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How is it like to work at UN? What do you specifically do working with the part of humans rights?

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I’m a student from Brazil and next year I will join an university. I wanna do the International Relations course and in the future work in the UN with human rights, traveling all around the world and helping others. #career #international #travel # #job # #work #work #humanrights #humanitarian #unitednations #un #global # #travel #helping #politics #politicalscience

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Aniko’s Answer

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It's wonderful to know that you are interested in the work executed by the UN! To attain positions in large international organizations like the UN, becoming fluent in several languages will be indispensable. The most common ones are: Arabic, English, French, Russian, Spanish.

While International Relations is an eye opening degree, if you want to effect real change having a niche skill set is better. The World Bank Group's staff is mostly comprise of individuals whom have studied finance & economics. UN and other similar organizations need lawyers, electrical engineers, etc...

Look at what is needed by the organization and what are their goals for the next five years; & make sure that you have the skills to help them reach those goals.

Hope this insight helps you consider additional ideas while you decide your career path.


Aniko recommends the following next steps:

  • Look up the degree the the UN has been recently hiring?
  • Which languages will offer you the most job opportunities?
  • Where did staff currently working at the UN work at before?
  • Can you get an internship now to enter the UN network?
  • What skills do you need to develop?
Thank you! Maria C. Translate

Jane’s Answer

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Dear Maria,

Having never worked at the UN, I can only surmise. In College we had an opportunity to participate in what was called a Mock UN. It was a simulation of the real experience. It was held on a Saturday and we used all the classrooms on one floor. It was very exciting. Then a month or so later we had another one in another city with other schools participating. We each acted as delegates to the UN. We made resolutions, some of which no doubt had to do with human rights.

What impressed me was how much politics was involved in the whole operation. The delegates need public speaking ability. Language isn't much of an issue because the UN hires hundreds of translators.

There are other ways to travel around the world helping others. For example, there is an organization called Habitat for Humanity. There are many volunteer opportunities as well.

Jane recommends the following next steps:

  • Ask in the University you will be joining if they have something like a Mock UN. If not, maybe you could help organize one.
  • Also ask if they know of any volunteer opportunities to travel to other parts of the world under the auspice of the University with the intent to help with human rights issues.

Melissa’s Answer

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Hi Maria,
I did an internship with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights while I was in graduate school, and I am happy to share some insights. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), based in Geneva, is the main human rights agency in the United Nations. It employs people with a wide variety of skills- many people have a regional expertise in human rights, like human rights in Latin America, and many others who are experts in a specific thematic area, like gender equality, business and human rights, or human rights and the environment. All employees are committed to the protection and promotion of human rights, have knowledge of international human rights law and the international systems that address human rights abuses.

Human rights officers also have a number of different functional roles. Some are based in field offices in countries around the world, including conflict zones, who monitor the news and other local sources for information about the human rights situation in that country, and report on this information to OHCHR headquarters and other UN agencies. Field agents often work with local government officials to educate them about human rights and offer training and technical assistance. If an alleged human rights violation occurs, it is often the human rights officer's responsibility to investigate. There are also many talented human rights officers who work in Geneva, who monitor certain thematic issues across the world, writing reports, conducting research, drafting letters and writing speeches. There are human rights officers that manage the workings of the human rights treaty bodies, ensuring that these bodies can meet and their decisions are recorded. There are also human rights officers who arrange travel and logistics for important trips to investigate human rights violations across the world. There are also human rights officers that have technological skills, like statistics and GIS mapping, who can help record human rights violations as they occur. There are many roles you can take if you would like to be human rights officer- it is good to explore them all.

Additionally, its important to note that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is the main human rights body in the United Nations, but it is not the only place where you can work on human rights issues. UN Women works on the protection and promotion of women's rights across the world. UNICEF is the UN agency focused on children's rights. UNFPA manages the UN efforts on women's reproductive health and rights. UN High Commissioner for Refugees manages refugee rights across the world. Again, there are many options here, take some time to research and learn about the different UN agencies and what issues they cover.

Finally, a few things to think about: If you are interested in human rights, try to take a course in International Human Rights Law at your university. English and French are the two functional languages of the UN, so try to work on gaining proficiency (if not fluency) in one or both of them. There are many opportunities to take an internship at a UN agency while at university, and there are many UN offices based in Brazil that cover a variety of topics. Finally, I would encourage you to look at UN Volunteers, which is a resource fewer people know about. UN Volunteers allows people to volunteer with different UN agencies on a variety of topics. There are special programs for young people- called UN Youth Volunteers, where you could work in your home country or in countries around the world, with a small stipend. These opportunities are competitive, but would give you direct experience working with the UN. UN Volunteers also has opportunities to volunteer online- some tasks are simple, like editing and translation, and some are more difficult (building websites). But take a look and see if there is something that interests you. And as someone else mentioned, it is a good idea to take a look at some job descriptions for UN human rights officers, to see what skills the UN is looking for in candidates.

Hope this was helpful. Best of luck!

Melissa recommends the following next steps:

  • Check out UN Volunteers at https://www.unv.org/become-volunteer
  • Look to see if your university has a course in International Human Right Law
  • Gain professional proficiency in English and/or French
  • Look at job descriptions for UN Human Rights Officers: go to careers.un.org , and look for 'political, peace and humanitarian' under job network and then 'human rights affairs' under job family.