2017 marks the 6th year of the AHDA fellowship program. To date we have had over 59 fellows in the program representing over 30 countries. Below find information regarding the professional interests and accomplishments of select fellows and alumni.
While at Columbia, fellows design individual projects that address some aspect of a history of gross human rights violations in their society, country, and/or region. Click here to read more about the fellows' projects.
Click here to read about more about the work of our Fellows.
Bonita Bennett is Director of the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Prior to this, Bennett worked as a youth worker for the Diocese of Cape Town, a high school teacher, a project manager for the South African Institute of Race Relations, and as a research and project manager for the African Tenants Verification Project of the Western Cape Land Claims Commission. Bennett’s work in the non-profit and public sector has sought to bring together her pedagogical training and her political activism, and she has combined skills gleaned during the days of the anti-apartheid struggle with her formal training to inform her approach to her position as Director of the District Six Museum. As an AHDA fellow, Bennett will develop school curricula that use moments in South Africa’s national history—employing storytelling, performance, creative writing, the arts, and history—to illuminate current realities and link the past to the present, with the overarching message that the past matters.
Whitney M. Young Fellow
Friederike Bubenzer is Senior Project Leader in the Justice and Peacebuilding Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. In this capacity she contributes to the building of peacebuilding, social cohesion and reconciliation processes with policy makers and civil society leaders in South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya. She also coordinates IJR’s Transitional Justice in Africa Fellowship and Alumni Programme. She is the co-editor of ‘Hope, Pain and Patience: The Lives of Women in South Sudan’ (Jacana, 2011) and is passionate about furthering inclusive dialogue and action around social justice issues across Africa.
She is currently working on a research project on the interconnectedness between mental health and peace building. This is a collaboration between IJR and the War Trauma Foundation and feeds on from an international conference and its outcome report. The hypothesis underlying this study is that communities are likely to continue to be caught in cycles of pain and conflict if historical and intergenerational trauma is not acknowledged and integrated into long-term post-conflict reconstruction and social transformation efforts (including historical dialogue). Ms Bubenzer is also the IJR coordinator of a collaborative project between IJR and Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela at the University of Stellenbosch titled ‘Trauma, Memory and Representations of the Past’ which seeks to understand manifestations of intergenerational trauma in South Africa.
Ms. Bubenzer holds an MPhil in Development Studies and Social Transformation from the University of Cape Town and undergraduate degrees in International Relations from the University of Stellenbosch.
Sadiah Boonstra is currently a Project Associate at the International Institute for Asian Studies, in the Netherlands. In addition Sadiah is a freelance museum curator and previously worked as an exhibition maker and curator in various national museums in the Netherlands. She is also finishing her PhD at the Department of History at VU University in Amsterdam, where she has worked as a lecturer. As an AHDA fellow, Ms. Boonstra will develop a project that examines the mass killings that followed the violent coup attempt in Indonesia in 1965-66. Official historical discourse on the period was controlled throughout the rule of Suharto, and academic discussions have had limited success in terms of opening discussion. This project seeks to use audiovisual technology to collect the testimony of victims and their families and to create a platform for alternative histories that maps sites of violence; that opens up discussion of these events further; and that convinces the government to consider more openly the events of this period.
“I experienced discrimination on a low scale within my own family,” he says. “My father, who was a polygamist, needed to separate from my mother when I was 10 years old simply because having a Rwandese wife could not serve his political ambitions. I was therefore raised by my stepmother, who had her own kids. In such a situation, it was hard to expect equal treatment.” The discrimination he experienced as a Rwandan knew no borders. Simply because his name does not sound Rwandese, Elvis always needed to provide details on his family to get services provided to Rwandans even though he holds a state-issued ID from Rwanda. He was denied a passport by the Rwanda immigration office due to his father’s Congolese name. “This was the law in 2005,” he explains, “for children born of a father who was a foreigner. I was not considered a citizen with the same rights.”
During his troubles at the immigration office, Elvis discovered that there were many other people in similar situations and decided to do something about it. “Together we wrote a letter to the minister of justice denouncing the law,” he recounts. This advocacy effort succeeded as the law was finally changed in 2008 to grant full citizenship to children born to at least one parent who was a citizen. Meanwhile, Elvis came to a strong realization: “The event triggered in me the thought that others in different situations may be victims of other kinds of discrimination, too, so I should do human rights advocacy.”
In 1997, he helped to form the organization, Assez!, which advocated for the rights of children, especially those experiencing domestic abuse. With other young people facing similar discrimination and exclusion in Rwanda, Elvis co-founded a platform called Forum d’Echanges pour la Cohésion Sociale to offer all persons facing identity issues due to having parents from different countries an opportunity to share their frustration and experiences as a way to find personal relief and mutual support. He also served for three years as the Deputy Coordinator of the Access to Justice and Human Rights Education Project at another organization that he co-founded, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights, before becoming the organization’s President in August 2011.
For Elvis, human rights is not an abstract topic, but a powerful force that can change the world. “Human rights are like drugs,” he says. “The more you work in it, the more you get addicted. People may know human rights exist, but change can only happen when human rights are lived and promoted.”
February 2017 Update: Elvis received a PhD in Law from Utrecht University in 2015.