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Human Rights Officer: Job Description, Duties, and Salary

A human rights officer serves primarily as an investigator, observer, and monitor of human rights issues such as discrimination; religious intolerance; violence and torture; and so on. This job is found primarily within the United Nations, though smaller government organizations sometimes hire human rights officers. With the United Nations, HROs are placed at 12 country offices and 12 regional offices around the globe. The UN employs about 900 international human rights officers and support staff. They can be found in places such as:

  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • New York, United States
  • Haiti
  • Mali
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo


A human rights officer’s duties encompass a wide variety of tasks, such as researching and identifying human rights violations; observing trials and elections; working with other UN organizations like the ICC, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or International Labour Organization; and interviewing both perpetrators of human rights violations and survivors.

With the UN, human rights officer jobs range from entry level to higher levels, like a chief of field operations. As an example, a P3 human rights officer’s duties can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Planning and coordinating activities related to relevant mandates on human rights
  • Researching and analyzing human rights issues in the assigned area
  • Collecting and analyzing human rights data
  • Making sure human rights considerations are integrated into humanitarian, political, and economic programs and systems
  • Representing the UN at meetings
  • Preparing reports and briefings

P4 human rights officers are higher-level and have slightly different requirements and duties. Their responsibilities can include all the P3 responsibilities, as well as:

  • Coordinating with local and national government institutions, human rights organizations, and civil society.
  • Serving as team leader and bearing all the responsibilities that entails
  • Training and supervising junior staff

Different jobs will entail different responsibilities based on where the job is located and at what UN office. As an example, a human rights officer working in the Office of the Victim’s Rights Advocate will have different tasks than an officer in the Office of Counter-Terrorism, since those offices don’t share the same mission or goals.


All human rights officers must have a deep knowledge and understanding of the field they will be entering, including the ability to identify and analyze the human rights issues. Excellent communication in both writing and speaking is required, as well, and good teamwork skills. All candidates for the HRO role must have at least a Master’s degree in law, public administration, human rights, peacekeeping management, or a related field. If the job is a higher level, a doctorate might also be desired, though not necessarily required.

Foreign language proficiency is also essential, specifically English and French, since those are the most common working languages of the UN. Knowing a third UN language can also help a candidate, while proficiency in the language of the job’s area will also be important. As for work experience, a P3 human rights officer needs five years of relevant experience, while a P4 needs seven years. The UN also prefers candidates who already have at least one year of experience with the UN.


Salary varies depending on the level of the human rights officer job. On the UN Careers website, all jobs are divided into entry level professionals (P1-P3), mid-career professionals (P4-P5), or senior level professionals (D1-D2). Here’s the base salary for all those positions:

P1-P3: $37,000-$80,000

P4-P5: $67,000-$106,000

D1-D2: $95,000-$123,000

The base salary is also supplemented by a post adjustment based on the cost of living in the job’s location and the exchange rate. Human rights officers, as UN staff members, may also be entitled to benefits and allowances such as:

  • Rental subsidy
  • Travel and shipping expenses (when moving from one station to another)
  • Dependency allowances if you have an eligible dependent spouse or children
  • An education grant for eligible children
  • Hazard pay and rest and recuperation break (for locations that are especially dangerous and difficult)