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 .
International Committee Member, World March of Women
For Yıldız Temürtürkan, human rights advocacy is a profoundly personal experience. In many ways, it is “a school where [activists] get to know who [they] are” and gain “awareness of reality.” When Temürtürkan joined HRAP in 1996, that reality consisted of a fight against the violation of fundamental human rights in Turkey.
During her HRAP experience, Temürtürkan was working with the Human Rights Association (IHD), which was founded in 1986 after a military coup that left Turkey in a dark period. As a part of this organization, she was dedicated to the abolishment of the deaath penalty, an end to the use of torture in prisons, a fight for the release of political executives from prison and a search for missing persons. While participating in HRAP, Temürtürkan found that her advocacy skills were cemented and her passions for activism were strengthened even more. She writes: “Inarguably, it helped to develop my capacity in advocacy work… [and] I started being very proactive at an international level.” In fact, shortly after completing the program she was inspired to help create World March of Women, an international feminist movement.
Temürtürkan states that the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP was that it made her more confident in international activism, whatever the cause or issue. As of 2017, Temürtürkan continues to be involved in World March of Women and is committed to working with other groups in the hopes of eradicating poverty and violence against women.
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 1996
Senior Reintegration Officer, UNHCR
“[My participation in HRAP] opened up new horizons of contacts at national and international levels and set an example for local activists to continue the meaningful work of human rights advocacy close to their homes in small villages and towns.”
Aimé Wata, a member of the class of 1996, began his human rights career with AJUV, a group dedicated to advocating on behalf of vulnerable populations in Uvira, which is a town located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Specifically, Wata helped provide legal advice to rural, uneducated families and aimed to bring the plight of detainees in local prisons to the attention of decision makers.
It was during his time with AJUV that Aimé joined HRAP, where he gained a deeper understanding of human rights and improved his English language skills. He also found himself gaining notoriety within his community–he writes: “the organizations I met and the contacts I established lifted my… credibility as a human rights activist in my town. I quickly became a resource… for all activists in my region, as well as a [primary contact] for international missions travelling to my area.” It is because of this increased visibility that, “despite continued violence in East Congo, the human rights movement remains resilient in my town.”
Wata’s experience in HRAP allowed him to take advantage of other opportunities and he eventually joined several international organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations. Today, that drive to protect human rights that he felt in 1996 has only grown stronger as he travels between Africa, Europe and Asia for his advocacy work. Most recently, Wata has dedicated himself to protecting the rights of populations in Central African Republic who are displaced because of their religious affiliations, working to create social cohesion in their communities and ensure basic needs like housing.
Interim Manager of the Gender Justice Program, Oxfam Novib
1995 HRAP participant Carmen Reinoso Becerra currently serves as the Program Coordinator for Knowledge and Innovation Management and Organisational Learning (KIM-OL) at OXFAM Novib, a Dutch organization for international aid and development. Reinoso Becerra is responsible for providing strategic development and implementation of the KIM-OL framework.
Reinoso Becerra began working in human rights in Peru, where she advocated for gender justice and human rights. She reflects that HRAP “gave [her] the opportunity to broaden [her] vision and to understand the complex, multilayered context in which human rights practitioners must work.” The training she received in the program gave her the tools to take a rights-based approach in the design and implementation of organizational and policies and strategies.
HRAP allowed her to expand her perspective, gaining the experience and knowledge of other advocates from around the world. It also gave her, she said, “the sense of belonging to a broader community that despite difference on languages and cultures, share a common vision of respect to humanity and protection to fundamental human rights.”
After completing HRAP, Reinoso Becerra received a Master’s in International and Public Affairs from Columbia’s SIPA in 2000.
—Written by Alexandra Watson
Coordinator, Projeto Trama
Michelle Gueraldi is a 1995 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from Brazil. Inspired by the courses she took at Columbia University as a HRAP participant, she decided to continue her studies in the field of law. Shortly after graduating from HRAP, Gueraldi received her Masters of Laws from Harvard Law School. She then served as a lawyer for the OAS Human Rights Court in Costa Rica. She also published a book about human trafficking named Em Busca do Éden: Tráfico de Pessoas e direitos humanos, experiência brasileira.
Presently, Gueraldi is a lawyer for Organização de Direitos Humanos Projeto Legal. In this role, she conducts litigation on exemplary cases of human rights on both local and international jurisdictions. She helped form the National Watch for Human Trafficking, a coalition of Brazilian NGOs that drafted the first state plan against human trafficking in Brazil. In addition to her work as a human rights lawyer, she is a visiting professor at the Instituto de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro (IUPERJ).
HRAP is a four-month program based in New York City that seeks to strengthen Advocates’ expertise in human rights through a series of trainings and skill-building workshops. These activities offered through HRAP provided her with the skills to carry out her work as a human rights lawyer and activist. For example, the trainings offered greatly improved her interviewing and public speaking skills. These trainings proved to be useful several years later as she is frequent guest on television and radio programs.
When asked about the greatest benefit the program, she writes that all aspects of the program were beneficial for her work as a human rights lawyer. She writes, “HRAP gave me the tools to push my career forward as a human rights advocate. If it wasn’t for this program, I may not have been able to continue working in the human rights field. This program helped me discover new ways both globally and locally to continue my work.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
January 2014 update: Gueraldi is currently a Coordinator of Projeto Trama, a consortium initiated in April 2004 with the objective of confronting the trafficking of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Program Coordinator of the Marriage Enrichment Program, Cambodian Association of America
In the words of Chanthol Oung, a 1995 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, the greatest benefits of HRAP included “the knowledge on human rights tools to support me in advocating for human rights, learning many practical programs/initiatives from the visits, fundraising skill, and power of networking.” HRAP impresses these skills on participants during a four month stay in New York City with a short visit to Washington, D.C. Many advocates who take part in the program find that they have adopted a whole new set of professional qualifications.
Oung returned to her home country, Cambodia, after participating in HRAP and became Executive Director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, which she founded. She led the organization for ten years, and the Center now has more than a hundred full-time staff and thousands of community volunteers who provide legal services, counseling, skills training, and community organizing as well as rescue victims of trafficking and provide loans and scholarships to girls from landless families. When asked about the assistance HRAP may have provided to her to complete her work, Oung says, “I always work for the promotion of human rights by using what I learned (International Human Rights Instruments) from Columbia to guide my direct service, to raise awareness for public attitude change toward the respect of human dignity and fundamental rights, and to challenge policy and legal reform for equality between men and women and non-violence.”
The quality and strength of Oung as a Human Rights Advocate also shined forth in other areas during her time at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. She was elected Chairwoman of the NGOs CEDAW Committee, composed of 67 NGOs. In this role, she spearheaded programs to lobby governments to pass laws on domestic violence as well as advocated for many other governmental policies and programs to advance women and children. This role required her to regularly sit with the Board of Directors of many prominent legal, human rights, adhoc-Committees, and donor agencies.
The achievements Oung has made since her participation in HRAP have been recognized from a wide array of prestigious national and international organizations. She received the award for International Women of Courage from the State Department of the United States, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership from the Philippine President, the Japanese Parliament Award for Human Rights, and was nominated for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When reflecting on her experience in HRAP and its effect on her current work, Oung concludes, “HRAP has been very instrumental to my human rights work at anywhere I live and work.” Today, Oung is living in the United States and pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Administration, having completed a Master’s Degree in Law in Hong Kong in 2003 with a specialization in International Human Rights Law as well as having completed a MBA in Cambodia. She is also currently working as Program Coordinator of the Marriage Enrichment Program for the Cambodian Association of America where her duties include supervising multi-cultural staff, doing case management, developing training curriculum, increasing public awareness of the program, and reporting to both the Executive Director and grantor, the United States federal government.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Oung is currently working towards a PhD.
Secretary and General Counsel, Media Development Investment Fund, Inc.
1995 Advocate Elena Popovic is currently serving as Secretary and General Counsel at Media Development Investment Fund, Inc. (MDIF) in New York, which is formerly known as the Media Development Loan Fund. MDIF is an investment fund that provides affordable financing and business management training to professional and independent news media companies in emerging democracies. She is responsible for the legal oversight of operations as well as program coordination, evaluation, and analysis of financial and management needs.
When asked about how HRAP assisted in her work of human rights advocacy, she highlights that HRAP provides opportunities to explore academic topics on human rights issues as well as practical skills for human rights advocates. She states, “HRAP helped systemize my knowledge of human rights and international human rights protections. The program also improved my fundraising and report-writing skills.”
After HRAP, she was nominated for the 1995 Reebok Human Rights Award and completed her master’s degree in International Law from New York University School of Law, prior to being admitted to the New York State Bar. When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she replies, “My classmates! Although my classmates lived and worked in very different environments, the pattern of human rights violations proved similar to what I saw in my country, the former Yugoslavia. So we could share experiences and learn from each other.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Rector, Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI
Describing the benefits of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Kujtim Cashku, a 1993 graduate from Albania, states that HRAP provided him “another angle to see the world.” HRAP gives its participants the chance to spend four months in New York City at the campus of Columbia University to pursue graduate coursework and training in human rights. Participants will also meet with other human rights advocates from around the world as well as network with prominent NGOs, foundations, and financial institutions in New York City and Washington, D.C. Cashku, a film director and screenwriter, has used his experience with HRAP to expand the importance of human rights through film and in his home country.
Some ofCashku ’s notable works include Kolonel Bunker, a story about the communist regime in Albania, and Magic Eye, a story about manipulation in the media today. Both feature films have won several international awards and have been recognized at film festivals throughout Europe. Kolonel Bunker was also submitted as the Albanian film to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Cashku has also directed the documentaries, The Tears of Kosova and Equinox.
HRAP can offer training in media and human rights advocacy tools that participants can bring back to their home countries and organizations. Many participants also find that they are capable of higher achievements after their time in HRAP. According to Cashku, HRAP teaches participants a “new perception of time, power of selection and priorities, [and] culture of dialogue.” When not making films, Cashku serves as Rector of the Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI, which he founded in 2004. The school is the first university for film and television education and training in Albania and brings together students from throughout the Balkan region.
Combining his passion for film, education, and human rights, Cashku acknowledges that through his participation in HRAP has assisted his work by helping to create the first International Film Festival of Human Rights in Albania in 2006, a cultural platform for the dissemination and awareness-raising of the people on human rights issues. The festival, which is held annually at the MARUBI film school, will celebrate its eighth year in September 2013. Cashku has also founded Cineastes Association “Lumiere” and the First Albanian Forum of Human Rights (Albanian Helsinki Committee). In addition, he holds the tiles of Member of the European Film Academy and Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
South Africa, 1993
Advocate / Senior International Consultant, Greg Moran and Associates
A member of the 1993 class, Greg Moran still looks back on HRAP fondly. Not only did he gain exposure to various human rights organizations at the international level, but he also “gained a greater understanding of human rights in a global context.” He states: “In addition to the prestige that comes with having participated in HRAP, the exposure to various aspects of human rights advocacy has helped [my career] immensely.” In fact, the experience helped him to realize a different career path than the one he had originally been pursuing. Moran writes: “In 1995, I was approached by the South African Constitutional Assembly to assist in the management of the extensive public participation process that was an integral part of the process to develop the new South African Constitution. [The role] required me to design and implement mass national education and awareness campaigns on human rights and constitutionalism.”
After working with the South African Constitutional Assembly, Moran became the first Head of the Education, Training and Information Department of the then nascent South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), again designing and overseeing national human rights awareness and education campaigns as well as assisting key role players – including prisons, police and the military – to develop and implement their own human rights programmes. After four and a half years, Moran left the SAHRC at the end of 2000 to embark on a career as a senior international consultant to various international development partners (including the United Nations and European Union). In this role, he has designed, implemented and evaluated a range of human rights and good governance programs (including those focused on access to justice, rule of law, gender equality, democracy and social justice) in various African and Asian countries.
Currently, Moran is involved in a number of projects, including leading the evaluation of the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, and as a lead technical advisor to the Danish International Development Agency’s ‘Right to Services and Good Governance Programme” in Ghana, focusing on issues such as the Judiciary’s anti-corruption strategy and the establishment of Gender-Based Violence Courts. Moran also recently designed a human rights program in Pakistan on behalf of the European Union.
With extensive experience as a human rights advocate and senior international development consultant, Moran leaves those at the beginning of their careers with the following advice: “…learn as much as you can about human rights at the global level–who are the actors and what are their agendas - and focus on particularly on ‘new’, emerging and evolving issues such as climate change and its effect on human rights and democracy; safety and security concerns and what these mean for human rights and democracy (including how they contribute to the shrinking space for civil society); conflict resolution and transitional justice; and forced migration and the rights of migrants. These are areas that not only include significant human rights challenges in themselves, but also allow for the increasing erosion of human rights in the name of internal security.”
Executive Director, Equality Myanmar
Aung Myo Min is a prominent human rights educator and activist who has spent many years advocating for LGBT rights and children’s rights. He is the founder of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, and is the Executive Director of Equality Myanmar, which conducts human rights education programs to engender a culture of tolerance, peace and dignity.
Myo Min was a student protester in the 1988 uprising against Myanmar’s military regime, and joined the Myanmar Students’ Democratic Front. He spent 24 years in exile before returning to Myanmar in 2012. He attended the 1993 HRAP.
CEO, Polo Consultoria
Member of the House of Representatives, Uruguayan Parliament
1990 Advocate Felipe Michelini Delle Piane, Esq., visited ISHR during a trip to NYC in the spring of 2011. He informed us of his activities: “I am a member of the House of Representatives in the Uruguayan Parliament for Nuevo Espacio, one of the political parties that comprise the governmental left-wing coalition of the Frente Amplio. I have a seat at the key Legal and Constitutional Committee and at the Special Committee on Human Rights and Violence, among others. I also serve as a member of the Uruguayan delegation to the MERCOSUR Parliament. In addition to my political duties I teach International Human Rights Law at the University of the Republic of Uruguay.” Between 2005 and 2009, he was the Deputy Minister of Education and Culture and I chaired Uruguay's delegation to UNESCO.
We asked him how HRAP affected him both professionally and personally. He replied: “My participation in HRAP gave me a broad and full overview of human rights issues and a basic approach to international law. It was an opportunity to meet the society of New York and America as a whole . To experience the Columbia campus life was also a key ingredient of the program. Finally I was able to build an international network in the area, that has lasted since those times until these very days.” After HRAP, he earned the LL.M. at Columbia Law School.
When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of his participation in HRAP, he replied: “The greatest benefit of having attended the Columbia HRAP is to be part of a worldwide community of human rights advocates who share the same experiences and the same commitment.”
—Article composed by Stephanie V. Grepo, Director, Capacity Building, April 2011
Palestinian Authority, 1990
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Raji Sourani, a 1990 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, writes, “My life would have been very different without my experience at HRAP.”
Since he finished the program, Sourani, a human rights lawyer has gone on to achieve notable professional accomplishments. In 1995, Sourani co-founded the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), a non-profit organization based in Gaza dedicated to protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Since then, PCHR has become the leading human rights organization in the Gaza Strip, serving as an independent legal body in Gaza that documents and investigates human rights abuses and provides legal aid and counseling to victims.
Sourani has received several awards for his work in Gaza, including the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights in 2002, the International Service Human Rights Award in 2002, the Human Rights Prize awarded by the Republic of France in 1996 and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award with Israeli lawyer, Avigdor Feldman in 1991.
The Human Rights Advocate Program at Columbia University provides Advocates with unique access to a range of human rights organizations, institutions and policy makers that are based in New York City. Sourani cites that these networking opportunities greatly enhanced his work at PCHR, he writes, “The professional and personal relationships that I developed during my time at HRAP have lasted until today, remain ever present, and are of invaluable importance in the work of PCHR.”
When reflecting on his experience in HRAP and its impact on his current work, Sourani concludes, “My participation in HRAP has significantly helped my work in human rights advocacy and litigation. My time at Columbia University was an eye opening experience and provided me with access to an international legal network, and especially within the New York human rights community. It has expanded the reach of my work and that of PCHR immensely.”
January 2014 update: Sourani received the 2013 Right Livelihood Award for his work defending and promoting human rights for all in Palestine and the Arab World for 35 years. Please read more here.