International Human Rights Day is a day to celebrate and advocate for the dignity, freedom, and basic human rights of all people – no matter where they are from. Passionate people everywhere are standing with the United Nations to support human rights and take collective action for a brighter future.
Around the world, including here in the U.S., we witness the basic rights of people being stripped away. Some of these rights are as severe as we’ve seen in history, like freedom from slavery and torture, and the right to free speech. Others are ones we find ourselves fighting for every day in our communities, like freedom from discrimination and the right to a fair trial.
While it might not be obvious, each of us has a surprising and significant influence on the lives of others. on people we don’t even know. Once we step out of our bubbles of work stress and worries to strive for something greater, we – each and every one of us – hold incredible power for positive change.
Here are 6 simple ways you can stand up to support and protect human rights in your daily life and begin to empower people around you and around the world. Every action, no matter how small, has the potential to make a difference.
1. Speak up for what you care about.
Set aside time to finally give that cause that keeps nagging at your heart and reappearing in your life the attention it deserves. We all have something that we care deeply about, whether because of an experience we underwent, an encounter we’ve witnessed, or a story spoken by someone close to us. Advocacy has a huge impact in communities everywhere.
One brave voice is enough to open up a channel for others to share their experiences and support human rights. If you feel inspired to write, sign up for Amnesty International’s Write for Rights this December to join their global letter-writing campaign and the world’s biggest human rights event. Your words have power! The more awareness created around an issue, the more momentum there is for change to protect human rights.
2. Volunteer or donate to a global organization.
Oxfam International and UNICEF are two amazing nonprofits that support human rights around the world. With outreach programs in more than 90 countries, Oxfam helps empower communities to escape poverty and find resilience from natural disaster. We love how local changemakers and activists work directly with Oxfam to fight systematic injustice and support human rights for all.
UNICEF similarly works to protect human rights, but with a focus on children. Their mission is to ensure kids have safe access to clean water, education, healthcare, and play (the right to creative expression!) in almost 200 countries. Check out Charity Navigator to find more amazing nonprofits and their ratings.
3. Choose fair trade & ethically made gifts.
You can positively impact so many lives simply by how you shop for gifts this holiday and throughout the year. Fair trade and ethical products follow strict guidelines for giving workers and artisans living wages, safe working conditions, dignified employment, and environmental respect to support human rights.
As a social enterprise that supports women refugees, we’ve seen how these can transform lives. Every ethical purchase can mean a farming family is able to eat their next meal, a child can receive an education, a garment worker can afford clothing, and an artisan can support her family. Choose fair trade and ethically made gifts for birthdays, weddings, Mother’s and Father’s Day. and everything in between!
4. Listen to others’ stories.
There’s incredible power in listening to someone’s story, especially one that is vastly different from yours. With 7 billion people on one shared planet, the world is full of diverse cultures, traditions, and ways of living that are interesting to learn about.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was the first document to state our shared rights. One important way we can empower survivors and people facing injustices is by honoring and respecting their stories. Working beside women refugees in our studio, we’ve had the pleasure to be a part of their stories.
5. Stay connected with social movements.
A wonderful way to feel connected to social movements in the U.S. and around the world is by engaging on Instagram and Twitter. Prominent activists and human rights organizations are happy to share the ways they are making a difference, and usually offer campaigns you can get involved with.
We love Amnesty International USA’s compelling Instagram content and mix of human rights issues. If you care about education and girls’ rights, Malala Fund on Instagram posts regular updates and let’s you connect with the impact you are helping make. And Human Rights Watch is the one to follow for keeping updated on human rights issues everywhere.
6. Stand up against discrimination.
Discrimination has a way of creeping up in places we never imagined encountering it. Yet it’s there, and the most important thing each of us can do is say something – don’t let it slip by. And when you see someone else stand up, stand with them! When we have each other as support, we are more empowered against injustices in the workplace or in a classroom.
There are more people on this earth who help and uplift others than tear people down with words or hate. Acting together, we’re powerful enough to pave a new path to equality and fairness.
This is only a start, barely scratching the surface of so amazing efforts to protect and support human rights you can get involved in. Let us know any ways to make a difference and protect human rights that we may have missed in the comments below!
Prosperity Candle is a social enterprise supporting refugees and artisans through candle making. We are passionate about fair trade principles and ethically made goods that can help us live a more sustainable lifestyle. From our sustainable soy and coconut wax candles and reusable jars and tins, we practice what we want to see in the world. Learn more about our mission at Prosperity Candle and how we empower women. Shop candles handmade by our women artisans to inspire others in your life.
Public authorities like a local authority or the NHS must respect your human rights. If you think a public authority has breached your human rights, you may be able to take action under the Human Rights Act 1998.
You won’t necessarily have to go to court, it may be enough to discuss your problem with the person or organisation who’s breached your rights. If your problem isn’t resolved informally you can make a formal complaint.
Read this page to find out more about what you can do if your human rights have been breached.
Before you take action
When deciding what action to take about a human rights issue, you’ll need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, do you want financial compensation, an apology or things put right? You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.
It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.
Identifying a human rights issue
If you’ve been treated badly or unfairly, you’ll need to identify what human right or rights have been breached. For example, if you’ve been refused life-saving treatment this could be a breach of your right to life under article 2. Or if your family are not allowed to visit you in hospital this could be a breach of your right to respect for your private and family life under article 8.
Remember only public authorities have a duty not to breach your rights under the Human Rights Act.
A public authority may breach your human rights by:
- doing something which interferes with your rights, or
- failing to act – for example, by not protecting you if your life is in danger.
- More about the rights protected under the Human Rights Act
What action can you take?
Make an informal complaint
It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You can try talking to the person or people involved or you can contact their manager.
If you make an informal complaint, it’s a good idea to include the following things in your conversation:
- a short description of what happened
- the names and job titles of the people involved
- the date and time of the incident
- a description of how the incident affected you
- what you want the organisation to do now – for example, apologise or review a decision already taken or offer compensation
- when you expect a reply.
It’s best to keep a record of the conversation and make a note of the date. It’s also a good idea to follow up the conversation with a letter recording what was discussed.
Making a formal complaint
If the problem isn’t resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. If there’s a complaints procedure, you need to follow this. Most public authorities have their own complaints procedures. If there’s no complaints procedure you should complain in writing.
If you make a formal written complaint you should include the following things:
- explain what happened – include any relevant dates and times, the names of anyone involved
- say how the actions of the public authority have affected you – for example, that it’s made you feel distressed or that it’s affected your health
- say what you want to happen as a result of the complaint – for example, an apology or a review of the decision that’s been taken
- include your name and contact details.
If an adviser is helping you with the complaint and you want them to advocate on your behalf, you should include their name and contact details in your written complaint. You would also need to attach a letter of authorisation signed by you to show you want the adviser to act for you.
Keep a copy of the letter and write down when you sent it. It’s best to send the letter by recorded delivery, or you can ask for a free certificate of posting.
Taking your complaint further
If your problem hasn’t been resolved or you’re unhappy with the public authority’s response to your complaint, you can contact other organisations like a regulator or an ombudsman who can look at your complaint.
You should be aware that it may take some time for your complaint to be resolved. When you make a complaint to an ombudsman it doesn’t stop time running for taking legal action. If you want to take legal action you need to make sure you’re not running out of time as there are strict time limits for going to court. If this is the case it may be best to take your case to court directly.
Taking legal action
If you decide to take court action you should get advice from an experienced adviser – for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
You can take court action against a public authority if they’ve breached your human rights. You can also rely on your human rights in cases brought against you.
Sometimes you may be able to use human rights arguments to strengthen a claim – for example, that you’ve been discriminated against under the Equality Act 2010.
- Taking legal action about human rights
- The Human Rights Act 1998
- What rights are protected under the Human Rights Act?
- Who’s breaching your human rights?
- If you need more help
Other useful information
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
The EASS helpline can provide advice and information on human rights and discrimination issues.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
You can find useful information about human rights and discrimination on the EHRC website at
For more information and advice on the different rights protected under the Human Rights Act go to Liberty’s website at
British Institute of Human Rights
You can also find more information about human rights in Your human rights guides from the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) at
Immediate action is needed to stop the horrific violations of human rights of people around the world based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, a United Nations independent expert said Friday, delivering his first report to UN Member States in New York.
“It is unconscionable that people with an actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression different from a particular social norm, are targeted for violence and discrimination in many parts of the world,” said Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN’s first independent expert on the matter.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people suffer a crucible of egregious violations, including killings, rape, mutilation, torture, arbitrary detention, abduction, harassment, physical and mental assaults, he said, noting that they are subjected to lashings and forced surgical interventions, bullying from a young age, incitement to hatred and pressures leading to suicide.
“More than 70 countries around the world today still criminalize same-sex relations, and in some of them the death penalty may be applied,” he added, presenting his report to the UN General Assembly’s main body dealing with human rights and social and humanitarian issues (Third Committee).
Mr. Muntarbhorn said all laws criminalizing same-sex relationships should be removed from the statute books.
“There is a need for effective anti-discrimination measures covering both the public and private spheres,” the expert said, stressing the need to build a community open to understanding and respecting sexual and gender diversity.
Human rights defenders are also increasingly targeted for their work in raising issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, the expert said, adding that this is another area of great concern.
“Non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and activists, as well as independent national human rights institutions, play a crucial role in the advancement of an inclusive agenda for all without discrimination and distinction, including through the promotion of understanding of and respect for human rights and gender diversity,” Mr. Muntarbhorn said. “They are agents of change which can activate significant reform processes.”
He said the establishment last year of his mandate to promote action against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a major step forward.
UN independent experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Help Educate Actors, Musicians and Athletes on Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Abuses
Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children across 60 countries are chained, simply for having a mental health condition. Together, we can help end this inhumane practice. Join the global movement to #BreakTheChains.
For years, momentum has grown in Japan for an LGBT Equality Act. Next year, Japan will host the Tokyo2020 Olympics, marking a once-in-a-generation moment to champion LGBT equality. Show your support for an Equality Act.
The US Congress should act to repair harms of slavery by passing H.R. 40 The time for the United States to account for its legacy of slavery is long overdue.
Tell Greece to move hundreds of migrant children at risk of COVID-19 in detention to child-friendly housing.
Tell clothing brands to support workers by signing the Transparency Pledge.
Sign the petition to demand the Trump administration stop allowing meat plants to increase line speeds that threaten worker safety
Did you know children can legally marry in Massachusetts? A new bill to end all marriages under age 18 (S.2294) will be considered in the Massachusetts State legislature in 2019. Please contact Massachusetts lawmakers to tell them to make this bill a priority to ensure this legislation gets passed.
When the Saudi government agreed to let women drive, major car companies publicly and rightly hailed that development. It was a step towards equality for women in the Kingdom and created a lucrative new market for the industry. Now, the courageous women that fought for their right to drive are being arrested, jailed, and harassed. It is a cruel irony that the women who fought for equality are in jail while the companies stand to make millions from the market those women have helped create. They should tell the government to stop going after these activists.
Sanctions Targeting Xinjiang Officials Address Serious Abuse
The US government took a crucial step for human rights in China today by imposing targeted sanctions on four top Xinjiang officials, freezing their assets in the United States and banning them from entering the country. This is the second time the US government has used the Global Magnitsky Act – effective since 2017 – to hold Chinese officials accountable for severe human rights violations.
Those named include the Xinjiang Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo, a mastermind behind the mass arbitrary detention, torture, and surveillance of millions of Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Chen was also responsible for repression against Tibetans as the Tibetan region’s Party Secretary between 2011 and 2016.
The sanctions come three years after victims from Xinjiang came forward to detail their harrowing experience being held without legal procedures in the region’s “political education” camps, where they are forced to shed their Turkic Muslim identity and pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The sanctions also came after years of meticulous research: the role of Zhu Hailun, one of the sanctioned officials, came to light only after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released an operations manual for Xinjiang’s “political education” camps signed off by the Deputy Xinjiang Party Secretary.
The US Global Magnitsky sanctions would be more effective if other governments imposed similar restrictions. While the European Parliament has repeatedly urged the adoption of targeted sanctions on Chinese officials – most recently in a June resolution on Hong Kong and in a December 2019 resolution on Xinjiang – the European Union has yet to act. While the UK has just announced a similar human rights sanctions regime, no Chinese or Hong Kong government officials have been named among the first individuals penalized.
Imposing sanctions collectively will send a powerful message to a Chinese government increasingly disdainful of the global rule of law, compelling it to rethink its sense of impunity. At the United Nations on June 26, 50 UN human rights experts issued a searing indictment of human rights in China, calling on the UN Human Rights Council to scrutinize China’s record.
While sanctions can be a valuable tool to combat injustice, they are no substitute for genuine accountability. But Beijing has been put on notice that the world is increasingly willing to challenge its spiraling rights violations.
Communities of Color Face Dangerous Lack of Access to Clean Water
Access to safe and affordable water is essential to human health and for following basic recommendations issued by US public health experts on proper hand hygiene to help prevent Covid-19 infection. Despite this, communities of color across the US, including Native Americans living on reservations, are facing Covid-19 without adequate access to water.
In a new video, activists from around the US share how the rights to water and sanitation have been jeopardized in their communities, disproportionately affecting people of color, women, and children, mirroring the racial disparities evident in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite the country’s wealth, many people in the US live with unsafe drinking water. According to a United Nations expert, the United States ranked 36th in the world in terms of access to water and sanitation in 2017. That same year, nearly 77 million US residents were estimated to be served by drinking water systems with one or more violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Little has changed since then. Black, brown, and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by both urban and rural water vulnerabilities.
The human right to water is derived from the right an adequate standard of living. However, the US government, as well as state and local authorities, have refused to acknowledge this basic right. In 2014, a US federal judge in Michigan stated there was “no enforceable right” to water after the city of Detroit started massive shut-offs of household water supplies if people did not pay their water bills.
Members of the Water Equity and Climate Resilience Caucus, featured in the video, are asking for support of two provisions in the draft Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that would target grants to address the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 in communities already impacted by environmental degradation, subsidize water costs for low-income households, and restore or keep clean water access for communities facing shut-offs or toxic water.
People in the US can contact their senator and join in the effort to #KeepWaterOn for communities across the country.
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“Of course the people don’t want war…But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger.”
— Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials  X Research source
War can be devastating, and it can wreak havoc on entire societies for decades and generations. And sometimes, no good even comes out of the long years of fighting and staggering national losses. Many people oppose war, but don’t know how to take action to stop it. There are a variety of things you can do to take a stand against war.
The human rights chief of the United Nations is calling on countries to take more action to halt discrimination, violence and systemic racism against individuals of African descent worldwide and “make amends” to them, including issuing reparations.
The Associated Press reported that the call for reparations and increased efforts to end discrimination comes from a landmark report spearheaded by Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It was set into motion after the death of George Floyd, who was killed in May 2020 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison last week for the murder of Floyd.
The report zeroes in on the sources of the mistreatment that Africans and people of African descent have faced for centuries, according to the AP, especially from the transatlantic slave trade.
It reportedly aimed to find a “transformative” way to discuss the continued impact the mistreatment of Africans has today and quicken the pace for countries to halt racial injustice, stop impunity for rights violations committed by police, ensure that individuals who denounce racial injustice are heard and “confront past legacies and deliver redress,” Bachelet said, according to the AP.
She encouraged reparations but noted that the payments are not enough, writing that they would be part of a series of measures to help correct or compensate for the centuries of injustice.
“Reparations should not only be equated with financial compensation,” Bachelet wrote, according to the AP. She added that they should include restitution, rehabilitation, acknowledgment of injustices, apologies, memorialization, educational reforms and “guarantees” that such unfairness will not occur again, according to the wire service.
The report seeks to use the momentum felt worldwide after a year of increased scrutiny regarding racism and its effect on individuals of African descent, particularly after a number of unarmed Black people were killed in the U.S. and beyond, the AP reported.
“There is today a momentous opportunity to achieve a turning point for racial equality and justice,” the report says, according to the AP.
It is based on discussions with more than 340 people, mainly of African descent, and experts, according to the wire service.
It also reportedly examined 190 deaths, most of which occurred in the U.S., to illustrate that law enforcement officers are seldom held accountable for their actions that involve rights violations and mistreatment against individuals of African descent.
The report pointed out similar patterns of misconduct by police in a number of countries throughout the world, according to the AP.
The report comes after Bachelet last year called on countries to address systemic racism and discrimination by issuing reparations during a council debate that sparked after the killing of Floyd.
At the time, she said it was not enough to condemn racism and police brutality, but that “it was also necessary to make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through formal apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms.”