When you think about human rights and the organizations that aim to protect them, it's important to remember three basic problems.
The first is lack of information. How do we know what conditions in North Korean work camps are like? How many slaves are still out there? How do we know if genocide is taking place if it happens somewhere the international community has no access? Information is key to mobilization, which is why most human rights organizations (HROs) are actively -- or even singly -- concerned with gathering data, publishing reports and drumming up public support through media awareness.
The second problem is that there must be a balance between the gravity of crimes against human rights and how realistic the possibility of change is. For instance, Chinese rule of Tibet is one of the highest profile issues in the world, but in spite of years of protests and political pressure, the problem has remained a brick wall for human rights advocates. On the other hand, Amnesty International reports several times a month on political prisoners everywhere from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe being pardoned or released due to the power of public awareness.
The third issue is the problem of action. The world is a messy, complicated place, and interfering overseas is tricky business. Direct action is difficult even when you live in a country where known human rights abuses are happening, so how can you know you're working effectively for change? It would be nice to have a dashing superagent who parachutes in, unseats a warlord, then passes out ballots and T-bone steaks, but there's a shortage of those people in the international community.
So if direct intervention is impossible, what else can be done? The first step is most often raising awareness of the frequency of human rights violations. Real change in human rights comes from public awareness, and public awareness comes from organizations that have the power to spur large groups of people into letter-writing campaigns, vigils, public demonstrations and donations. Though it often feels like a drop in the bucket, the power of public awareness cannot be understated. The fall of apartheid and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine both testify to the power of public involvement and awareness.
Feel like getting involved? Turn to the next page for lots more information on human rights and HROs all over the world.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How AIDS Organizations Work
- How Refugee Charity Organizations Work
- How the Points of Light Institute Works
- How World Hunger Organizations Work
- Which organizations help needy families?
- How to Become a Hospice Volunteer
- How to Become a White House Volunteer
- How to Volunteer Abroad
- How to Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
- How to Volunteer for the Salvation Army
- Amnesty International. "Good News." 2009. (June 18, 2009). http://www.amnesty.org/en/good-news-list
- Amnesty International. "The History of Amnesty International." 2009. (June 12, 2009).http://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are/history
- Amnesty International. "Report and financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2007." 2007. (June 18, 2009).http://www.amnesty.org/sites/impact.amnesty.org/files/PUBLIC/documents/AI-Ltd-and-AI-Charity-Ltd-Report-and-Financial-Statements.pdf
- Amnesty International. "Who We Are." 2009. (June 12, 2009).http://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are
- Anti-Slavery. "Today's Fight for Tomorrow's Freedom." 2009. (June 16, 2009).http://www.antislavery.org/
- Benenson, Pat. "The Forgotten Prisoners." May 27, 2001. (June 16, 2009).http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2001/may/27/life1.lifemagazine5
- Bauman, Ginny. "How to Recognize Good Work on the Frontlines of Slavery and Human Trafficking." June, 2004. (June 16, 2009).http://www.freetheslaves.net/Document.Doc?id=39
- Bayevsky.com. "The United Nations Human Rights Treaties." (June 16, 2009). http://www.bayefsky.com/tree.php/area/treaties
- BBC. "Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law." August 9, 2007. (June 16, 2009).http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6938032.stm
- Blue Heart Campaign. "What is the Blue Heart Campaign?" 2009. (June 12, 2009).http://www.unodc.org/blueheart/
- ICC. "About the Court." 2009. (June 14, 2009).http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/About+the+Court/
- ICC. "Structure of the Court." 2009. (June 14, 2009).http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Structure+of+the+Court/
- ICRC. "The Geneva Conventions: the core of international humanitarian law." 2009. (June 18, 2009).http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/genevaconventions
- Mariner, Joanne. "A Short List of Human Rights Reforms for the Next President." Nov. 3, 2008. (June 18, 2009).http://writ.news.findlaw.com/mariner/20081103.html
- Robertson, Geoffrey. "Human Rights Fail During the Cold War." 2006. (June 17, 2009).http://clg.portalxm.com/library/keytext.cfm?keytext_id=121
- UNIFEM. "The Gender Equality Fund At a Glance." 2009. (June 17, 2009).http://www.unifem.org/about/fact_sheets.php?StoryID=833
- United Nations. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." 2009. (June 16, 2009).http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
- The United Nations. "The United Nations at a Glance." 2009. (June 14, 2009).http://www.un.org/en/aboutun/index.shtml
- The United Nations. "60 Ways the United Nations Makes a Difference." 2009. (June 16, 2009).http://www.un.org/un60/60ways/