A Letter for Human Rights

You are a contemporary traveler visiting a country outside the U. S. that has a history of some type of human rights abuse. You might be a mission worker in Sierra Leone, a nurse in Kenya, or a hiker in Nepal. During your stay, you witness an outrageous offense against someone who belongs to a particular group of people. These people because of their gender, race, religion, ethnic group, even age, are subject to a specific abuse. They might be boy soldiers; child prostitutes; or victims of FGM, of religious persecution, or of honor killings…

You react immediately to stop the abuse and find yourself in jail for disturbing the peace. You begin to remember other citizens of the world who took part in acts of civil disobedience, fighting nonviolently for the rights of individuals, when popular opinion, even the law of the land, was against them.

In mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, Thoreau questioned the validity of “laws that did not conform to moral justice” and asked “that citizens act on the basis of conscience.” Thoreau inspired Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s fight for independence from Great Britain, finally won in 1947. He once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi, in turn, influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who began in the 1950s to guide the U.S. in “nonviolent direct action” to resolve Civil Rights abuses.

In a Letter from ________________________Jail, write a reasoned and supported argument that describes your country, details the specific abuse against one group of people, and proposes the first step towards helping those in need.

Required Task

As a visitor to the country, you have witnessed a specific HR abuse. Furthermore, you have been arrested for attempting to intervene to stop the abuse. With limited access to your laptop and the ability to send out a single letter, you decide to write a specific audience asking for help on behalf of a group of people suffering a human rights abuse.

  • Describe what cultural, political, and historical factors have contributed to its existence.
  • With specific description and examples of the abuse, persuade your audience of the necessity of taking a stand against it.
  • Consider your opponent’s position when you present your argument.
  • Conclude with a step that can be taken to begin to solve the problem.

Henry D. Thoreau

Mahatma Ghandi

Dr. Martin Luther King

Read Sample Arguments

Analyze the Arguments

After reading the above arguments, analyze each by answering the following questions:

  • What is the specific conflict?
  • How does each support his position?
  • What action does each author advocate?

Read Little Seagull

Read each of the following from your textbook:

  • W-7 Arguments
    (Little Seagull 43-48)
  • R-1 Doing Research
    (Little Seagull 81-108)
  • W-5c Visuals
    (Little Seagull 33-36);
  • MLA-e Sample Research Paper
    (Little Seagull 148-57)

Research a Human Writes Abuse

Gather research (minimum of six sources) on one human rights abuse in one country other than the US. Your research will need to:

  • Include two visuals, such as maps and photographs.
  • Include information from SCC’s library online databases; authoritative websites, such as www.hrw.org ; and other library reference sources.
  • Cite from one of the assigned readings, online or in The Norton Mix.

Write Your Letter

Use the “Organizing Your Letter” outline to write your letter. Make sure your letter:

  • Describes what cultural, political, and historical factors have contributed to its existence.
  • With specific description and examples of the abuse, persuades your audience of the necessity of taking a stand against it.
  • Considers your opponent’s position when you present your argument.
  • Concludes with a step that can be taken to begin to solve the problem.

Format and Submit Drafts

The length of your letter should be a minimum of five pages of text and two visuals. Make sure to follow MLA guidelines for parenthetical references and the Works Cited/Consulted page.

Turn in a detailed outline with copies of all research, a first draft, and a final draft with checklist on top.

Organizing Your Letter


This section provides the background information to your situation. Though fictional, make sure to include the:

  • SettingDescribe the specific time and place – where are you at the time of writing your letter?
  • PeopleIntroduce the people involved. Who are you? What role are you playing in another country? Who are your adversaries? What is your relationship to them? To whom are you writing? Clarify your specific audience.
  • ProblemWhat specific abuse against what specific group of people are you protesting?


Provide specific support, including visuals.

Review the regional characteristics of the country. What are the physical, cultural, religious, economic, and social, and political circumstances that must be understood? (This section is factual.)

Use sensory description to detail the specific abuse.

What circumstances have allowed this abuse to continue? What is the history of problem?


Have any actions been taken in the past to remedy this situation?

Are there organizations who are concerned with the situation? What are their proposals?

What are your realistic first steps toward solving the problem?

Why are you writing this letter? How can the people at home help?

Grading Checklist

Use the following checklist when preparing your letter:

[icon name=”file-word-o” class=””] 2014-Checklist


Research Guide

All links for your research, photos and websites can be found here:

Research Guide: English 101 – Human Rights Abuses

The links provided meet the proper guidelines for approved sites. Should you have any questions, consult with an SCC librarian.

MLA Example

MLA example for inserting visuals into your text.

[icon name=”file-pdf-o” class=””] 2013-Visuals-Tibet.pdf

Letter Formats