APA has a history of explicit attention to human rights. Recent activities provided here are organized around six areas: 

I. Promoting psychologists’ respect for human rights in their research and practice.

II. Monitoring and protection of individual human rights, including psychologists.

III. Advocacy to ensure that governments meet their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

IV. Promoting the contributions of psychology and psychologists to human rights promotion and protection.

V. Policy development.

I. Promoting psychologists’ respect for human rights in their research and practice
Office of Research Ethics

The APA Office of Research Ethics has within its purview safeguarding and promoting the rights and welfare of human participants in research. In coordination with the Committee on Human Research, the office engages in advocacy and educational activities geared towards protecting the rights and welfare of all human participants in research, especially those from vulnerable populations such as children, prisoners and individuals with impaired decision-making capacity.

Ethics Office

The Ethics Office and Committee support continued engagement concerning the integration of culture, ethics and human rights by providing programming hours at APA's Annual Convention to the ethnic minority psychological associations for ongoing dialog regarding these important issues. The office and committee also provide travel awards sponsored by Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues) and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students for attendance for LGBTQ students of color at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit, appoint a diversity ombudsperson during adjudication and other discussions of the committee, engage in diversity training at Ethics Committee meetings and present on ethics and human rights at various national and international conferences.

United Nations

The APA UN/national government organization representation contributes bimonthly columns on issues at the UN, usually on a human rights topic, with implications for how psychologists can apply the information to their own work.

Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP)

CIRP has addressed responsible, human rights based practices in international research collaboration through a brochure that is part of a series, Going International that offers guidance to the issues important for psychologists doing international work to consider.  

II. Monitoring and protection of individuals’ human rights, including the human rights of psychologists engaged in professional activities
Council Policy Related to Torture / Recent Efforts of Executive Office

Beginning in 1985, APA adopted eight policies to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and safeguard detainee welfare, which included the 2005 "Report of the APA Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security" (since rescinded), the 2006 broad anti-torture policy, the 2008 petition resolution, the 2013 reconciled policy and the 2015 policy, which fully aligns APA policy definitions with those in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and prohibits psychologists from participating in national security interrogations, among other provisions. 

The Executive Office provided intensive staff support to grassroots groups of APA members in the drafting of the 2013 and 2015 policies. The office also disseminated news of the policies widely through press releases and by sending explanatory letters to President Obama and to key officials in his administration, as well as to the House and Senate Armed Services, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. The letters requested that specific steps be taken to implement the policies and to ensure that national security detainees in U.S. custody be treated fairly and humanely, as well as accorded all of the legal rights to which they are entitled.

In November 2014, The APA Board of Directors engaged attorney David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct an independent review of whether there was any factual support for the assertion that APA engaged in activity that would constitute collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support or facilitate the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques by the United States in the war on terror.  The findings of the report led to ongoing actions by APA's Board of Directors, Council of Representatives and leadership to clarify the roles of psychologists in interrogations and safeguard against acts of torture or inhumane treatment of prisoners in all settings.

Scholars at Risk Network

APA is a member of the Scholars at Risk Network, a network that addresses human rights violations of academic scholars, and that publishes regular reports on academic freedom from a human rights perspective.

Research Ethics Office

The Research Ethics Office works with the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics to support and advocate for nonhuman animal researchers whose freedoms may be threatened or jeopardized by groups opposed to research with nonhuman animals.

Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP)

CIRP has drafted a resolution on the right for free circulation among scientists (the resolution endorses a fundamental principle of the International Council of Science on freedom and responsibility in science). This will be on the fall cross-cutting agenda and is projected to be submitted to council in February 2016.

The mission statement of CIRP includes specific reference to its role in promoting and protecting human rights with an APA perspective:

"Monitor within the international context and take action in cases involving infringements of the rights of psychologists or abuse of psychological knowledge and techniques wherever these may occur, consistent with APA's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and with the Resolution Concerning Professional Ethics in Psychology (1976) of the International Union of Psychological Science, and apply psychological knowledge to the alleviation of psychological suffering attendant upon abuses of human rights..."

III. Advocacy to ensure that governments meet their obligations under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights
Advocacy topics include four broad areas:
Advancing international human rights
Advocating for civil rights
  • Increase voting rights and civic participation and reduce abuses of civil rights by law enforcement and immigration authorities (e.g., increasing equity based-policing, reducing racial profiling and advocating for humane immigrant detention policies).
  • Promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender civil rights (domestic priorities include adoption/foster care, employment, marriage).
  • Support criminal justice reforms (e.g., increase in mental health diversion, ending solitary confinement)
  • Support the rights of women (e.g., domestic violence prevention, employment anti-discrimination)
Promoting the right to health – generating conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible and attain a high standard of health (World Health Organization)
  • Expansion of programs to increase the access of all segments of society to quality health care, especially policies that benefit disadvantaged ethnic minority communities, older Americans, low-income children and families, LGBT individuals, individuals affected by HIV, individuals with disabilities and women.
  • Eliminate health disparities by age, disability, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Reduce negative social determinants of health and structural barriers to health.
Reducing inequality
  • Advance policies that reduce economic inequality (e.g., minimum wage, paid sick leave).
  • Ensure programs that disproportionately benefit low income populations are protected (e.g., child care, Social Security, unemployment, temporary assistance for needy families).
IV. Promoting the contributions of psychology and psychologists to human rights protection

The implementation group for the petition resolution prohibiting psychologists’ participation in illegal detainee settings recommended that “APA include a focus on human rights among its priorities and encourage APA’s work to reflect societal leadership in the promotion of human rights through research, practice, education, science and policy initiatives, including collaboration with other professional societies and human rights organizations.” APA continues to collaborate across its directorates to promote human rights activities and programming.

V. Policy development
Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest 

At its spring 2015 meeting, the Board of the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) decided that it would focus its initiative on the development of policy for APA on human rights. As a way to gather relevant input, Gary Harper, PhD, BAPPI member, and Clinton Anderson, led a roundtable discussion on human rights policy for psychology at the 2015 Society for Community Research and Action Biennial Conference. Input from this consultation with members and other psychologists will be considered by BAPPI as it decides the scope and content of human rights policy that it will develop for APA’s consideration. 

Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP)

CIRP is developing a policy for adoption by APA on the free circulation of scientists and adherence to this principle as a fundamental aspect of the human rights of scientists.

APA Human Rights Resources