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 .
Human Rights and Peace Desk Officer, Lawyer's League for Liberty
Fourteen years ago, I was a regular college student until I attended a one-week youth summit on human rights conducted by Amnesty International Philippines. At that event, I learned about various human rights issues and had the opportunity to be with victims of human rights violations. The firsthand stories told by the victims impacted me the most. I told myself that I would not wait until I or someone around me became a victim before I act and speak out for human rights. Since then, I have been a human rights advocate. While it can sometimes be disheartening to see the continued impunity and the endless struggles for justice, these are also the very same reasons why I continue to fight for human rights.
My favorite aspect of HRAP has been attending the different workshops that capacitate us to become more effective advocates and to have greater impact in our human rights work. It has been such a great opportunity to hear new ideas, presented in a simple and practicable manner that can be easily adapted and applied to the human rights situations in our home countries. The workshops—especially the one on Research, Writing and Documentation with Diederik Lohman and Jane Buchanan at Human Rights Watch, Jo Becker of HRW on campaign advocacy, Bukeni Waruzi of WITNESS on video advocacy, Erik Detiger on fundraising, and TR Lansner on media presentation—equipped us with the necessary tools needed to strategically improve our work. Another important workshop was the stress management workshop with Sheila Platt. The kind of work we deal with is truly challenging and oftentimes stressful. Frequently, advocates neglect to deal with their own situations and struggles. It was thus very helpful to have this session to learn ways to adequately cope and in the process become better advocates. Finally, the thing I loved most about HRAP are both the formal and informal conversations we have with our fellow advocates during and after workshops where we not only learn from each other, but at the same time develop a deeper sense of camaraderie and warm friendship.
HRAP has provided me with lessons that I can transfer not only within my own organization, but within the human rights community in my country. Specifically, I plan to include in our strategic planning the various aspects of advocacy I’ve learned from the program, which will include the revisiting of our advocacy methods and strategies to make them more efficient and effective, as well as intensifying our fundraising efforts wherein the networking activities we did will truly be helpful. I also plan to replicate the different workshops conducted in HRAP to help capacitate my fellow human rights defenders in the Philippines. It has been a great privilege to be included in HRAP. I plan to maximize every opportunity I can to apply and further develop the skills and lessons I learned here, and share them with others as well.
Program Coordinator, Saathi
Graduate Student, New School
Florencia Ruiz Mendoza, a 2009 HRAP graduate, is Director of Capacity Building for the Social Movements Historical Research Center, an NGO based in Mexico. Trained as a researcher, Ruiz Mendoza shares that her experience at HRAP has taught her how to manage an NGO and how to better understand and meet donor expectations of NGOs and their personnel. Reflecting on the benefits of the program, she states, “Thanks to the professional staff at ISHR, I was able to do a lot of networking in New York City and Washington and I realized how much I can [raise awareness of] our work both in Mexico and internationally.”
Ruiz Mendoza has expressed that the courses she chose to audit significantly contributed to her academic development. The connections she made through Columbia faculty paved the way for opportunities even after her completion of the program. Three months after her participation in HRAP, Ruiz Mendoza was awarded a scholarship from the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University to fund her participation in the Oral History Summer Institute Program. The program themed, “Oral History from the Ground Up: Space, Place and Memory,” focused on analyzing the meaning that space, place and memory have in the production of individual, social, cultural and political narratives.
Ruiz Mendoza shares that the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP has been, “All the knowledge I [received, and continue to receive] and all the wonderful people I met since then.” To HRAP, she attributes an increased confidence regarding her future professional career and her increased support of her colleagues and the communities they serve. About HRAP’s contribution to her work while in the US, she states, “I had the great opportunity to speak out about the stories of people whose voices have been silenced by the Mexican government.”
Reflecting on her overall experience, she fondly notes, “I will never have enough words to express how grateful I am with HRAP and its staff, it has been so far one of the most important experiences in my life and I will treasure [that] for the rest of my life.”
Since returning to Mexico, Ruiz Mendoza has resumed her duties as a researcher and has been appointed Director of Capacity Building. She was recently invited by both Instituto Mora and Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero to speak on a panel of experts about human rights issues.
—Article composed by Tiffany Wheatland, Program Coordinator, July 2010
January 2014 update: Ruiz Mendoza is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.
In 2011, 2007 Advocate Priscila C. Rodriguez Bribiesca co-founded Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE) a Mexican-US NGO with offices in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez Bribiesca reports: “SAKBE´s mission is achieving social change through the promotion of human and environmental rights by using litigation and communication strategies. Sakbe works both nationally and internationally towards improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the promotion of development agendas for local communities and indigenous groups in public policies, development projects and conflicts.”
SAKBE’s first grant came from the Bank of Information Center to promote transparency policies and practices in the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in Mexico. Rodriguez Bribiesca reports that SAKBE is also working with the Siemenpuu Foundation, based in Finland, on obtaining a grant to continue with the legal defense work for the Triqui indigenous community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Rodriguez Bribiesca elaborates: “I am responsible for the documentation process of the REDD projects in Mexico--getting the relevant information from the World Bank and Mexico´s governmental authorities to give communities the possibility to participate in this process which will be implemented in indigenous and rural communities. One goal is bringing their concerns to the World Bank.”
Rodriguez Bribiesca recognizes HRAP’s impact on her work. “Before this program,” she says, “I was not aware of the importance of making strategies at the international level. All the site visits 9to the different foundations and organizations) gave me the big picture of the role of advocacy. Furthermore, HRAP gave me a more general comprehension of the different tools and strategies that I can use to be more effective.” She said some of the contacts she made through HRAP are now her allies. They include the Indian Law Resource Center, Amazon Watch, the Center of International and Environmental Law and the Center for Justice and Inter-American Law. SAKBE’s fundraising successes to date are also linked the fundraising classes that are part of HRAP. Rodriguez Bribiesca explains: “The fundraising workshops greatly strengthened my knowledge of the many steps of this process, from writing a letter of inquiry to cultivating a profesional relationship with foundation staff. After HRAP, I got a generous grant from Hewlett Foundation.”
She adds, “The experience from my internship at the Center for Justice and International Law and my contacts and studies [through HRAP] allowed me to start representing the Precautionary Measure Process in favor of the Community of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are getting support from international organizations, including the Washington Office of Latin America and Amnesty International, on this case--particularly to make the Mexican government accountable for protecting the Triqui Community and safely returning them to their territory and bringing justice to the victims of the massacre.”
She has also been instrumental in having public hearings at IACHR on issues affecting different indigenous communities and the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America.
She has been recognized with many honors and awards including an award to participate in “Woman in Management” at CEDPA in 2008 and a full scholarship from American University to attend the International Environmental Law Summer Program and the Seminar on Trade and Environment. She received a full scholarship to attend the LLM Program in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2012. From July to December 2012, she will intern at IACHR.
She concludes. “I can surely say without exaggeration, HRAP changed my life. Before my participation in the Program, my work as an advocate was limited to the local systems of justice. I did not know anything about the international bodies of justice and accountability mechanisms. I also did not have the contacts and knowledge needed to start working on at the international level, such as the processes before the IACHR and the World Bank. Moreover even if I had some idea about these processes, I could hardly contact member of these bodies directly because of the geographic and language obstacles, which now no longer exist thanks to HRAP.”
MA Candidate, University of Nottingham - Malaysia Campus
Reflecting on her experience in the Human Rights Advocates Program, Miriam Ruiz Mendoza describes that “the knowledge on international advocacy for human rights took my organization closer to campaigns for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders.” Ruiz Mendoza, a 2006 HRAP graduate from Mexico, entered HRAP as the Development and Resource Coordinator at Communication and Information on Women (CIMAC), an NGO dedicated to incorporating women’s rights into the media and using the media as an educational and social transformation tool.
HRAP provides human rights advocates such as Ruiz Mendoza the opportunity to undergo further advocacy training, follow graduate coursework in the areas of their work, and develop new skills such as leadership, fundraising, and networking. Ruiz Mendoza states, “I have used a lot of what I learned in HRAP at CIMAC to present sound project proposals that in 2007 allowed us to get 365,000 USD, either with new foundations or some other that had stopped financing us.” While some graduates of HRAP find that their experience at Columbia University can lead to recognition from other institutions and fellowships with international organizations, many graduates such as Ruiz Mendoza find that “For me, being part of HRAP has not translated into prizes or recognitions but rather a series of informal calls from other colleagues in different cities and organizations to get precise information and suggestions on organizations issues.” HRAP graduates are routinely consulted by colleagues and others as Ruiz Mendoza describes because of the expertise they gain during the Program.
Shortly after leaving HRAP, Ruiz Mendoza joined the Susan G. Komen Global Initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness where she currently serves as the Program Manager for Mexico. Her duties involve coordinating, initiating, developing, and facilitating projects and programs to increase awareness on breast health and provide breast cancer detection throughout cities and states in Mexico. She says, “Not only the knowledge, the facts that I learned at HRAP, including burn-out, are part of what I am sharing with other Mexican women now, but mainly the spirit of the program, gaining tools to improve the human rights situation at all levels in my country.”
In 2008, Ruiz Mendoza was invited to take part in the International Visitors Leadership Program sponsored by the United States government. She was also chosen to represent and present the Susan G. Komen Global Initiative at the 2010 Komen’s affiliate conference in Dallas, Texas. Ruiz Mendoza remains in close contact with other Mexican human rights advocates and seeks to develop human rights training for other Mexicans. She is also planning on pursuing her master’s degree in the near future.
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
January 2014 update: Ruiz Mendoza is currently pursuing a M.A. is Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, School of Modern Languages and Cultures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Founder, Trustee and Director, Centre for Women’s Development and Research
2004 Advocate K.R. Renuka is the founder, trustee and director of Centre for Women’s Development and Research (CWDR). She is responsible for fundraising, staff-training, planning, monitoring and reporting.
Since HRAP, she attended a training in social entrepreneurship conducted by Dasra Mumbai, which bridges the gap between those investing in social change and those spearheading the changes, and She also completed the M.A. in Economics from Madurai Kamaraj University and M.Phil. in Micro-level Planning from Gandhigram Rural University, Dindigul, Tamilnadu.
HRAP provides advocates invaluable opportunity to network with numerous organizations in the field of human rights. As one of accomplishments after the program, she highlights, “After attending HRAP, I registered a trade union called Manushi for women domestic workers and have been involved in advocacy, lobbying and campaign activities. I was able to raise funds from Global Giving because of HRAP.” Renuka’s work through Manushi has prompted the government to initiate a welfare board for domestic workers. She says, “They have also set up a committee to fix minimum wages for domestic workers. In fact, domestic workers gained recognition as workers and they are now included in the informal workers list.”
Renuka highlights that her organization received the Outstanding Organization Award from Anbu Palam, an Adyar-based NGO, for its work with women’s rights. She says of HRAP:
It helped me to understand the human rights approach to women’s development. I have also learned the international human rights conventions and its use. I know how to work with policy makers and use advocacy to change government policies.
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Human Rights Program Manager, United States Agency for International Development-Colombia
When asked about the benefits of his experience in the 2002 HRAP, Leonardo Reales of Colombia states, “HRAP gave me key tools to improve my work as a human rights activist and academic.”
Upon entering HRAP, Reales was serving as Coordinator of the Human Rights Committee of the National Movement for the Human Rights of Afro-Colombian Communities (CIMARRON), one of Colombia's most prominent NGOs working to promote Afro-Colombian rights. Having participated in HRAP’s capacity building program of courses, networking and workshops, he says that HRAP “improved my speaking and writing skills and made relevant contacts for me at the international level, which has had an extremely-positive impact on my professional activities.”
Since his departure from HRAP, Reales has earned his Master’s Degree in Economic, Political, and International Affairs from Externado University in Bogota as well as a certificate in Regional Human Rights Systems from the Asser Institute at The Hague and the Catholic University of Leuven. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Louisiana State University and The New School in New York City. He has received prestigious awards for his work and education including a Fulbright Scholarship in 2005 and the Sue Davis Award for Talented Latin American PhD Students in 2007. Reales has been invited to the UN Forum on Minority Issues as an International Expert several times.
Asked how his participation in HRAP, Reales wrote, “I have used the methodological, theoretical, and practical tools that I acquired at the HRAP not only to improve the human rights reports that I write, but also to develop human rights campaigns and training programs and workshops throughout Colombia.”
Reales continued in his role as Coordinator of the Human Rights Committee and Social Development Committee of CIMARRON for almost 10 years and also became the Regional Correspondent of the World Association of School as an Instrument of Peace, where he was responsible for educating community leaders and teachers on human rights and peace issues. In 2012 and 2013 he worked for both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior in Colombia as a Human Rights and Political Advisor and in 2014 he worked as a Citizen Participation Consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank. Since 2015, Reales has been the Human Rights Program Manager at the United States Agency for International Development in Colombia, where he works with government institutions and civil society to promote human rights in the regions most affected by the conflict. Outside of his professional accomplishments, Reales is a professional comedian. Married in 2004, he has two Colombian-American baby girls born in New York, Sahara and Salome.
—Article composed by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Director of Public Communications, Escuela Nacional Sindical
A 1996 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Juan Bernardo Rosado Duque describes his experience at HRAP as “an extraordinary, intensive and enriching experience of immersion in the globalization of human rights”. Furthermore, he states, “besides the technical formation, in 1996, HRAP meant for me the entrance to the global world of politics, organizations and the theoretical development of human rights”.
Since he finished the program, Rosado Duque has gone on to achieve notable professional and academic accomplishments. Since 2007, he has been a part-time professor in the city of Medellín and, recently this year, he earned the Master in Humanities. In 2004, he was invited as a professor to the Winter School of the Canadian Labor Congress and, the same year, he participated in the First Human Rights Symposium in the city of Sao Paulo. In 2005, he was co-author of the book Trade Unions and New Social Movements for the Latin American Council of Human Rights. Additionally, between 2008 and 2010, he was General Coordinator of Campaña Colombiana por Trabajo Decente.
Rosado Duque continues to advocate for human rights. He is the Director of Public Communications at Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), a Medellin-based NGO committed to the promotion of labor rights by strengthening Colombian trade unions. Through his work, he seeks to expand the presence of the trade unions and the ENS’ points of view within the public debate about the labor agenda in Colombia.
When reflecting on the benefits of HRAP, Rosado Duque points out how it allowed him to “know about and feel part of a global struggle, the struggle for defending human rights”. He asserts, “HRAP gave me the opportunity to live in New York City, attend one of the best universities in the world and get in contact with multiple organizations and human rights initiatives in North America and around the globe.”
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011