Human Rights & International Justice Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

Grant guidelines help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy. MacArthur can consider funding only those applications that closely match three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; type of funding (general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.


The Human Rights and International Justice Program seeks to strengthen human rights protections, advance government accountability, and improve the reach and quality of justice.  Our grantmaking aims to defend freedom of expression and enhance criminal justice globally, with a special focus on Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia.  The MacArthur Foundation has a long history as a leading human rights funder, beginning with the new Foundation’s very first grant in 1978.  Since then MacArthur has supported more than 600 organizations that have been fundamental in providing the infrastructure for the human rights movement. There has been a distinctive emphasis on international justice.

Our new strategy builds on this work, while responding to trends and opportunities that have emerged in the field in recent years: 

  • Increasing threats to freedom of speech and association, ranging from intensified attacks on frontline human rights defenders to the rise of national laws that restrict the ability for civil society to operate.
  • Assertive citizen movements calling for greater government accountability and demanding more protection of basic rights.
  • Growing demands for localizing accountability for atrocity crimes and expanding access to justice.
  • Rapid advancement in communications media that is altering the way human rights advocates monitor violations, collect and manage data, and communicate with colleagues and the public.

Grantmaking takes account of these trends through a strategy that is framed by two pillars: defending freedom of expression and enhancing criminal justice.  There is an emphasis on accountability as essential to securing human rights and a focus on leveraging technology to advance the work. 

Questions about this grantmaking area can be addressed to Quinn Hanzel.

What MacArthur Funds

Defending freedom of expression will include attention to: responding to government pushback against human rights advocates; enhancing political accountability; strengthening media freedom and access to information; advancing Internet openness; and increasing digital security and privacy.

Enhancing criminal justice will focus on: expanding national-level accountability for mass atrocities; helping victims realize their rights at the ICC; advancing criminal justice reform in selected countries; accessing regional human rights mechanisms; protecting civilians in conflict; and improving the quality and usefulness of human rights data.

Geographic Focus Areas

Geographically, we will continue work in Russia, Nigeria, and Mexico, emphasizing issues that align with these grantmaking pillars and are most relevant to the context in each country. We will deepen our work in Africa’s Great Lakes Region – a region that has witnessed some of the most serious atrocities and one where other MacArthur international programs are active. At the same time, we will engage with a consortium of funders to improve national laws related to atrocity crimes in countries across Africa. We will work at the global level on issues, such as Internet openness and government constraints on civil society.

Activities considered for funding under both grantmaking pillars include evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation, networking, information-sharing, training, and policy research.


The program receives and considers submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year.  Grant recommendations are linked to four quarterly meetings of the MacArthur Board of Directors in March, June, September, and December. It generally takes at least five months to consider grant requests, from the time a letter of inquiry is submitted until a grant is made.