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 .
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2016
Director, Justice Pour Tous
Kitungano is the Director of Justice Pour Tous. Over the years, he has developed expertise in investigating natural resource exploitation. With his colleagues at Justice Pour Tous, Kitungano highlights the limitations of the Congolese mining code by talking to the local press, delivering speeches, and performing sketches. This kind of work helps local people to understand their legal rights and which new laws are needed to end their exploitation. He has published several papers and research reports and spoken at several international conferences about the relationship between mining armed conflict and human rights abuses in eastern DRC.
Advocacy Officer, Lelewal Foundation
Aehshatou is the Advocacy Officer for Lelewal Foundation and the Women’s Coordinator and Women’s Wing President for Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), both indigenous peoples’ organizations working to improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples of Cameroon. Her areas of expertise are women’s and girls’ rights, environmental issues (especially climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies related to REDD+), the economic empowerment of women, and girl child education. She participated in the FIMI Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women and attended the United Nations Permanent Forum in 2014. She earned a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Yaounde.
Chairperson, PINK Armenia
Margaryan has been working for more than five years at PINK Armenia, the largest LGBT community-based organization in Armenia. Elected as Chairperson in 2015, Margaryan and her colleagues strive to create a safe space for LGBT people by promoting legal, psychological, and social protection and well-being. She also played a major role in the launching of a unique e-magazine, As You, which presents readers with issues related to human rights, sexuality, gender and other issues. Currently, Margaryan is involved in the feminist movement in Armenia and is an active member of feminist platforms including the Feminist Platform of Armenia, the Young Women’s Network of South Caucasus, as well as the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women.
Margaryanearned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Yerevan State University.
Program Manager, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
Matsikure is the Program Manager for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). He has dedicated the past 13 years to working within LGBTI communities in a turbulent environment. He is a past chairman of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, a regional coalition of 19 organizations working on Health and HIV for MSM. He also served on the Global Forum for MSM for eight years. He has extensive experience teaching languages and Art and Design and providing therapy to families.
He earned the Bachelor’s of Science Honor’s Degree in Sociology and Gender Development from Woman’s University in Africa. He holds diplomas in Higher Education (University of Zimbabwe) and in Systemic Family Therapy (Connect, the Zimbabwe Institute of Systemic Therapy).
Communications Executive & Security Management Trainer, Defenders Protection Initiative
Muwonge is currently the Communications Executive and Security Management Trainer at Defenders Protection Initiative, a non-profit organization working to strengthen the capacity of human rights defenders to mainstream security, safety and protection management in their work. He has a background in working to protect the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda through the secure documentation of human rights violations and abuses.
Muwonge earned a bachelor’s degree in business computing from Makerere University in 2014. He has taken several courses in leadership, nonprofit strategy, organizational capacity development and fundraising.
Legal/Program Officer, Uganda Network on Law, Ethic and HIV/AIDS (UGANET)
Betty is a Legal/Program Officer at Uganda Network on Law, Ethic and HIV/AIDS, an NGO committed to the development and strengthening of policies and ethical responses to HIV/AIDS in Uganda. She has headed the Kampala office since March 2011. She earned a bachelor’s of legal laws from Uganda Christian University in June 2008 and a postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Center in 2009. An enrolled Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and other subordinate Courts, she is a member of the Uganda Law Society and the East African Law Society.
El Salvador, 2016
President, Salvadorian Association for Survivors of Torture
Santos is the founder and president of the Salvadorian Association for Survivors of Torture, an association that gives psychological care to survivors of torture and their families and investigates various human rights abuses. He is the creator of a webpage called the Yellow Book, which documents the names of victims of injustice and abuse by the state. Santos has a degree in literature from the Autonomous University of Mexico. Through Scholars at Risk, he studied international law and human right law at the University of York in 2013.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Santos in the 2016 HRAP.
Program Manager, Just Nepal Foundation
Chhing is a founding member and Program Manager of Just Nepal Foundation, an organization that promotes education, social justice, and human rights by working within the rural mountain communities of Nepal. Chhing has been working to empower women and extremely marginalized groups in Nepal for the past 30 years. She is one of the founding members, chair, and current advisor of Mountain Spirit, another indigenous people’s organization. She has been active in relief efforts after the earthquake in Nepal. Chhing earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Culture and Literature from Padma Kanya University in 1988, a Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Extension & Women from University of Reading in 1991, and a master’s degree in Rural Development in 2016.
Program Manager, Ishtar-MSM
Wambaya works at Ishtar-MSM, a community-based organization that advances the sexual health rights of men who have sex with men to reduce the stigma and discrimination they face by advocating for their rights to access health care, including STI/HIV and AIDS-related care and treatment. Ishtar-MSM is a member group of the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK). As Program Manager at Ishtar-MSM, Wambaya has taken part in various activities on advocacy, policy and strategy formulation, and analysis. He is experienced in evidence-based HIV and sexual health programming and has sat on a variety of technical working groups at the national level. He has a keen interest in community research and is a Co-Chair of the G10, a research agency at GALCK. He is also a board member of Initiative of Equality and No Discrimination, an organization based in Mombasa that engages people and institutions known to perpetrate violence against gender and sexual minorities.
Project Coordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières/Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly
In 1977, an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group organized a bomb attack in front of the Pharmacy Faculty of Istanbul University. In this attack, seven students were murdered and more than 40 students were seriously injured. Eleven years later, Saddam Hussein committed crimes against humanity on March 16, 1988, in Helebce, northern Iraq. On that day, his warplanes bombed Helebce with chemical weapons. At least 5,000 civilians—the majority of whom were children, women, and older people—were slaughtered and an additional 7,000 people were injured. And so my story starts two years after the Helebce Massacre.
When I was a university student in Ege University based in Izmir, my friends and I organized a series of peaceful protests around Turkey on March 16, 1990. After that, I faced some difficulties in Turkey, but I continued to work for human rights in Turkey and elsewhere. I was affiliated with the Izmir War Resisters Association and supported the conscientious objectors living in Turkey. I participated in an Amnesty International Turkey initiative in 1996. As a volunteer, I was selected as the campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Turkey during its 2000-2002 campaign against torture, formally known as “Take a Step to Stamp out Torture.” As a teacher, I worked to raise awareness about human rights. Since 2012, I have been working for Syrian refugees through the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Istanbul. Additionally, I am a project coordinator of The Psychological Support and Primary Health Care services for Syrian Refugees living in Kilis, Turkey, which is technically and financially supported by Médecins Sans Frontières. The prevention of conflict, discrimination, and violence including torture and ill-treatment, are main issues for me.
If anyone asks me why I work for human rights, my answer is that I listen only to the voice of my conscience.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Hakan Ataman in the 2015 HRAP.
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.
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.
Project Manager/Art Project Coordinator, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca)
Sometime during the years of my adolescence, when trying to understand aspects of my life that Albanian society had forgotten to include in its school curricula, I was also trying to find people who were exploring the same issues.
When I met a group of young people who called themselves “The Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination,” I instantly felt that it was only natural for me to work with them since they had the same questions and they were doing something to answer them.
Now six years have passed and we have done a lot, but for some reason I cannot find a way or a strategy to summarize those achievements point by point—it has all flowed naturally. Nonetheless, it has a core set of questions really similar to the ones that we had from the beginning:
• What does it mean to be part of a community?
• What are your duties and the responsibilities when you undertake to speak for people who need to delegate their voice because of violence?
• What are the ways to give power to this voice, day by day, so that it takes shape in a way that in the end can speak for itself?
• How do you stay true to these ideals when you are surrounded by organizations that in the process of “professionalization” have lost contact with the community they are supposed to represent?
I have been criticized time after time for not speaking out about the difficulties of my community in Albania, but the answer is obvious to me: The problems of the LGBT community in Albania are similar, if not the same, as the problems that every LGBT community comes across in every corner of the world. It has a mix of socio-economic status, a backwards history, communism, liberal democracy, corruption, and ignorance.
The solutions, however, are different; they are local and each community has them. That is why these questions are so important and why they should not be taken for granted at the risk of alienating our community. It is not our duty to give voice to the LGBT community—that only opens new problems. Our only duty is to create ways and tools for the LGBT community to come together and speak. They must be able to speak clearly, loudly, freely, and intransigently.
In my context where people love to talk for and about others, working with artistic expressions has helped much more than having innumerable conferences where everybody—except the LGBT people themselves—talks about the needs of “the poor and violated” LGBT people. In the space that art creates, you can find the answers to the questions that I pose above, and in the best case you can create new questions. In my experience, the people who follow the conference circuit do not come to the art exhibitions.
Through this piece, I might be missing the opportunity to expose all “the personal achievements” of my work, but this does not matter.
The biggest achievement is being in this program, where I’ve had the time, chance, and luck to meet fearless people from all over the world with whom—maybe for the first time in my life—I understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, to transcend boundaries, come together, and try to answer these questions.
When I return to Albania I will continue to do what I have always done: To make the constant effort to stay true to my community and my principles.
Thank you, my dearest friends Anastasiya, Benson, Elina, Hakan, Gigi, Sandra, Sylvain, Swe Zin, Kyi Pyar and Yupar. A special thank you to Stephanie, Professor Sayantani Dasgupta and Professor Theodorus Sandfort.
Tutor, East Yangon University
My name is Yupar Nyi Htun and I am a member of the Department of Law at East Yangon University in Myanmar. During life as a student, our teachers didn’t talk about human rights and they even refrained from saying the words, “human rights.” As a result, we don't know what human rights are and we don't know that we have the right to claim them. I began learning about human rights this past March when human rights education was introduced by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Since then, I became interested in participating in the project to promote human rights education in Myanmar. Human rights education is needed for our country because if the people know their rights they can take action to demand their rights. Education is the best way to give others knowledge about human rights. As human rights educators, we can teach about human rights not only to our students, but also to our community. I have seen lots of human rights violations in my country, and I want to do something for the people suffering as a result. At the same time, I also suffered human rights violation in my life. For example, when I was a child in my school there were only three teachers for every one hundred students, and many students dropped out of school because they needed to work for their families. Many people in my community also faced discrimination for their beliefs; I wish to live free from fear and to help those in similar situations. In order to build a peaceful community, we need to make the whole community aware of human rights. I think I should do something for my country that would try to resolve issues suffered by the people of Myanmar. So I chose to be a human rights educator and, in this way, I can teach human rights to students and my community. I am also going to share human rights education with my colleagues. I wish to teach not only the theory but also how to demand human rights practically, including through clinical education. I hope our members of the Department of Law can produce human rights lawyers for our community. In the Human Rights Advocates Program, advocates working for human rights in their activities motivate me to work as a human rights educator. I want to defend people suffering from human rights violations and I want to educate students wanting to protect the rights of the Myanmar people.
Editor, European Radio for Belarus
I have not once asked myself why I am interested in human rights. At the beginning of my experience, I was an activist with a human rights organization in my country. Today, I am journalist. While it may seem that I am no longer involved with human rights, the media in my country does not have freedom of speech—this is a human rights violation. In Belarus, there are a number of human rights violations.
Upon reflection, I can say that my belief in religion has led me to human rights. It is not possible to remain on the sidelines when the world has injustice, inequality, humiliation, violence and the death penalty. I hold a deep conviction that the protection of human rights is a collective task. Respect for human rights is an indicator of the maturity of the state. We must search for mutual understanding and put the needs of others above our own.