Fighting for Human Rights

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In the wake of World War II, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document was intended to prevent the kind of atrocities the world had just witnessed from reoccurring in the future.

More than 60 years later, as the Utne Reader‘s January-February 2012 human rights package illustrates (“Tortured,” “The CIA in Somalia,” “Jihad Against Islam“), the world continues to struggle to meet the principles put forward in the text.

Several groups continue to fight for the ideals that were set forth, however. And they need your help. Here is a partial list of some of your options, vetted using Charity Navigator.

Human Rights Watch
This fact-finding nonprofit has spent the last three decades sorting out often complicated human rights issues. The organization has deployed on-the-ground monitors to 80 countries around the world, and their team of academics, journalists and lawyers publish more than 100 policy-shaping reports every year. Their funding comes entirely from private individuals and foundations.

Human Rights First
Founded in 1978, Human Rights First offers direct legal services to refugees and asylum seekers, fights against hate crimes, works with retired military leaders on issues of torture and detention, and works to quell mass atrocities by putting pressure on third-party enablers. A nonpartisan, nonprofit based in New York and Washington D.C., the organization accepts no government funding.

Physicians for Human Rights 
Physicians for Human Rights was created in 1986 on the belief that health professionals could be a strong voice for preventing human rights abuses. Their expert opinions, epidemiological research, and forensic research are sought by international courts, the United Nations, and other government entities. The group’s targets include everything from wartime rape in Central and East Africa to the persecution of medical workers during times of civil unrest and armed conflict.

Amnesty International
In its 50 years of work, Amnesty International has fought against the death penalty, corporate abuse, and censorship. Their work, including trial observation, advocacy, and victim outreach, spans more than 150 countries and is funded primarily by members and public donations. The group also seeks volunteers to help raise money, translate, monitor the press and assist with research.

Freedom House
Freedom House publishes four reports a year – including their flagship, democracy-tracking work, Freedom in the World – assessing the state of freedom in the world. Founded by American leaders looking to bolster public support for fighting Nazi extremism, it continues to fight totalitarian regimes around the world by offering training and support at a grassroots level. Celebrating its 70th anniversary, the group is soliciting $70 donations that will go to translation services in Africa, supporting women’s rights in the Middle East, or training human rights advocates in Central Asia.

Global Exchange
Leaders of this grassroots group say they want to build a “people-centered globalization that values the rights of workers and the health of the planet” and have built a network of activists, students, labor unions, and environmentalists to do just that. Based in the Bay Area, their efforts include everything from a trick-or-treating campaign in which people were encouraged to give fair trade chocolate to organized “reality tours” of Palestine.

National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Formed in 2006, this coalition of faith communities, including the Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, fights U.S. policies that enable torture at home and abroad. The group is urging President Obama to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 60 nations, and advocates a program that would limit U.S. aid to governments that enable torture.

Center for Victims of Torture
The Center for Victims of Torture helps torture victims overcome their trauma at counseling centers in St. Paul, MN, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Jordan. The organization also works with researchers around the world to learn about effective treatments. Donations are accepted, and volunteers are sought to serve as “befrienders” of torture victims, tutors, and drivers.

Earth Rights International 
After winning a settlement from now-defunct oil company UNOCAL on behalf of Burmese villagers in 1997, Earth Rights International has continued to fight alleged human rights abuses through U.S. courts. The group focuses on the intersection of environmental degradation and human rights – what they’ve coined “earth rights.” Their work is funded solely through private donations.

Equality Now
Equality Now operates on a grassroots level in more than 160 countries to document, expose, and fight human rights abuses against women and children. Their main focuses include sexual violence, trafficking, discrimination in law, and female genital mutilation. The organization accepts donations and invites supporters to organize their own fundraisers on their behalf.

Free the Slaves
Free the Slaves is working to release all people from the bondage of slavery still festering in impoverished corners of the world. They work with businesses to improve worker conditions and with governments to pass strict anti-slavery laws. The group invites supporters to join their “I Am the Change” campaign, which works to educate people about slavery around the world.

Image by Zina Saunders /

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