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The 10 Best Cities for a Human Rights Internship

6 min read
· Posted on
July 21, 2020
by Yvonne Jooste

If you’re considering an internship or a career in the field of human rights, you are sure to come across an array of different possible locations, specialisation areas, organisations and international institutions. In this article, we help narrow down your search by highlighting the best cities for a human rights internship. These locations offer many possibilities and considering each of them carefully can get you that much closer to your ideal internship.

1) Melbourne

Melbourne is described as Australia’s trendiest city. This cosmopolitan city is alive with diversity, dynamism, and is buzzing with history, culture, and business activity. Melbourne aims to do great work when it comes to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Some of the highlight organisations include The Sacred Heart Mission, an NGO that assists people in accessing food and shelter and overcoming homelessness, Oaktree, an organisation that recognises the role of young people to end poverty and advocate for social change, iEmpower, an organisation that focuses on refugee youth by providing rehabilitation, education and employment services, and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, a family welfare organisation that promotes and protects the human rights of Aboriginal and young children.

These are only a few organisations that offer life-changing assistance to many people. Melbourne has many more organisations that offer invaluable internships and volunteering opportunities, and the city is sure to move from strength to strength in growing its human rights organisations and institutions.



2) Toronto

Toronto, as the capital of the Ontario province, has a long history of human rights engagement. Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and is recognised as one of the most multicultural and pluralistic cities in the world. It has varied cultural and social institutions, museums, galleries, festivals and public events, and attracts more than 43 million tourists each year.

Canada has long demonstrated a deep commitment to the values of freedom, equality and protection against human rights violations. Toronto maintains a Human Rights Watch International office – the well-known organisation that seeks to monitor and protect human rights worldwide. Another important organisation is the Canadian Centre for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Organisation which aims to bring even greater diversity and inclusion into the social community. On the legal front, the Law Foundation of Ontario has the mandate to improve justice for all people in Ontario, enabling greater access to justice for disadvantaged groups in Canadian society. Toronto also delivers organisations such as Aura for Refugees, an organisation that focuses on concerns related to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

All these organisations seek to continue the long tradition of promoting Human Rights in Ontario and beyond. Toronto offers what is quintessentially Canadian, inclusivity and the promotion of peacefulness.

3) London

London is one of the most important cities globally. It exerts considerable impact upon a variety of industries and has been a major settlement for more than two millennia.

Some of the world’s most renowned human rights and humanitarian NGO’s are based in London. These include Amnesty International and Mèdecins Sans Frontières.

Amnesty International offers a range of Human Rights specialisation areas to pursue, including communication and campaigning, research and advocacy, fundraising and administration, and organisational development and resources. There are also organisations that deal with more specific issues: Redress, for example, is a legal advocacy organisation that help torture victims obtain justice. Article19 aims to promote and protect freedom of expression and information and has offices worldwide. And Save the Children UK promotes child rights around the world. As mentioned, London also houses the offices of MFS, the well-known organisation that deals primarily with crises regarding medical issues and that raises awareness about medicinal shortages, health epidemics, and lack of healthcare.

In the legal sphere, JUSTICE, is an organisation that focuses on law reform and the strengthening of the civil, administrative, and criminal justice systems in the UK.

London will remain at the heart of global business and politics and will accordingly be one of the first cities to explore when considering a career or internship in human rights.


4) Berlin

Berlin is the largest city in Germany and also acts as its capital. Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media and science, and the most significant industries are information technology, pharmaceuticals, the biomedical industry, engineering, biotechnology, construction and electronics. It has world-renowned universities, orchestras, and museums.

Berlin offers many human rights career and internship opportunities. It houses the European Center for Constitutionalism and Human Rights that deals with cases concerning violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Given Germany’s World War II history, German interest in the promotion and protection of human rights has been significant and its contribution has been unparalleled. Some of the most notable organisations for human rights internships include Henirich-Böl Stiftung, a non-profit organisation that seeks to strengthen democracy and equal rights, and end discrimination on the basis of origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious belief. Correspondingly, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is a foundation that provides consultancy work on topics related to peacekeeping, security, human rights, gender equality and social justice. This organisation regularly offers opportunities for those with degrees in law, social science or economics.

Another notable organisation is Transgender Europe – an organisation that seeks to raise awareness about transgender rights and to provide policy advice on related issues.

Berlin is known as a liberated city that welcomes diversity and alternative lifestyle choices.


5) Cape Town

Given the fact that democratic South Africa is only twenty-six years old, human rights organisations take on a special role. A violent history of oppression based on race has meant that human rights organisations have become a significant symbol of the so-called ‘new South Africa’.

South Africa’s constitution is praised as one of the most legally progressive constitution’s in the world, especially as it pertains to socio-economic rights. Cape Town is a popular tourist destination, defined by its beauty, cultural diversity, and friendly people. (Learn more about interning in Cape Town here). What is more, Cape Town has some special human rights organisations. For example, People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) is a grassroots non-profit organisation that focuses on the rights of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers. Their projects include LGBTQ+ refugee advocacy, gender rights, disabled children support, and more. PASSOP fights for the rights of all immigrants, including undocumented ones who lack reliable access to essentials like healthcare and shelter.

Another important institution is the Dullah Omah Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance, and Human Rights. It is an important contributor and advisor on policies regarding human rights and its work includes publishing articles, books and reports, and holding workshops and conferences. It also focuses on issues like children’s rights, criminal justice reform, and women’s rights.

The Black Sash Trust is a 63 year old veteran human rights organisation in Cape Town that advocates for social justice in South Africa. Their mission is to work towards the realisation of socio-economic rights, as outlined in the South African Constitution, with emphasis on social security and social protection for the most vulnerable, to reduce poverty and inequality. They specialise in rights information, education and training, citizen-based monitoring, and advocacy in partnership programmes.

If you are interested in doing a human rights internship in Cape Town, please have a look at our Human Rights internship opportunities page and we will provide you with all the information you need.

Cape Town

6) New York

New York needs no introduction. It is the most populous city in the US and is often described as the heartbeat of the country. It is a global power city and is the cultural, financial and media capital of the world. It is an important centre of international diplomacy, not least because it houses the headquarters of the United Nations. There are almost too many human rights organisations to mention – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, UNICEF, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, to name a few.

The United Nations, in its mission to maintain international peace and security, and to promote sustainable development, human rights and provide humanitarian assistance, regularly presents young people with internship and volunteering opportunities in many of its global offices and in a variety of different fields across a spectrum of important issues.

An interesting organisation located in New York is WITNESS – this organisation promotes the use of technology to document human rights violations. WITNESS makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to use video and technology to protect and defend human rights. The organisation coordinate with local citizens and organisations, conduct on-the-ground training, and provide free online resources in multiple languages. It aims to help individuals document abuses safely and use footage effectively to create positive change in their communities.

New York is the capital of international diplomacy and as with the city of London, it is a must when exploring working or interning in the field of human rights.


7) Nairobi

Nairobi houses the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON). It is an established hub for business and culture. The Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) is one of the largest in Africa and the second-oldest exchange on the continent. It is also Kenya’s capital city and its name is from the Maasai phrase that means “cool water” in reference to the Nairobi River that runs through the city.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission is located in Nairobi. The commission seeks to enhance human rights centred governance at all levels while defending the rights of people in Kenya. Human Rights Watch maintains an office in Nairobi, spotlighting abuses in the region and bringing perpetrators to justice. Another notable organisation is The Raoul Wallenberg Institute which operates a bi-lateral cooperation programme in Kenya, with its regional office located in Nairobi. This organisation does important evidence-based human rights research with direct engagement with communities. The institute frequently partners with academic institutions, international organisations, government agencies and civil society organisations in different parts of the world. The institute is named after Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews and other people at risk in Hungary at the end of World War II.

Although Kenya has human rights organisations that aim for the protection of peoples’ equality and freedom, homosexuality in Kenya is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison. As such, awareness and activism with regards to LGBTQ+ rights become essential and accordingly human rights work in this region can make a real difference to the lives of LGBTQ+ communities.


8) Geneva

Geneva is another international city known for its diplomacy. It houses the headquarters of many agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. In fact, it hosts the highest number of international organisations in the world. It is also where the Geneva Convention was signed, the chief concern of which deals with the treatment of wartime non-combatants and prisoners of war. It is Switzerland’s second-most populous city and it houses the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Labour Organisation, the International Service for Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Importantly, it also serves as the location for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, giving visibility and raising support for LGBTQI issues globally and conducting advocacy and outreach through the Human Rights Council.

In general, Geneva is a unique and fascinating city and it rather feels like several different countries, than one city. It is indeed, therefore, also a cultural melting pot and if your internship criteria includes chocolate, Bob’s your uncle.


9) Vienna

Vienna’s artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents such as Mozart and Beethoven. The capital of Austria offers a unique blend of imperial traditions and beautiful modern architecture. It is known for the fact that its residents have a high quality of life, and is regarded as one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Vienna is the seat of a number of UN offices and various institutions and companies including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Additionally, Vienna is the seat of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law's secretariat (UNCITRAL). In conjunction, the University of Vienna annually hosts the prestigious Willem C. Vis Moot, an international commercial arbitration competition for students of law from around the world.

Accordingly, Vienna has many opportunities for internships in international human rights and related areas. It is an amazing city for the culturally inclined, fondly called The City of Music because of its famous composer inhabitants and The City of Dreams because of the fact that Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, called it home.


10) The Hague

The Hague or Den Haag is the seat of government for the Netherlands. It is the third largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Hague is known as the home of international law and arbitration, which makes it the perfect city for internships and experience in the field of international human rights law.

It houses the International Criminal Court (ICC), the main judicial arm of the United Nations. The International Permanent Court of Arbitration is also located in The Hague, alongside 200 other governmental organisations. It is therefore appropriately named the “international city of peace and justice”. There are also a number of non-profit and non-governmental organisations that deal with a variety of causes, from childcare, poverty, emergency aid, youth development, and refugees and migration.

The International Criminal Court plays a special role when it comes to human rights as it prosecutes perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. There are also a number of prestigious academic institutions in The Hague - Carnegie Foundation, The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law, Leiden University, The Hague Academy of International Law and the T.M.C. Asser Instituut.

Interestingly, The Hague also hosts Movies That Matter, an international film and debate festival about peace and justice that takes place every year at the end of March - nine days filled with screenings of fiction films and documentaries, daily talk-shows, music performances and exhibitions.

The Hague

Want to read more? Have a look at the benefits of an internship abroad as well as some testimonials of human rights internships in Cape Town.

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