Essay Topics on Human Rights

A human rights activist leading a rally.
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Whether writing about war crimes, the death penalty, women's rights or the plight of the poor, those who are tackling human rights issues in an essay should decide on a topic that is narrowed or refined enough to be manageable. A vast array of issues in the world fall under the term "human rights," so a clear and direct focus on one is necessary as you begin your research.

1 Global Norms

Before you start writing, familiarize yourself with the concept of human rights and its history. The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which forms the basic principles of the human rights movement. The articles of the declaration set forth a series of basic rights that everyone in the world is entitled to, including the fact that everyone is born free and equal. Visit the website of groups like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to learn about past and current human rights issues.

2 War Crimes

The Geneva Conventions are a set of treaties regulating armed conflict, intended to prevent inhumane treatment of civilians and soldiers rendered unable to fight. International humanitarian law is based on principles in these treaties, but not every country has signed on to all of them. Recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria demonstrate the complicated nature of the issue, which is further complicated by definitions of combatants in civil wars in places like Sri Lanka and Chad. Countless instances of violations of the Geneva Conventions have occurred worldwide and an essay topic about war crimes should focus on just one aspect, such as the killing of civilians in one country.

3 Death Penalty

Human rights groups are opposed to the death penalty, considering it an abhorrent practice that should be outlawed worldwide. Activists oppose the death penalty based on a variety human rights arguments, but countries that put prisoners of conscience to death raise a very loud cry of injustice. Amnesty International offers a great deal of information on the death penalty, including cases of juveniles being executed. A focused essay topic on the death penalty could be centered on one American state, for example, or one capital crime in a certain country. Investigate why a government or population feels the need to to have capital punishment.

4 Women's Rights

Egregious violations of women's rights receive publicity, bringing shocking terms like "genital mutilation" into the sphere of public awareness. Essay topics on women's human rights might focus on basic issues such as women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia, or you could choose a topic relating to violations of the body, such as rape, forced marriage or forced sterilization. Domestic violence also falls under the human rights category, but don't just identify the problem in your essay. Seek to inform and enlighten people by searching for cultural or government practices that exacerbate the issue or could help alleviate it.

5 Plight of the Poor

Human rights groups view widespread poverty as economic injustice. Access to food, clean drinking water and health care are examples of basic needs covered in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If armed conflict in a region is preventing people from having access to the basics, decide whether the government is doing all it can for its population. Another angle to this issue is access for aid workers and relief. If a nation's government is not allowing aid supplies and workers into troubled areas, discuss in your essay possible motivations and the responsibility of those in power.

Matt Rauscher has been writing professionally since 1996, recently serving as a contributing writer/film critic for "Instinct Magazine." He is also a novelist and co-author of a Chicago city guidebook. In 1997, Rauscher graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in rhetoric.