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 .
Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society Institute
When asked about the benefits of her participation in the Human Rights Advocates Program, Nana Afadzinu, a 2003 graduate from Ghana, answered, “I became a better human rights advocate. I became more knowledgeable, and that increased my confidence. I was able to contribute more to fighting for human rights with my organization and within the broader women’s and human rights’ movement.”
At the time of her arrival into HRAP, Afadzinu was working as Legal Advocate for Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment. One feature of the four months of HRAP is to teach advocates how to network as well as to introduce them to different NGOs and foundations that tailor to human rights and the individual pursuits of the participants. During her four months in HRAP, Afadzinu acquired $10,000 in funding for her organization from the Global Fund for Women to work on issues related to violence against women in Ghana.
After HRAP, Afadzinu went on to pursue further education, receiving her Masters in Law (L.L.M.) from New York University in 2005. She says, “The knowledge and skill acquired during those four months as an HRAP participant was invaluable and contributed to the quest for and my acquisition of a master’s degree.” Furthermore, she cites the lessons learned from the law classes at Columbia, the human rights symposia, the brown bag sessions, the experience-sharing with other HRAP participants, and the HRAP training seminars as having immensely contributed to the development of her career.
Some of Afadzinu’s professional accomplishments include coordinating the Domestic Violence Coalition from 2003 to 2004, which as she states, is “one of the most successful coalitions to date in Ghana” and succeeded in making addressing domestic violence and passing the Domestic Violence Bill top priorities on the policy agenda of the government of Ghana. Afadzinu has also recently served as the head of the Nigeria Office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa where she contributed to providing the necessary support for civil society in Nigeria to promote and protect fundamental human rights, consolidate democratic governance, and enhance transparency and accountability. Because of her extensive training, professional work, and experience in programs such as HRAP, Afadzinu is regularly sought for and invited by various organizations to present and facilitate sessions on advocacy and human rights.
Currently, Afadzinu works with Ibis-West Africa as its Regional Policy Advisor. In this position, she advises all of Ibis’ education and governance programs, supports developing advocacy strategies of thematic projects, locates and establishes contacts at the national, sub-regional, and international level to build partners in policy advocacy, and coordinates the development of Ibis’ extractive industries program. Afadzinu affirms the impact of HRAP on her career, saying, “I have used (and continue to use) what I learnt in HRAP in the different career (and even personal) spaces that I have found myself in; and have, on all occasions, contributed effectively to ensuring the respect, promotion, and protection of fundamental human rights.” In addition, she remarks, “In that sense, I am not the only one that has benefited but so has society at large. HRAP may only be building the capacity of few advocates at each time but that seeming ‘drop in the bucket’ makes wide ripples. I know because I am an example.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Afadzinu is currently the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.
Costa Rica, 2003
Executive Director, Association for Women’s Rights in Development
When asked about the greatest benefit of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Lydia Alpízar Durán, a 2003 graduate from Costa Rica states, “HRAP provided me with an opportunity to expand on my knowledge and experience. It was a valuable resource and space to learn and take time to reflect on my work.” The Human Rights Advocates Program is a capacity building program that provides courses and activities that address the wide range of needs of human rights leaders for both foundational and advanced knowledge as well as practical human rights skills.
After completing the program, Alpízar Durán began working for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). AWID is an international feminist membership organization committed to achieving women’s human rights and gender equality. Alpízar Durán managed AWID’s two programs: Where is the Money for Women’s Rights? and Building Feminist Movements and Organizations Strategic Initiatives. In 2007, she was promoted to Executive Director, a position that she continues to hold today. In this role, she strives to join feminists and activists together through their common goal of advancing the rights of women worldwide. Alpízar Durán enjoys her work at AWID, stating, “It’s a privilege and honor to lead such a vibrant organization and have the opportunity to work with activists from around the world.”
HRAP leverages the resources of Columbia University and NYC as a global center of NGOs and international organizations to provide Advocates with critical skills-building and networking opportunities. Alpízar Durán writes that these skills-building trainings along with learning about other human rights organizations were instrumental to her career development. In reflecting on her participation in HRAP, she recalls a course that she audited at Columbia University’s School of International and Political Affairs entitled Rethinking Human Rights. Alpízar Durán remarks that this graduate course helped her to think critically about the problematic or controversial topics within human rights theory, discourse and practice.
In addition to her work at AWID, she writes advocacy resources for women’s rights organizations and blogs for the Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw Women. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Global Fund for Women and the Central American Women’s Fund.
Alpízar Durán remains in touch with participants from her program. She frequently communicates with Patricia Guerro from Colombia as they work together on advocacy campaigns and in supporting with solidarity actions given the very high risk context in which Patricia works. Through her work, she has met HRAP alumni over the years. She states, “HRAP is an influential network of human rights activists. There is powerful solidarity among the alumni of this program.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, May 2013
National Adviser, Danish Institute for Human Rights - Zambia
2003 Advocate Charles Dinda Founded and served as Executive Director of Law and Development Association (LADA) in Zambia from 1997 to 2010. LADA is a non-governmental civil society organization dedicated to advancing the legal, social and economic status of women and children by increasing their access to justice and securing their rights through legal education awareness, training of paralegals at the community level, provision of free legal assistance and representation in the courts of law in Zambia. Dinda managed the overall business of LADA, designed training curriculum for the paralegals trainings and supervised the activities of paralegals at community level. He later foundedZambia Women and Girls Foundation (ZaWGF) which protects women and girls from gender-based violence through enhancing the access to treatment, rehabilitation and menstrual hygiene and legal representation for sexually abused women as well as people living with HIV/AIDS. He is still a board member to ZaWGF even though he is currently serving as Senior Legal Advisor at DIHR in Zambia where he is serving as Senior Legal Advisor providing technical advice to European Union and GIZ funded project called Program for the Legal Empowerment and Enhanced Justice Delivery (PLEED) in Zambia.
Dinda shares his story about his work after participating in the 2003 HRAP:
“Participation in HRAP assisted me in many ways. First, I was able to improve the effectiveness of my organization. Also, I could improve my advocacy skills which eventually led staff and local communities to internally empower themselves with human rights issues.” As a result, his organization was appointed by the government to provide human rights training to the lower courts in Zambia. Also, the empowerment among his staff members and local communities synergized other local NGOs to enhance active interactions and human rights services. After his participation in HRAP, he continued to attend numerous trainings and certificate programs focusing on human rights topics such as health education, HIV/AIDS, human rights education and now access to justice.
He also highlights that HRAP provides invaluable networking resources for the development of his organization. In 2003, he met students from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After HRAP, the students Columbia University worked with him on an assessment of his organization’s program, Paralegal Services Program. The results of the assessment motivated him to develop a project called Paralegal Kids Program which teaches children in Zambia to be aware of child abuse and available reporting mechanisms. Also, after attending the resource mobilization skills training provided by HRAP, he acquired 12 funding partners at both the domestic and international levels. He states, “I was able to build LADA a bigger office and rent other NGOs some space in the office as a fundraising venture. Many women and girls have broken their silence on social injustice and gender-based violence in southern province in Zambia.”
He concludes, “I can never forget the first weekend when I arrived in New York City. Walking on the snow for the first time in my life, I could interact with a lot of people from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I benefited a lot from HRAP by taking quality courses at Columbia University. My experience with HRAP established who I am right now. I appreciate the supportive efforts from HRAP staffs including Paul Martin who was willing to give considerate advices regarding my work back then. Above all, the classmates of 2003 HRAP gave me the courage to continue my fight for human rights violation in Zambia.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
January 2014 update: Dinda is currently working as a National Adviser with the Danish Institute for Human Rights – Zambia on “The Enhancement of Access to Justice in the Local Courts in Zambia” project.
Founder, and Director , Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas
2003 Advocate Patricia Guerrero is the founder and director of Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas (LMD) an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for the restitution of the fundamental rights for displaced women who lost their rights due to armed conflict.
As a lawyer committed to the defense of human rights, she has represented the organization in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Colombian Government. Additionally, she is the director of the Gender, Democracy and Human Rights Observatory, which undertakes research on social and legal issues in Colombia.
Guerrero was also responsible for the construction of the City of Women (Ciudad de las Mujeres) in Turbaco, which offers housing to displaced women and their families. In recognition of her work, Guerrero received the Human Rights Prize awarded by Sofasa Renault in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the National Peace Prize in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the King of Spain Human Rights Award, and recognition from the U.S. Congress. She serves on the ad hoc advisory committee of approximately 20 organizations and individuals as part of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She was awarded the American Bar Association Human Rights Award in 2017.
When reflecting about her experience at HRAP, Guerrero writes: “It changed my life forever and the life of displaced women in Colombia. I will always be grateful for the hospitality of Columbia University, which I consider my alma mater to the people who fought for a Colombian woman to take part in the HRAP in 2003 to Professor J. Paul Martin who always believed in me to SIPA students who supported my projects and made them viable to Holly Bartling who taught me how to look for money to promote women’s rights to all the good professors of the program and to the rest of the advocates, especially Lydia Alpizar with who I maintain a deep, unshakeable friendship. I also wish to thank my beloved daughters Juliana, Juanita, and Silvana Brugman Guerrero, my granddaughter Micaela, and my husband Aris. Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank those who continue to believe in the great potential of thousands of anonymous human rights defenders in the world.”
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018