The Network is the successor to The International Human Rights Trust established as a charity in 1996 by Karen Kenny and Brian McKeown. The work of IHRT was carried out under the guidance of a Board of Trustees with Noeline Blackwell (Chair), David Begg, Brian McKeown, Grahame Morphey while Harry McKeon served as Honorary Treasurer. The principles developed through the Trustís work are the foundation of those which the Network continues to develop and advocate.

Brian McKeown served as co-founder and Trustee of the International Human Rights Trust and as an independent advisor until his retirement in 2003. He had previously served as Director of Trocaire, the Irish international development agency for twenty-one years. During this period he worked on development issues in Asia, Africa and South America. He was President of the European Union Development NGOs Liaison Committee, a member of the (then) Irish Governmentís Advisory Council on Development as well as Chair of the Confederation of Irish Development Organisations. He was a founder and Trustee of the Association of West European Parliamentarians for Southern Africa (AWEPA)- African European Institute. In 1995 he was appointed the European Union's Co-ordinator for the UN Human Rights Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR).