research jobs.

Why is human rights research important?

Without accurate research, human rights work would be ineffective. No one would know where human rights violations are occurring, who is most affected, who is responsible, or what solutions are needed to preserve human rights. The stakes are high. If an organization’s research methodology is flawed, it can only be so successful. Poor research can lead to the waste of resources, the spread of misinformation, damaged reputations – and most significantly – continued human rights violations. Good research, on the other hand, provides organizations with much-needed clarity on the state of human rights, making a successful plan of action possible.

What do human rights researchers do?

Human rights research isn’t radically different from research in any other field. Researchers work to establish facts and find evidence for claims. That includes conducting interviews, tracking and monitoring news stories, studying satellite images and other photographic evidence, and using social media forensics. Many human researchers work from an office but often travel to talk to survivors or witnesses of human rights abuse.

Researchers also compile all the data they’ve collected into a comprehensive form. Most human rights organizations publish many reports a year on different topics, as well as an annual report summarizing their overall findings. These reports are distributed through the human rights world, but they’re also important for raising public awareness. The writing needs to be accessible.

Where do human rights researchers work?

Many nonprofit human rights organizations conduct their own research, so they need to hire researchers. Major research and advocacy groups include Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, and Refugees International. The United Nations employs researchers, as well, as do human rights institutes, academic entities, and governments. Any organization that puts out reports throughout the year depends on researchers. Human rights lawyers also often need help with research.  Examples of organizations regularly recruiting human rights researchers are:

How do you become a human rights researcher?

If human rights research interests you, here’s what you should know about the career:


The first consideration is your educational background. Most human rights researchers have at least a bachelor’s degree, but you’ll find researcher jobs that ask for a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree, depending on the organization and what responsibilities the researchers have. As for what subject you should major in, jobs will typically have a variety of preferences, which is common for most human rights careers. Applicable degrees include political science, law, criminal justice, history, psychology, sociology, and of course, human rights. Researchers typically have an area they specialize in, so consider what you’re most passionate about and focus on it.

Work experience

Many research jobs require or prefer candidates with past work experience. For those searching for their first jobs after graduation, internships usually count. While you’re in school, take advantage of internship programs, especially if you aren’t required to complete one to graduate and feel tempted to skip that part. Past volunteer work can also be very helpful when you’re searching for jobs. While interning or volunteering with an organization rarely guarantees you a job at that organization, it’s not uncommon for researchers to be offered jobs after they’ve proven their skills.

Required skills

Human rights research is extremely detail-oriented and precise. The best researchers will have these skills, as well as excellent analytical, organizational, and communication skills. They’re able to set and stick to their goals, understand the contexts their research takes place in, follow the facts, and articulate their findings to a wide audience.

Because human rights research involves human rights violations and working with survivors, researchers also need to demonstrate respect, empathy, and emotional resilience. Speaking to survivors, combing through photo evidence, and reporting on violations can be very challenging. Organizations want researchers who are compassionate, but who are also able to mitigate the emotional stress of the work.

How much do human rights researchers get paid?

Salary depends on the organization someone works for, their responsibilities, level of seniority and what level of education they have. According to Zippia’s description of a human rights investigator (a type of job within human rights research), people make an average of $61,556 per year. Those with a master’s degree make just over $68,000 while PhDs make over $70,000. If you work for a smaller organization, your salary will likely be less than what someone with the same job at a larger organization makes. As an example, Glassdoor says that a researcher with the large Human Rights Watch organization makes an average of $76,310 per year with some researchers there making over $90,000. That’s a fairly unusual salary, however. As with most human rights careers, high salaries are not the norm, but you can still find jobs that pay well.

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.