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3 Tips on speaking up for human rights: Seed hope, not fear

“It’s better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.” (Chinese proverb)

Often, the human rights movement has focused on exposing human rights violations, naming and shaming governments and companies who step out of line as a way to ensure accountability and prevent further violations from occurring in the future.

Amnesty International’s audience research shows that human rights communication needs also to be about hope and opportunity, not fear and threat.

In the era of “fake news”, facts are not enough either. Especially since telling people they are wrong can actually reinforce their opinions if it conflicts with their values and beliefs. So how can we communicate human rights more effectively?

Positive affirmations

Most of us respond better to positive affirmation than to criticism. If we are rewarded for doing good, we are likely to do good again. This will make the people you speak to feel encouraged, and they will be more likely to engage with human rights again. This does not mean that we should shy away from showing the problems that need to be fixed.

Example: “You care about human rights and you want to help ensure everyone in your community and beyond has them.”

Building on existing commitments

Everyone has commitments in life, and are likely to do things that help them fulfil those commitments. For some, their biggest commitment might be protecting their family, or enhancing their reputation among their peers. Finding ways to link those commitments to human rights can be an effective way to gather support.

Example: “Because you care about your family, you care about human rights.”

Social norming

We are all guided by social norms – rules for what is considered normal behaviour for people like us. This happens both consciously and unconsciously. To broaden support for human rights it can be helpful to demonstrate that people like the person you talk to stand up for human rights in their community. Everyone can be a human rights defender.

Example: “People in your community take action for human rights”


Sharing strategies to communicate human rights

What other strategies can you think of that have been successful in communicating human rights in your context?

Discuss your ideas with your peers.

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This article is from the free online course:

Defending Dignity: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Amnesty International