Between 1989 and 2017, a total of 324 human rights advocates from 90 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 .
Program Officer, Capacity Building, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK)
By age fifteen, I had faced the first ‘consequence’ of being a lesbian with threats of disownment from my community. At this point in my life—just like thousands of young LGBTI persons coming to terms with their sexuality in a homophobic society—I didn’t understand why people who I’d grown up with could threaten me with hate and disownment for being who I am. Not until I was a young adult in my first years at university did I start to understand what human rights were and that I am entitled to them. This was due to the lack of civic education on human rights in the primary and secondary school curriculum in Kenya. Like thousands of other LGBTI persons in Kenya, I was discriminated against on numerous occasions because of my sexual orientation. These events brought me to a space where I felt that I had to do something, I had to learn how to counter the hate that sexual minorities face in Kenya. I realised that I had a strong passion to speak on behalf of those who were suffering in silence, and that by using human rights as my language of choice was the best tool I could use. While participating in voluntary initiatives at LGBTI grassroots organisations, I came to hear about the suffering of many sexual minorities and the need for unafraid people to stand up and amplify the voices of those suffering silently in fear. In my early days of hearing about the human rights violations in the LGBTI community, I channeled my disbelief into outrage toward the perpetrators. Why did society impel thousands of families to abandon their own children? How could those who are meant to protect all Kenyans be the perpetrators and supporters of such hate? How many human rights violations have occurred so far? These common reactions are completely justified; however, simply demanding the answers to these questions alone will neither protect the human dignity of LGBTI persons nor future victims of human rights violations. Members of society and governance at all levels must agree to a need for change, and support its enactment. This is the core principle of human rights dialogue. All these occurrences brought me to ask myself, How can I be most useful to my society? My belief was, and still is, that human rights advocates are responsible for communicating with all members of their societies, especially the marginalized. I have since then fully committed myself to educating LGBTI persons about human rights and to amplifying their voices in spaces where change can be made with regard to law, social attitudes, and traditional values. Furthermore, I am committed to using human rights to influence equality and to end the discrimination and violence currently facing LGBTI people in Kenya.
Researcher/Project Manager - The Global Justice Program, HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley
Recent 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Elsadig Elsheikh from Sudan, remarks, “HRAP has increased my understanding to the larger framework of human rights work and advocacy, and the applicability of human rights framework to several aspects of our modern global and local social problems.” Upon entering HRAP, Elsheikh was acting as Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. The Institute pursues among its goals to deepen the understanding of the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparity with a focus on racially and ethnically marginalized population.
HRAP allows admitted advocates to expand their knowledge and capabilities using international human rights mechanisms and applying international law frameworks to their career and work objectives. The Program administers workshops and seminars in public speaking, leadership, and networking, among others, which impress upon many of its participants a renewed sense of commitment and fulfillment to their personal causes. For Elsheikh, “To be able to articulate the immediate needs to employ the human rights framework to tackle global challenges and to believe in the collective actions to challenge injustices and structures in so many different fronts” has been a personal accomplishment since his participation.
After leaving HRAP, Elsheikh went on to serve as a Resident Director at the Office of International Affairs/Honors Scholars Program in Bolivia. He has recently returned to his post at the Kirwan Institute as a Senior Research Associate to lead the institute’s Global Justice Program. His responsibilities include supporting the Institute’s short and long-term research projects, maintaining awareness of emerging research methods and investigative frameworks, and effectively representing the Institute’s directors with the Institute’s partners and collaborators at local, national, and international organizations.
Another feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for its participants to experience life in New York City, meet with other advocates and practitioners, and possibly make new lifelong friends. When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of participating in HRAP, Elsheikh says, “I think beside the great exposure to Columbia University, it was the fact to be able to know and to interact with the staff of ISHR and my colleagues in HRAP 2009 who added tremendous touch of humanity to my knowledge and enable me to reach new horizons.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
April 2017 update: Elsheikh is currently Researcher/Project Manager of the Global Justice Program at the HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Deputy Program Director, Human Rights Watch
2002 Advocate Bede Chimezie Eziefule currently serves as Project Director at the Center for the Right to Health (CRH) in Nigeria. CRH advocates for the full realization of the right to health in Nigeria and to promote respect for ethics and human rights in healthcare policies and practices for vulnerable groups such as people living with HIV/AIDS, women, youth and children. He manages the project from development to evaluation and designs capacity building projects on human rights issues such as sexual health, HIV/AIDS, STI and sexual minorities. He also conducts human resource development trainings on grant writing, research and human rights activism within the organization.
He highlights that his participation in HRAP “greatly enriched” his career and “immensely benefitted” his organization. He states, “The partnership with human rights organizations I developed while participating HRAP have facilitated my professional career with an opportunity to attend numerous international conferences and meetings. Also, the skills I received sharpened my theoretical understanding of human rights.” As a result, his profound understanding of human rights positively influenced on “increasing the quality of human rights researches and reports” that he conducted after the program.
Since his participation in HRAP, Bede developed the Sexual Minorities Project that mitigates the impact of HIV/AIDS among sexual minority groups. He also has started managing a project called “Health on Wheels” that provides mobile primary healthcare and education services to the rural communities suffering from poverty and geographical isolation. Due to his significant leadership role in HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, he was chosen to participate in International Leadership Visitors Program in 2008.
When asked for his final thoughts about his participation in HRAP, he concludes, “The friendships that I gained in New York have remained my greatest pillar of hope and encouragement for my work.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, August 2011