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 .
Community and Government Liaison Officer, Winrock International
“I am more empowered to handle issues of good governance, human rights, and development head on,” states Evalyne Achan from Uganda, a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. HRAP is a four-month training program for human rights advocates. Based on the campus of Columbia University in New York City and utilizing the many NGO and rights networks available throughout New York, participants follow graduate courses, take part in skills-building workshops, and attend networking meetings among other program activities to advance their advocacy careers. Since completing the program, Achan remarks, “I can now talk with confidence on the rights of human rights issues and know which stakeholders I can work with in order to have issues of human rights addressed.
While in HRAP, Achan joined her current organization, Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that empowers the disadvantaged, increases economic opportunity, and sustains natural resources. She had previously worked for CARE International and the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development. At Winrock International, Achan is serving as the Community and Government Liaison Officer for the organization’s Northern Uganda Development of Enhanced Local Governance, Infrastructures, and Livelihoods (NUDEIL) Program. NUDEIL is a USAID Program that has been sub-contracted to Winrock International. In her position, Achan acts as advisor and facilitator for all programmatic aspects of NUDEIL. Her work is helping local communities and governments in northern Uganda to develop strong and transparent processes, build roads and schools, provide drinking water, and establish rural health and sanitation facilities. The result of Achan’s work provides employment, income, and a higher quality of life for communities in northern Uganda.
When asked about the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP, Achan fondly recalls one of the opportunities that she had during an event sponsored at the United Nations. “My greatest benefit,” she says, “was that my self-esteem was highly lifted, networks broadened, and meeting with key personalities in the world, like when I met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.”
Achan reports many wonderful accomplishments since her very recent participation in HRAP. She says, “I have been able to accomplish key things in my life, was able to raise funds for charity for Rural Development-Uganda, a community-based organization I co-founded to help in promoting and protecting the rights of the formerly abducted child mothers, widows, and women and at the same time improve their livelihoods.” Additionally, she explains how HRAP has advanced her personal work, saying, “Through the networks created while at HRAP, I have been able to sell more Paper Beads. The number stands at 2600 beads per month from 600-700 per month. It has helped me to broaden my understanding of human rights work and the roles of being human rights defenders.” Reflecting on her accomplishments and participation in HRAP, she concludes, “As much as the HRAP Program empowered me as an individual, the effect has trickled down to the communities in Northern Uganda.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, August 2010
Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center
Mary Akrami is a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocate Program from Afghanistan. After finishing the program, she returned to Afghanistan and resumed her role as the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center (AWSDC). AWSDC advocates for women’s rights and enhances Afghan women’s livelihoods through educational classes and trainings.
As Executive Director, Akrami works tirelessly to increase awareness and resources devoted to promoting and protecting Afghan women’s rights. In this capacity, she also manages AWSDC’s women’s shelter. Located in Kabul, this shelter was the first women’s shelter in Afghanistan. It provides a haven for women experiencing violence and other human rights violations. It gives legal aid and on-going counseling as well as offering computer, dressmaking and English classes. Under Akrami’s leadership, several women at the shelter have courageously denounced their abusers publicly and filed court cases against them. AWSDC also provides sensitization trainings to police women and men. She writes, “These trainings not only brought visible change in their attitudes toward female victims but it also led to the creation of a referral system for women to have access to shelters and to seek justice.”
HRAP is a four-month capacity-building program based in New York City that trains Advocates in practical human rights advocacy skills, deepens their academic knowledge and develops their international professional networks. In reflecting on how her participation has enhanced her work in human rights, Akrami writes, “This program strengthened my communication and advocacy skills.” During her participation in HRAP, Akrami enjoyed her time with the Advocates in her cohort. She adds, “HRAP was a forum for experience sharing. HRAP consciously facilitated exchange among Advocates to encourage them to learn from one another.” Through HRAP, Akrami was able to build lasting relationships with human rights advocates and defenders worldwide.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013
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.
Executive Director, Association Unity of Judges of Georgia
Recent graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Nazibrola Janezashvili from Georgia, states, “The main result of my participation in HRAP is increased awareness about human rights issues and activities of the USA-based human rights organizations.” When Janezashvili entered HRAP, she was serving as Project Director for Article 42 of the Constitution, an NGO in Georgia composed of professional lawyers who provide pro bono legal assistance and representation in courts and other state agencies to the victims of human rights abuses.
HRAP provides its participants with the opportunities to take part in training seminars and workshops for proposal writing, leadership building, and public speaking at Columbia University. According to Janezashvili, “After the program, I realized that my presentation skills are absolutely different and improved. The experience received during the program helps me to exercise my work more successfully and qualified.”
Upon her return to Georgia after HRAP, Janezashvili received higher professional recognition because of the education she had acquired. She was appointed from her position as Project Director of Article 42 of the Constitution to the post of Chairperson of the Board. Currently in this position, she supervises and manages the organization’s operations, leads board activities, and submits reports and presentations to the General Assembly regarding the organization’s activities. She has also begun her pursuit of a PhD program in Law at Caucasus School of Law in Georgia and is completing her dissertation on the subject of Women’s Rights.
Another important feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for participants to meet with other human rights advocates from around the world and share their different and unique perspectives and experiences. For Janezashvili, “The greatest benefit of my participation in HRAP is new relations with human rights defenders. I shared their experience in human rights which will help me in future activities.” The HRAP participants are also provided housing and accommodations during their four months’ stay in New York and Washington, D.C. for them to get to know one another and be comfortable during their stay. Janezashvili recalls from her experience, “I consider that the environment during the program helped me fast in adapting with program participants and friendship relations,” and “I am really happy that now I have friends around the world.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Janezashvili is currently the Executive Director of the Association Unity of Judges of Georgia.
February 2017 Update: Janezashvili has been a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow at Washington College of Law, American University since April 2016. She hopes to focus on judicial issues within human rights and specifically those associated with hate crimes against LGBT+ people.
Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy, Treatment Action Group
Before participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Kaplan had worked for nearly ten years in Bangkok as the co-founder and Policy and Development Director at the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG). When asked about her experience at HRAP, Kaplan writes, “I gained practical knowledge and skills that built upon my human rights work in Thailand and globally, and I made contacts with extraordinary advocates who continue to inspire and motivate me to continue my work.”
The Human Rights Advocates Program is a four-month program at Columbia University that provides participants with the resources to learn and grow as human rights advocates. Advocates are required to audit at least two graduate level courses at Columbia University. Kaplan writes, “The opportunity to engage and study with prestigious human rights and law professors expanded my knowledgebase and shaped my perspective on human rights.” In addition to graduate coursework in law and human rights, HRAP supplemented her human rights work in Thailand through advocacy trainings, valuable workshops and networking opportunities. In reflecting on her time at HRAP, she concludes, “I gained insights, connections, new ideas and exposure to extraordinary people and useful resources through the Human Rights Advocates program. “
Since her participation in HRAP, Kaplan started a new chapter in her career. She is the Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy at the Treatment Action Group. In this role, she develops and implements rights-based advocacy campaigns to promote access to Hepatitis C treatment in low and middle-income countries. Through her work, she influences government leaders and policymakers as well as funding agencies to promote and ensure the right to health and life for marginalized populations such as people living with HIV/AIDS.
She has co-authored numerous publications in collaboration with the University of British Columbia Urban Health Research Institute on barriers to healthcare access and problems of police abuse for people who inject drugs in Thailand. She has given numerous presentations, including a plenary at the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 2011. She was recently selected to serve on the Human Rights Reference Group for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM).
She is based in New York City and volunteers her time as an advisor to the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group. She remains in touch with many of her fellow advocates such as Mary Akrami, Nazibrola Janezashvili, Akinyi Ocholla, Florencia Rui and Anna Kirey.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
November 2016 Update: Kaplan has worked on health and human rights issues in Asia since 1988. She spent 20 years working with grassroots HIV activists in Thailand on access to treatment for highly marginalized populations, namely people who use drugs, migrant sex workers, and people in prison. As the co-founder of Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, Kaplan helped bring attention to the human rights of people who use drugs and supported the founding of Thai Drug Users’ Network, which received a groundbreaking grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria for peer-led harm reduction services in Thailand. Kaplan also worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Treatment Action Group, where she helped mobilize a global movement for access to affordable hepatitis C virus treatment in low- and middle-income countries.nKaplan is a recipient of the 2009 John M. Lloyd Foundation HIV/AIDS Leadership Award, and the Health GAP Founders Award.
—Written by Karyn Kaplan
Chairlady, Minority Women in Action
Coming to the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009 from Kenya as a volunteer with Minority Women in Action, Akinyi Ocholla says of her time in HRAP, “My participation in HRAP has boosted my networks, my insights into human rights work, my knowledge of working with people, and has increased my resolve to continue working for the LGBTI community in Kenya.” Ocholla began volunteering with Minority Women in Action in 2006 and now holds the title of Chairlady of Minority Women in Action where her work focuses on promoting the issues of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) women in Kenya.
HRAP is a four-month training session held at the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Participants attend workshops to improve their fundraising, leadership, networking, and writing skills, among others that are necessary for their advocacy work. Since her participation, Ocholla has already demonstrated her acquired skills. She has spearheaded an intense proposal writing exercise at her organization that has raised its annual budget from around 7,000 dollars in 2009 to 31,000 dollars in 2010. Furthermore, the effects of Ocholla’s success have spread to her fellow staff. According to Ocholla, “I have ensured that my steering committee’s sense of integrity and work ethic have been raised a notch higher. Their involvement and ambition to work is much greater.” She also notes for herself that since returning to her home country and driving these accomplishments, “I feel I can now confidently say I’m a manager, with credentials worthy of a position as a director. I have also expanded my own vision and self-actualization.”
Ocholla hopes to complement her training and education with an advanced degree in a humanitarian or social science field. In the meanwhile, her position as Chairlady is keeping her very busy. In this role, she offers organizational guidance and leadership, including building leadership skills among other staff by delegating responsibilities and assessing the staff’s mental and physical health. In addition, she assists in conceptualizing programs for advocating LGBTI rights with organization and medical service partners as well as writes many of the proposals that bring in the funds to implement these projects.
On top of her work at Minority Women in Action, Ocholla also serves at Principle Research Officer at the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. Her duties here include promoting, disseminating, and managing research activities and findings from various institutions as well as collecting information from ethnic communities in Kenya and educating citizens on their intellectual property rights. Ocholla also confirms that her position at the Ministry has benefitted from her participation in HRAP because of the recognition as a human rights advocate that HRAP has bestowed. “Now, most of my colleagues know that I’m a human rights advocate,” she states, “and we talk openly about human rights issues and controversial topics which is very healthy for a government institution.”
Ocholla reports that she is still in contact with her fellow HRAP participants, saying that “the numerous people I got to meet and love” was the greatest benefit of her experience. Additionally, she remarks fondly, “I also got to see the US, which was a heartwarming and waist-expanding experience.”
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.