In-Depth Research on "Human Rights"

Last week an Overbrook Foundation grantee The Opportunity Agenda’s shared its most recent opinion research opinions on human rights. They’ve recently completed an in-depth public opinion research this past spring to help advocates in building understanding and support for human rights at home. Through a series of focus group discussions, they examined attitudes toward human rights, and how to discuss a range of social justice issues within the context of human rights. The goal of the project was to examine the potential for using a human rights framework in communicating on these issues.

Their research (which you can read more in-depth here) found that these audiences generally see human rights as the rights you have by virtue of being born. However, as the discussions move from initial reactions to the phrase “human rights” to more in-depth discussions of applying human rights to a range of social justice issues in the United States, participants’ views of human rights become more complex. In particular, when members of the key audiences begin to distinguish between rights which are protected— freedom from torture, freedom of speech, etc.— from rights which are provided—health care, education, etc.— they begin to see some hesitation about calling the latter human rights.

Interestingly, many of the participants also held a conditional view of who should have certain human rights. For example, undocumented immigrants, in the minds of most of the key audience members, have forfeited some of their human rights because they have broken the law to be in the United States. Therefore, many question, and even object to, undocumented immigrants receiving health care. There are some human rights, however, that most of the members of the key audiences believe should be guaranteed to all, including due process rights, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from mistreatment.

For other questions regarding the report, please contact Eleni Delimpaltadaki at