Posts Tagged ‘human rights careers’

Musicians for human rights: 15 examples but not very complete

July 21, 2022

As a universal language that transcends cultural barriers, music is a medium where people and artists alike can have their voices heard in a manner that words alone cannot. Music has often been used to showcase pressing political and societal issues, including the promotion and protection of human rights. These 15 artists are listed in a post by Human Rights Carreers as examples of those who have used their musical talent and platform to share awareness of human rights issues across the world and bring a voice to marginalized members of society. Many readers will have their own preferences.

What shows a bit of sloppy research is that the winners of specific prizes for “human rights and music”, such as The High Note Award (see: and the Beethoven Prize [see: are not included. While also Rap Against Dictatorship would have deserved a mention [see:].

And then there is the aspect of stars who use their status for money and to shore up dictators.For more on this topic, see:

Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend is an English musician, songwriter and vocalist of “the Who” rock band, one of the most influential rock ensembles during the 1960s and 1970s. Alongside his career in the rock music industry, Townshend has a long history of charity and philanthropic work for human rights issues, advocating for greater drug rehabilitation and activism for children’s rights. In 1979, Townshend was the first musician to perform for Amnesty International’s Human Rights Concerts and inspired other renowned rock musicians to support the human rights cause. Townshend is quoted saying, “Amnesty does things that I can’t do in my work. It deals with the specifics of injustice… It makes them public. It was 1979 that I appeared at ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’… It was amazing subsequently to see what ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’ triggered. Quite big names got involved in supporting Amnesty. And it became apparent that big names in music and Amnesty melded very well. It’s good to see that what I did kicked that off…”


Performing under the stage name, “Sting”, Gordon Sumner is a Grammy-Award winning guitarist, vocalist and songwriter who is renowned for his work as both a solo musician and an ensemble musician with the rock band “the Police” between 1977 – 1984. Sting is heavily involved in human rights activism, having written songs inspired by his concern for world hunger and oppressive political regimes, and has also extended his activism beyond music by writing an open letter for the decriminalization of drug possession in the United Kingdom in 2011. He has also signed several petitions against the death penalty in Belarus and has cancelled concerts in response to human rights issues in several countries. Sting’s humanitarian activism has been recognized by Amnesty International and he has performed for the NGO’s Human Rights Concerts on several occasions.


Described as the world’s best known philanthropic performers and most politically effective celebrity of all time by the National Journal, Bono (Paul Hewson) has worked extensively as a rock musician in the band U2, a philanthropist and human rights activist. Focusing much of his efforts into advocating the fight against AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa, Bono has lobbied governmental entities to adopt human rights-based policies under his positions as the co-founder of ONE, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty. More recently, Bono raised awareness of vaccination against COVID-19 and vaccine inequality around the world and in April 2022, Bono recorded an acoustic rendition of “Walk On” by his band, U2, for the Global Citizen’s Stand Up for Ukraine livestream, urging global leaders to support Ukrainian refugees. Bono was also invited by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to perform in a metro station in Kyiv, showing his solidarity to Ukraine under invasion from Russia. See also:

Peter Gabriel

Rising to fame as the lead singer of the rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel has been an active rock musician, singer and producer whose music has been awarded nine MTV awards, Brit Awards and Grammy Awards throughout his musical career. Aside from his musical accomplishments, Gabriel is the co-founder of WITNESS, a human rights non-profit organization that supports local organizations document human rights issues and advocacy. [see also:]In recognition of his humanitarian work, Gabriel was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and was named as one of the most influential people in the world in 2008 by Time Magazine. NOTE: he did not get the Nobel Peace prize, but the Peace Summit award, see: See also:

Angélique Kidjo

Awarded “The Ambassador of Conscience Award” by Amnesty International in 2016, Angélique Kidjo is a Beninese singer-songwriter renowned for her creative music videos and unique musical style that integrates Afropop, Congolese rumba, jazz and Latin music genres. Within her 30-year musical career, Kidjo has been a prominent advocate for the expression of freedom, the education of girls in Africa and has expressed concerns regarding female genital mutilation and has worked as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. Alongside her major ambassador roles, Kidjo is the founder of The Batonga Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers women in Benin and upskills these women for socio-economic mobility. See also:

Lang Lang

Described as one of the most exciting and accomplished classical musicians in the world, classical pianist Lang Lang has not only revolutionized the classical music industry but has also used his music as a way to advocate for human rights globally. Appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and a Messenger of Peace, Lang Lang primarily advocates for children’s rights and access to education through concerts that raise funds for UNICEF and other humanitarian crises.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

As an Indigenous Canadian singer-song writer and composer, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s music primarily revolves around the issues faced by the Indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States. Buffy began her advocacy efforts for the protection of Indigenous artists, performers and their intellectual property by establishing the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education in 1966 and has moved on to founding The Creative Native Project, an initiative which seeks to empower Indigenous youth in the performing arts. More recently, Buffy was awarded the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award and was invited to the Canadian Music Week in 2020.

Maxim Vengerov

Hailed as one of the most talented violinists in the 21st century, Maxim Vengerov was the first classical musician to be appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997. Alongside his musical accomplishments, Vengerov has focused much of his advocacy on the promotion of children’s education and rights and has visited countries such as Turkey, Uganda and Bosnia and Herzegovina representing UNICEF. Vengerov has also performed at #EndViolence events in Bucharest, Romania for UNICEF Romania.

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is an American singer-song writer, known as one of the original founders of the heartland rock genre, which combines elements of mainstream rock music with narratives of the American working class. Throughout his musical career, Springsteen has been a long advocate for LGBT rights, the empowerment of women and democracy, using his international platform to raise awareness of social issues. Springsteen was first invited to perform for Amnesty International in 1988 and has since continued his advocacy of human rights through his music.

Nadya Tolokonnikova

As the leader of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova uses her musical platform to spread awareness of human rights issues through her music. As a passionate feminist, Tolokonnikova delved into themes of sexism and rape culture in her newest EP, Panic Attack, and has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from her EP to a shelter for domestic violence in Russia. Tolokonnikova herself was recognized by a political prisoner by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Amnesty International described her as a “prisoner of conscience” due to the “severity of the response of Russian authorities.”

Piera Van de Wiel

Piera Van de Wiel is a British singer and composer who uses her music as a platform for her human rights advocacy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Van de Wiel released a single, “Used”, to raise awareness of the increase in domestic violence and abuse against women during the pandemic with the support of the United Nations Spotlight Initiative. Alongside her musical pursuits, Van de Wiel is the founder of the non-profit organization, Stronger With Music, a movement that works towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Evan Greer

Evan Greer is a trans/genderqueer artist based in Boston who composes acoustic songs that advocate technological security, LGBTQ rights and movements for justice and liberation. Alongside their musical accomplishments, Greer is the founder of a non-profit organization called Fight for the Future, which aims to secure digital rights and banning unethical technological practices.

Max Richter

German-British composer and pianist Max Richter is one of the most prominent composers of the 21st century, boasting over a billion streams of his music and a million album sales throughout his 25-year musical career. Richter has previously responded to the Iraq War, the 2005 London terrorist attacks and the Kosovo War through his music and his most recent album, “Voices” takes inspiration from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. All ten of the tracks (except for the final song) incorporate text from the 1948 UNDHR document and Richter himself has stated that the album is a response to the human rights abuses around the world and the need for social justice and equality of humans around the world. See:

Hans Zimmer

Composer of award-winning films such as The Dark Night, The Lion King and The Rock, Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer has established himself as one of the most eminent film composers in history. Zimmer was invited to compose an anthem to celebrate Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary, titled “One More Voice for Freedom” in commemoration for International Human Rights Day. Zimmer himself is quoted saying “it was a privilege to create this piece of music for a cause which is so close to our hearts” and that it is my “hope that the anthem will inspire people to support Amnesty’s vision of a world where fundamental rights are protected for everyone. We should all join Amnesty in standing up for justice, freedom and human rights”.

Alicia Keys

Dubbed as the “Queen of R&B”, American singer-song writer Alicia Keys has intertwined her passion for music with human rights activism through her extensive philanthropic work in her musical career. Keys is the co-founder of the non-profit organization, Keep a Child Alive, that provides treatment and social support to children and families affected by HIV in Africa and India. As part of her work in Keep a Child Alive, Keys host an annual fundraising gala called the Black Ball, where she invites major musical artists to perform at the event to raise funds for HIV and AIDS activism. See:

Human Rights Cities…

January 25, 2022

Human Rights Careers carried an unattributed post: “What Are Human Rights Cities?” I reproduce it here in full as it gives some interesting points:

Urbanization is on the rise. According to the United Nations Population Fund, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns or cities. By 2030, that number could reach 5 billion people. This is significant because inequality often slices cities into divisions of wealth and poverty. A human rights approach can address this problem and promote cities as spaces of equality, inclusion, and empowerment. When different stakeholders in a city – the local government, civil society, and private sector – come together to adopt human rights principles and laws, a human rights city is born.

The history of human rights cities

The impact of cities on human rights is not new considering how cities can be home to high levels of poverty, inequality, environmental decay, and so on. The organization the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning (formerly known as the People’s Decade for Human Rights Education and still known by the abbreviation PDHRE) launched the more formal understanding of human rights cities. It was just after the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria, which represented a reinvigorated commitment to implement human rights instruments. The PDHRE’S Human Rights Cities initiative sought to mobilize communities to engage in dialogue and take action on improving life and security for people based on a human rights standard.

The first Human Rights City

Rosario is the biggest city in the central Argentinian province of Sante Fe and the third-most populous city in the country. Tourists are drawn to its centuries-old architecture in the neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco styles, as well as its many museums. Football legend Lionel Messi is from Rosario. In June of 1997, more than 100 people, including groups representing women, children, the academic community, and indigenous people, met with the municipality at City Hall. The executive director of PDHRE was there, too. The groups signed a proclamation committing to turn Rosario into a “human rights sensitive city” that would promote equity, peace, and respect for human rights.

Rosario drew up plans to implement the proclamation. All sectors of society were represented on a Citizen’s Committee, which began analyzing how human rights violations were connected and initiating neighborhood dialogues about a human rights framework. A sub-committee looked at the government’s obligations under international law and solutions to poverty, violence against women and the LGBTQ community, police brutality, poor education, and more. Human rights experts, educators, lawyers, and media members made a supporting volunteer group while trainings were held for and by police, judges, business people, teachers, and others. Specific principles guided the process: transparency, participation, accountability, reciprocity, and a commitment to eliminate poverty.

Other Human Rights Cities

Other areas embraced the concept of human rights cities. In 2000, Saint-Denis in France adopted the European Charter for the Safe Guarding of Human Rights in the City. In 2009, Gwangju in South Korea established a human rights municipality and in 2011, held the 1st World Human Rights Cities Forum. The event is held annually and is an essential gathering for the human rights cities movement. The forum defined human rights cities as “both a local community and a socio-political process in a local context where human rights play a key role as fundamental values and guiding principles.”

There are currently human rights cities in Asia, Africa, Europe, Canada, the United States, and Latin America. Examples include Timbuktu, Mali; Nagpur, India; Nuremberg, Germany; Madrid, Spain; Seattle, United States; and Winnipeg, Canada.

How do cities become “human rights cities?”

There is no standardized process for a city to become a “human rights city.” According to the Human Rights Cities Network, an online platform that promotes the development of human rights cities, there are two processes: an informal one and a formal one. The informal process is when a city promotes human rights at a local government level without officially labeling itself a “human rights city.” These cities embrace concepts like sustainability (“going green”), welcoming refugees, being inclusive to all genders and sexualities, and so on. The success of these cities varies widely; cities often make big promises they don’t keep. Some cities have embraced human rights agendas and implemented norms, but haven’t adopted broader declarations. Chicago, Illinois is one example. The City Council passed a resolution in 2009 supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For the formal process, a city announces itself as a “Human Rights City” and makes an official commitment. They often adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as their norm of governance and establish a process where the community and municipality cooperate on implementing a human rights approach. Implementing a specific human rights framework for governance sets true human rights cities apart from cities that enjoy a human rights label, but aren’t going to take real action. Every city’s process looks a bit different based on relevant issues, government structure, and so on. The key is that policies and governance center residents’ human rights as described in the UDHR.

See also (but not clear how it links to this):

The benefits of human rights cities

When taken seriously, human rights cities rely on a framework based on human rights principles like equality, participation, transparency, and accountability. This framework is essential because it guides decision-making on every level, ensuring a systemic shift in how cities conduct business. We can see these principles in the Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City (2014):

  • Non-discrimination and affirmative action
  • Social inclusion and cultural diversity
  • Social justice, solidarity, and sustainability
  • Effective institutions and policy coordination
  • Human rights education and training
  • Participatory democracy and accountable governance

Let’s consider that last principle more closely: participatory democracy and accountable governance. Democracy, which is a structure that gives power to the people either directly or through elected representatives, creates the best environment for human rights to flourish. Why? Governance guided by a democratic human rights approach doesn’t allow an elite group to call the shots with no participation or accountability from the rest of the community. All city residents – not just a few – are involved in public policy-making and given the space to voice their interests and ideas. If the government fails in its responsibilities, mechanisms allow people to hold them accountable and prioritize (and empower) the most vulnerable. That’s an essential benefit to human rights cities.

Challenges that face human rights cities

Enforcing a human rights approach is arguably the biggest challenge facing human rights cities. It’s a problem consistent with human rights law and practice in general. While the United Nations represents the closest thing to a global enforcer, its powers are severely limited. The institution can draw attention to human rights progress and violations, but its ability to hold States and abusers accountable has earned the UN much criticism. There’s even less oversight of private actors like multinational corporations. Most enforcement falls to individual States and local governments, which often have scant resources or weak political will for strong human rights policies.

The lack of a standardized definition for human rights cities (an issue that Deklerck Jasmien discusses in their thesis Human Rights Cities: “Walking the Walk” or “Talking the Talk”) also makes enforcement a very tricky prospect. There aren’t clear measurements that determine whether human cities are successful. These limitations make it difficult to hold human rights cities responsible for their actions (or lack of actions) regarding human rights. This isn’t to say all human rights cities are doomed to fail. Some cities are better than others at establishing monitoring procedures and enforcement mechanisms, but again, without a clear definition and recognized standards, human rights cities won’t achieve the level of success supporters hope for.

Are human rights cities worth it?

While the values behind human rights cities aren’t new, the implementation is fairly recent. Is it worth the effort? Are the cities working? Let’s look at the city of Gwangju for a case study. Gwangju, South Korea has a history of oppressive governments. In 1980, government troops attacked university students demonstrating against the martial law government. A group of citizens armed themselves in what became known as the Gwangju Uprising. The event is recognized as a symbol of resistance against authoritarianism. Given the area’s history and track record of democratic movements, making Gwangju a human rights city made sense to many progressive residents. Human rights ordinances were established in 2007 and 2009. In 2010, the government established a human rights department. In 2011, the first World Human Rights Cities Forum took place.

According to a 2019 conference paper, human rights indicators show a steady improvement in the city’s human rights levels. Achievements in human rights education (which includes HRE for all government officials) are considered the city’s biggest wins. Issues remain, especially in housing, public safety, and school violence. The paper also points out problems with collaboration between the government’s different departments.

Gwangju has a blend of successes and limitations. That’s likely true for all human rights cities. Is the idea of the “human rights city” worth attempting? It is if it’s taken seriously. Human rights principles like democracy and accountability are essential to the long-term health and success of cities, which are home to billions. The Sustainable Development Goals can’t be achieved without cities, but cities first need to embrace a human rights approach.