Between 1989 and 2016, a total of 317 human rights advocates from 88 countries attended HRAP. In recent years, advocates have ranged from early career advocates who have cut their teeth in very urgent human rights situations to mid-career advocates who have founded organizations.
Below are the biographies of current Advocates and descriptions by select alumni as to why they became human rights advocates.
To see a list of additional past Advocates click here.
To read about more about the work of our Advocates click here .
Legal Officer, Queensland Indigenous Lawyers Association
I am a Wannyi/Kalkadoon Indigenous woman from Australia. I am involved in human rights because as an Indigenous woman, I have witnessed the struggles that Indigenous peoples are experiencing in the world. There are over 370 million Indigenous peoples in the world, yet we are amongst the poorest people and we are the invisible people.
I have always worked with Indigenous peoples, in schools and in welfare organizations. I am now an academic and legal officer and have worked in the legal arena for more than 15 years. I started as the Indigenous Community Liaison Officer with Legal Aid Queensland working with Indigenous women and children who were victims of crime. I also conducted legal information workshops and assisted in cases of racial discrimination and family law. It was during this time that I went to University to get my law degree and to educate Indigenous peoples on their rights, so that they can learn how to challenge laws and policies affecting their communities. I also believe that it is important to translate the language of law so that Indigenous peoples can understand it for their benefit.
In advocating for Indigenous women, it is important that they are always included in consultation and negotiations. When women are included, it is then a collective voice from a community group. Indigenous women also need respect for their views and opinions—for Indigenous women and children have the right to live in a safe environment and be free from any forms of violence.
One of the biggest issues that Indigenous peoples face is forced assimilation in regards to their land. Indigenous peoples are being forced off their lands by mining companies, land acquisitions by governments, internal county conflicts, and climate change to name a few. Indigenous peoples need their land because this is how their values and identities are embedded—for the land is their heritage.
Indigenous peoples are struggling to live in a world that is suppressing our culture. We will continue to lose our language, land, culture, and identity because this suppression promotes one way of living in the world. Society cannot have one way of living; we need many different languages, cultures, and identities.
If we do not receive support because no one is hearing our voices, as discrimination and the doors of opportunity continue to close, Where will we be in the future? We will be one world, one language—and the traditional knowledge of how to maintain the earth will be lost. Cultural identity is of profound importance for the diversity of the world and to maintain the earth. Indigenous peoples will not just be the invisible people—we will become a memory. This is why I am a human rights advocate.
Coordinator, Forensic Area Division, Centrde Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas
Maria Eugenia Carrera Chavez, a graduate of the 2013 Human Rights Advocates Program, returned to her position as the Coordinator of the Forensic Area Division at the Center for Forensic Analysis and Applied Sciences (CAFCA), where she works with Mayan indigenous communities in Guatemala to locate and identify the remains of those massacred during the 36-year-long civil war. According to a 1999 report, “Guatemala: Memory of Silence,” authored by the Commission for Historical Clarification, approximately 83% of the 200,000 people killed during this time were Mayan. Many bodies are still being unearthed today, and Maria and her organization work to return them to their families and strive for healing, transitional justice mechanisms, and human rights in Guatemala.
One current project at CAFCA is an assessment of the “Kaqchikel Case,” that concerns the grave Human Rights violations that occurred in the central area of the country against the Mayan Kaqchikel population during the Internal Armed Conflict. The process seeks to spur a serious investigative process within the Office of the Ministerio Público, the Attorney General, to provide access to justice to all victims and survivors of the abuses committed by the National Army. She writes:“The quantity of victims in this case is reported to be around 2,000, which means that if the process is successful, a similar amount of families will have the ability to go to a trial and demand a sentence for the perpetrators of these acts, including forced disappearance, sexual violence against women, massacres, and forced displacement.”
Reflecting on the benefits of HRAP, she notes that it strengthened her capacities, gave her theoretical knowledge of topics such as transitional justice and genocide, taught her how to efficiently utilize media sources, and strengthened her ability to create networks. She remains in frequent contact with her colleagues from the program, writing: “I made great and wonderful friends in the HRAP 2013 and once in a while we have a collective email with life updates. I also have new contacts on Facebook from other HRAP classes and we follow each other’s activities, even if we don’t know each other personally.” She also notes: “In general I feel much more confident with working in English when my work demands it. HRAP necessitated that I be able to clearly communicate what my organization is doing in a concise way and effective way. This skill has been extremely helpful for me in continuing to create new networks and to represent my organizations in different spaces worldwide.”
-Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
Founder, Women Integrated Initiative for Development
Lydia Cherop did not have the opportunity to spend her childhood in her home country, Uganda. “As a girl,” she tells, “I lived with my parents in exile in Kenya but didn’t know why.” Her parents hid their identities while in exile such that she wasn’t even aware of their real names at the time. After her father returned to Uganda, joined politics and helped Lydia and her family to return to Uganda, Lydia says, “I began to live my real life. I went to school and saw a future.”
Her challenges had not ended, though. Growing up, Lydia was faced with calls from her grandmother that she be circumcised and prepare for marriage. “I said no to her,” Lydia tells, and after earning her diploma, “I started working in radio where I talked about the rights of women and girls and at the same time raised money for my university degree.”
While Lydia is advancing her education at Uganda Martyrs University and is aware of her rights, others are not as fortunate. “Education in human rights opens doors to other rights,” she says, “but rights are still lacking. The difference between illiterate and literate women is a change in suffering.” Lydia started an organization called Women Integrated Initiative for Development that promotes and protects the rights of rural women and girls.
Lydia continues to look ahead to three goals: reducing poverty among women, realizing the rights of women and educating girls. “I am enlightened and can recognize human rights gaps,” she says, “because I am educated. I can understand human rights, but most women, unless educated, do not.” Lydia is aware that the achievements that she has made not only for herself but for many other women through human rights advocacy have rendered her a respected leader in her community, which continues to motivate her. “My parents are so proud of me,” she says. “My community honors me because I am a better person. This drives me to help them.”
Sierra Leone, 2007
Executive Director, Fambul Tok
John Caulker participated in HRAP in 2007 when he was the Executive Director of the Sierra Leonean human rights NGO “Forum of Conscience” (FOC) which drew attention to the role of diamond mining in Sierra Leone’s past war and pushing for recognition of the environmental degradation associated with mining. As former national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, John pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefited Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, John also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
In 2007, HRAP provided John with the rare opportunity of reflection. Away from the frontline, he decided it is time to confront and work on remaining weaknesses. “Am I on the right track?” was just one of the many questions that John sought to address. The intensive discussions with scholars, practitioners and fellow advocates provided many new insights, proved others wrong and helped him refine his communication strategies. The program also raised his attention to how essential consultation and local ownership is in process of reconciliation. In particular, John built on his friendship with Libby Hoffmann, founder of the “Catalyst for Peace” foundation. Inspired by his dedication, leadership and vision, Libby, who has been active for more than 20 years in peace building, decided to partner with John and establish Fambul Tok (Krio for “Family Talk”). Asked how HRAP benefited him the most, John responds: “It made Fambul Tok possible”.
Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-owned program that builds upon Sierra Leone’s “family talk” tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle. It works at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies—practices that many communities have not employed since before the war. Through drawing on age-old traditions of confession, apology and forgiveness, this distinctly Sierra Leonean initiative has provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to come to terms with what happened during the war, to talk, to heal, and to chart a new path forward, together.
John, Sara and Libby have released the book and movie “Fambul Tok” which relates the amazing story of an African journey in forgiveness. For more, see www.fambultok.org.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
Director - International Human Rights Program, Arcus Foundation
"The Human Rights Advocates Program was the key point in my development from an activist with courage, enthusiasm, and a vision into a more professional human rights advocate with knowledge, experience, and self-confidence”, writes 2000 Advocate Adrian Relu Coman. Adrian participated in HRAP when he was serving as the Executive Director of ACCEPT, a Romanian non-governmental organization that promotes equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT).
His is a story of personal advancement which he uses constructively to better the lives of many. Benefitting from his new knowledge, skills, contacts and funds, Adrian went on to work for two more years with ACCEPT, years in which Adrian successfully galvanized public support in order to pressure policy-makers to repeal an antigay criminal law and adopt an anti-discrimination law. Benefitting from HRAP’s fundraising and proposal writing classes, he also managed to raise an astonishing $100,000.
Eager to enrich his practical insights with a profound academic understanding, Adrian completed a Bachelor’s degree in Human Rights at the City University of New York in 2005. Two years later, he earned a Master’s degree in Human Rights from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. While in New York, Adrian was the Program Director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), where he supervised the organization’s work at the United Nations. Then, along with the Open Society Institute, Adrian worked for four years in grant-making on civil society development in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Adrian served as the Parliamentary Assistant to Monica Macovei, Member of the European Parliament, and the EU-Moldova inter-parliamentary delegation, advising on matters of justice, human rights, internal affairs, anti-corruption, and democratic governance. His responsibilities were wide-ranging and included, amongst others, the drafting and negotiation of legislative amendments, speeches, and parliamentary questions, as well as coordination of public hearings and other events, including a campaign which resulted in the adoption of first anti-corruption declaration.
January 2014 update: As of February 2013, Adrian is the Director of the Arcus Foundation’s International Human Rights Program.
Rector, Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI
Describing the benefits of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Kujtim Cashku, a 1993 graduate from Albania, states that HRAP provided him “another angle to see the world.” HRAP gives its participants the chance to spend four months in New York City at the campus of Columbia University to pursue graduate coursework and training in human rights. Participants will also meet with other human rights advocates from around the world as well as network with prominent NGOs, foundations, and financial institutions in New York City and Washington, D.C. Kujtim, a film director and screenwriter, has used his experience with HRAP to expand the importance of human rights through film and in his home country.
Some of Kujtim’s notable works include Kolonel Bunker, a story about the communist regime in Albania, and Magic Eye, a story about manipulation in the media today. Both feature films have won several international awards and have been recognized at film festivals throughout Europe. Kolonel Bunker was also submitted as the Albanian film to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Kujtim has also directed the documentaries, The Tears of Kosova and Equinox.
HRAP can offer training in media and human rights advocacy tools that participants can bring back to their home countries and organizations. Many participants also find that they are capable of higher achievements after their time in HRAP. According to Kujtim, HRAP teaches participants a “new perception of time, power of selection and priorities, [and] culture of dialogue.” When not making films, Kujtim serves as Rector of the Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI, which he founded in 2004. The school is the first university for film and television education and training in Albania and brings together students from throughout the Balkan region.
Combining his passion for film, education, and human rights, Kujtim acknowledges that through his participation in HRAP has assisted his work by helping to create the first International Film Festival of Human Rights in Albania in 2006, a cultural platform for the dissemination and awareness-raising of the people on human rights issues. The festival, which is held annually at the MARUBI film school, will celebrate its eighth year in September 2013. Kujtim has also founded Cineastes Association “Lumiere” and the First Albanian Forum of Human Rights (Albanian Helsinki Committee). In addition, he holds the tiles of Member of the European Film Academy and Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010