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Understanding Human Rights and Justice
Understanding Human Rights and Justice
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How to Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice

Human rights and justice are crucial for everyone’s well-being, but violations and injustices persist globally.

Oppression, discrimination, exploitation, violence, and  corruption affect marginalized groups:

  1. Women.
  2. Children.
  3. Minorities.
  4. Refugees.
  5. Indigenous peoples.
  6. The impoverished.

As social workers, we must fulfill our ethical duty by promoting human rights and justice.

This involves enhancing our expertise, values, and skills while advocating and engaging in activism.

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In this article, we will explore some of the ways that we can achieve this goal and make a positive difference in the world.

Understanding Human Rights and Justice

The first step to advancing human rights and justice is to understand what they mean and why they matter.

Human rights are the universal and inalienable rights that every person has by virtue of being human.

They include:

  1. Civil.
  2. Political.
  3. Economic.
  4. Social. 
  5. Cultural rights, such as:
  • The right to life,
  • Liberty,
  • Equality.
  • Education.
  • Health.
  • Work.
  • Participation.

Human rights are based on the principles of dignity, respect, freedom, equality, and solidarity.

They are recognized and protected by international law and standards.

Justice is the fair and impartial treatment of people according to their rights and obligations.

It also involves the recognition and redress of wrongs and harms that people have experienced or caused. 

Justice can be understood in different dimensions, such as:

  1. Legal justice.
  2. Distributive justice.
  3. Procedural justice.
  4. Restorative justice.
  5. Transformative justice.

Justice is closely linked to human rights because it aims to ensure that people’s rights are respected and fulfilled.

Developing Competence in Field Education

One of the ways that we can advance HRJ is by developing our competence in field education.

Field education is a core component of social work education that provides us with opportunities to apply our knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

It also allows us to learn from our clients, colleagues, supervisors, and communities.

Field education can help us develop our competence in advancing human rights and justice by:

  • Exposing us to diverse populations and contexts that face human rights violations and injustices
  • Providing us with learning objectives and activities that align with the core competency of advancing human rights and justice
  • Encouraging us to reflect on our personal values and professional ethics in relation to human rights and justice
  • Challenging us to critically analyze the root causes and consequences of human rights violations and injustices
  • Supporting us to engage in culturally responsive and anti-oppressive practices that promote human rights and justice
  • Facilitating our participation in advocacy and social change efforts that address human rights violations and injustices.

Advocating for Human Rights and Justice at Different Levels

Another way that we can advance human rights and justice is by advocating for them at different levels.

Advocacy is the act of speaking up for or supporting a cause or issue that affects oneself or others. 

The Advocacy can take various forms, such as raising awareness, educating others, influencing policies or laws, mobilizing resources or actions, or challenging power structures or systems.

Advocacy can help us advance human rights and justice by:

  • Amplifying the voices and stories of people who experience human rights violations or injustices
  • Building alliances and coalitions with other individuals or groups who share similar goals or interests
  • Using evidence-based research or data to support our claims or arguments
  • Applying human rights frameworks or standards to guide our advocacy strategies or actions
  • Utilizing different platforms or channels to communicate our messages or demands
  • Monitoring or evaluating the outcomes or impacts of our advocacy efforts.

We can advocate for human rights and justice at different levels depending on our roles or contexts.

For example:

  • At the individual level: We can advocate for ourselves or our clients by asserting our rights or needs in various situations or settings.
  • At the group level: We can advocate for our peers or colleagues by supporting their professional development or well-being.
  • At the organizational level: We can advocate for our agencies or institutions by promoting their missions or values.
  • At the community level: We can advocate for our neighborhoods or populations by addressing their issues or concerns.
  • At the national level: We can advocate for our country or society by influencing its policies or laws.
  • At the global level: We can advocate for our planet or humanity by participating in international movements or campaigns.


Advancing HRJ, economic, and environmental justice is a core competency of social work practice that requires us to develop our knowledge, values, skills, and actions in this area.

We can do this by understanding what human HRJ mean and why they matter, by developing our competence in field education, and by advocating for HRJ at different levels.

By doing so, we can contribute to the enhancement of human well-being and the prevention of future planetary harm.


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