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 .
Co-founder and Director, Most Mira
Program Coordinator, Saathi
Palestinian Authority, 2012
Women Department Program Manager , Wi’am, The Palestinian Transformation Center
A member of the 2012 HRAP class, Lucy Talgieh has been advocating for human rights in Palestine since 2007. Specifically, she has been instrumental in creating awareness around issues such as gender based violence and, more broadly, women’s rights. When she joined HRAP, she was working with the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, a grassroots organization committed to establishing a culture of acceptance and justice in Palestine. It was during her time at HRAP that Talgieh gained a multitude of skills that would aid her as she continued her human rights work. She writes: “HRAP assisted me in many ways.” Not only did she learn more about international human rights issues and enhance her leadership abilities, but she also broadened her network in important ways. During a program visit to Washington D.C., Talgieh made a lasting connection with the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) that has allowed her to receive grants for programming and participate in ICAN’s yearly forum.
Talgieh continues to work with the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center as the Women’s Project Coordinator. In addition, Talgieh is involved with a number of different coalitions both regionally and nationally and recently helped organize a workshop series inspired by UNSCR 1325, a resolution highlighting the impact of warfare on women’s rights. Because of her tireless efforts, Talgieh was honored by the International Commission for Human Rights in Palestine during International Women’s Day in March 2016.
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
National Director, Coalition of Political Parties Women
When Marayah Louisa Wychen-Munah Fyneah realized that her gender was precluding her from participating in the work of her political party, she decided to make changes. “We had a section for women in the party, but it was useless. We had no voice,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah. She gathered women from various political parties and founded the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia in 2003. The main idea Wychen-Munah Fyneah had in mind was to educate women about their rightful roles in the political life of Liberia.
“It is extremely difficult for a woman to be a part of political life anywhere in the world,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah . “Today, in most countries, we have parallel systems of men and women being active in politics. It is unacceptable to have women isolated from men through different groups or committees in decision-making bodies.”
Wychen-Munah Fyneah highlights the challenges activists face due to short-term funding possibilities. “To change the hearts and minds of people, you need years,” she explains. “If we want to see different patterns in political life in Liberia, we must work continuously on improving the participation of women, not just in numbers but in quality as well.”
While in HRAP, Sheila Platt’s workshop on stress and trauma made her realize and understand the importance of mental health for activists. Wychen-Munah Fyneah appreciated the opportunity to learn about editorial writing and social media in human rights work. She sees social media as one of her priorities in the future. “Knowing that people from the other part of the world will be able to read about our work gives me additional strength to speak more loudly about my country’s concerns,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah. “Furthermore, learning about the progress that other countries have made reminds me about the work that we still have to do. I know it won’t be easy but I won’t give up,” she says.
By 2011 Advocate Lana Ackar of Bosnia
April 2017 Update: Wychen-Munah Fyneah is currently the National Coordinator of the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and serves as Secretary-General in the Liberian Women's National Political Forum. Additionally, she is the founder and President-Emeritus of the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
For Lana Ackar, the inspiration to pursue human rights was nurtured in her as a child. After the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, Ackar, only 13, noticed her mother attending meetings in the evenings with female lawyers she knew. Soon, Ackar learned that her mother was starting an NGO to provide legal assistance for women in her hometown who faced effects of the war such as dealing with property rights and domestic violence. Ackar even watched as her mother’s organization assisted in drafting a law on gender equality in Bosnia. “I am my mother’s daughter,” she says. “I somehow wanted to contribute to what my mother and her colleagues were doing and that is why I studied law.”
Ackar grew up with many rights that other girls did not have. She explains, “My sister and I were raised to be allowed to say what we want. Although my voice was always allowed to be heard, I learned that a majority of women’s rights are violated on a daily basis.” Ackar thus confidently pursued the study of human rights, specifically women’s rights.
“I feel that when you do human rights work, you care—you’re alive. Your senses become sharper, and you just feel differently about people. I have learned people are not as simple as you think they are. Everyone has layers of personality and different needs.”
Ackar now works with the NGO Pravnik, which seeks to bring together professionals and scholars from Southeastern Europe and beyond to study issues related to the rule of law and transitional justice. She hopes that the International Summer School Sarajevo project that Pravnik has been implementing for the last five years will contribute to the advancement of human rights in Southeastern Europe.
“Human rights work is not easy,” she comments. “You cannot do it if you do not have support from the closest people in your life—family, partner and friends. You may be doing great things but you need their support when it gets difficult. Learning through HRAP that there are so many people working in the field of human rights motivates me [because I see] that making the world a better place is possible.”
Vice President, Gesr Center for Development
“For me,” says Huda Ali, “human rights are a way of life. I want to promote it more in my country and build a peaceful country.” Ali, who grew up in war-torn Sudan, was inspired to work for human rights by becoming aware of the need for human rights in her country. “I lived in a kind of safe city in Sudan, rarely affected by war, but I knew other cities and parts of Sudan were not like this.” She explains how she had been fortunate to be raised in a family that supported women’s education, work and mobility explaining that her own situation is not that of most other Sudanese women. Ali first joined political activists while completing her university studies. “We asked for a student union,” she recalls, “but we were faced with arrests and threats. This shocked me. It was then that I learned it was like that all over the country.” Ali decided to help spread the message and increase awareness of human rights among fellow students to change this oppressive culture. During her activism, though, she found a special interest in women’s rights. She says, “Gender-based violations of human rights are protected by the law in Sudan. Women have strong intellects but have not been given the chance to prove themselves.” With her organization, Gesr Center for Development, she continues to work toward the promotion of human rights. Though early in her human rights career, Ali already expresses the great impact that her pursuit of democracy and human rights for her country has had on her. She says, “I’m more understanding, respectful and accepting of others. Human rights has made me stronger because it has given me a purpose and made me committed to convince others how necessary human rights are.”
Grants Coordinator, Fondo de Acción Urgente de América Latina y el Caribe Hispanohablante
Though forced migration, rape and domestic violence are part of Colombia’s everyday life, Nadia Juliana Bazán Londoño maintains that “there is also hope and willingness to improve our situation.”
Bazán Londoño says that her mother’s example motivated her to work in human rights. “I learned about inequalities [when I was] very young,” she says, “[by] attending political meetings at the university where my mother was studying.” In high school, she joined a group of conscientious objectors to military conscription. Through this group she first facilitated non-violent workshops for young people with the goal of changing their mindsets from war and violence to dialogue and non-violent strategies. Nadia then discovered the world of women’s funds and found her niche in supporting the impactful work of grassroots women’s organizations by securing financial resources for women’s rights.
She admits that in spite of the many challenges she faces in her human rights career, including stress and sometimes fear, she remains “strengthened by hope—the hope for transforming inequalities, the hope for clean water, and the hope for access to education, among other basic human needs. If everyone realizes that everything can be shared, then fulfilling rights will allow us to grow and develop as a nation. I have the sense of the right path and that in collaborating with others, you know you’re not alone and can find strength.”
April 2017 Update: Bazán Londoño is now a part of Women For Peace (Mujeres por la Paz) where she has been working to protect the rights of those affected by armed conflict in Colombia. This past year, her efforts were instrumental to allowing peace talks to come to fruition, eventually resulting in a permanent signed agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla.
President, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights
“I experienced discrimination on a low scale within my own family,” he says. “My father, who was a polygamist, needed to separate from my mother when I was 10 years old simply because having a Rwandese wife could not serve his political ambitions. I was therefore raised by my stepmother, who had her own kids. In such a situation, it was hard to expect equal treatment.” The discrimination he experienced as a Rwandan knew no borders. Simply because his name does not sound Rwandese, Binda always needed to provide details on his family to get services provided to Rwandans even though he holds a state-issued ID from Rwanda. He was denied a passport by the Rwanda immigration office due to his father’s Congolese name. “This was the law in 2005,” he explains, “for children born of a father who was a foreigner. I was not considered a citizen with the same rights.”
During his troubles at the immigration office, Binda discovered that there were many other people in similar situations and decided to do something about it. “Together we wrote a letter to the minister of justice denouncing the law,” he recounts. This advocacy effort succeeded as the law was finally changed in 2008 to grant full citizenship to children born to at least one parent who was a citizen. Meanwhile, Binda came to a strong realization: “The event triggered in me the thought that others in different situations may be victims of other kinds of discrimination, too, so I should do human rights advocacy.”
In 1997, he helped to form the organization, Assez!, which advocated for the rights of children, especially those experiencing domestic abuse. With other young people facing similar discrimination and exclusion in Rwanda, Binda co-founded a platform called Forum d’Echanges pour la Cohésion Sociale to offer all persons facing identity issues due to having parents from different countries an opportunity to share their frustration and experiences as a way to find personal relief and mutual support. He also served for three years as the Deputy Coordinator of the Access to Justice and Human Rights Education Project at another organization that he co-founded, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights, before becoming the organization’s President in August 2011.
For Binda, human rights is not an abstract topic, but a powerful force that can change the world. “Human rights are like drugs,” he says. “The more you work in it, the more you get addicted. People may know human rights exist, but change can only happen when human rights are lived and promoted.”
February 2017 Update: Binda received a PhD in Law from Utrecht University in 2015.
Founder, Women Integrated Initiative for Development
Lydia Cherop did not have the opportunity to spend her childhood in her home country, Uganda. “As a girl,” she tells, “I lived with my parents in exile in Kenya but didn’t know why.” Her parents hid their identities while in exile such that she wasn’t even aware of their real names at the time. After her father returned to Uganda, joined politics and helped Cherop and her family to return to Uganda, Cherop says, “I began to live my real life. I went to school and saw a future.”
Her challenges had not ended, though. Growing up, Cherop was faced with calls from her grandmother that she be circumcised and prepare for marriage. “I said no to her,” Cherop tells, and after earning her diploma, “I started working in radio where I talked about the rights of women and girls and at the same time raised money for my university degree.”
While Cherop is advancing her education at Uganda Martyrs University and is aware of her rights, others are not as fortunate. “Education in human rights opens doors to other rights,” she says, “but rights are still lacking. The difference between illiterate and literate women is a change in suffering.” Cherop started an organization called Women Integrated Initiative for Development that promotes and protects the rights of rural women and girls.
Cherop continues to look ahead to three goals: reducing poverty among women, realizing the rights of women and educating girls. “I am enlightened and can recognize human rights gaps,” she says, “because I am educated. I can understand human rights, but most women, unless educated, do not.” Cherop is aware that the achievements that she has made not only for herself but for many other women through human rights advocacy have rendered her a respected leader in her community, which continues to motivate her. “My parents are so proud of me,” she says. “My community honors me because I am a better person. This drives me to help them.”
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2011
Coordinator, Action Large des Femmes Advocates
Ngungua Gisèle Sangua says, “Anyone can be a human rights activist. It’s not necessary to be a judge or lawyer.” Gisele started her career in human rights as a volunteer at a women’s organization when she was 17. While later working as a journalist, her interest in human rights intensified. She recalls, “The injustice that I saw made me want to be a voice for the voiceless. I hoped to change the injustice.”
After completing law school, Gisèle attended a human rights training in Cameroon, an event that would define her future involvement in human rights. “During the conference,” she says, “it was suggested that women lawyers were needed to address the situation of women. So we decided to create a group of women lawyers.” She helped establish the association of women lawyers association known as Action Large des Femmes Avocates (ALFA), where she now serves as coordinator. The nine staff members of ALFA provide legal representation and advocacy for women affected by discrimination and sexual and domestic violence.
Gisèle also hopes to fight against the negative clichés and images associated with Africa. “Human rights,” she says, “means living simply together in diversity. It doesn’t mean imposing on others a certain way of life but rather enhancing an exchange of cultures and customs within international agreement.”
Project Director, Centre for Social Transformation and Human Development
Colins Imoh has worked in various youth based organizations and was involved in the setting up of the Africa Network of Young Peace Builders (ANYP). He was the Africa Desk Coordinator working at the International Secretariat of the UNOY in the Netherlands. The ANYP is a continental initiative that joins the efforts of young people in over 40 African countries for the purposes of building peace and actively collaborating in the search for the non-violent resolution of conflicts.
Imoh was awarded the prestigious Winston Fellowship in 2003 to attend the Summer Peace Building Institute of the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in the USA. Professionally, he holds an MA in Conflict Transformation from EMU, Virginia, USA and an MPhil from the University of Cape Town in Environmental Management.
He was the pioneer Partners for Peace Project Manager, a network whose mission is to build social capital around peacebuilding through amplifying the voices of positive actors, building a network of self-identified agents of peace, and leveraging that network through facilitation, small grants, and capacity building. This network includes stakeholders from civil society, community-based, organizations, nongovernmental organizations, private companies, donor organizations, and the general public committed to promoting peaceable livelihoods in the Niger Delta.
Earlier in his career, Imoh was the Project Director of Centre for Human Development Social Transformation in Port Harcourt. He was responsible for planning and coordination of the Protect our Future Peace & Civic Education Project. Organizing training of stakeholders on social transformation as well as the host of a weekly Vision Nigeria Radio Programme on Democracy, Good Governance, Peace & Development. He was a member of the 2011 HRAP advocates at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights in Columbia University, New York, USA.
Imoh is currently pursuing a doctorate in peace education with a minor in research and measurement. His long-term goal is to establish a center in the Niger Delta, which will be involved in training, research and advocacy in the areas of environmental and conflict management.
Program Manager, AIDS Alliance in Nigeria
“To ask me why I am doing human rights,” Abu Tunde Irunukhar says, “is to ask me why I am being human. Human rights is about being human.” Tunde came to understand human rights while working with the HIV/AIDS community in Nigeria, where persons living with HIV/AIDS are not only stigmatized and rejected from society, but are seen as less than human on account of their HIV status. He began challenging this view by mobilizing communities and raising awareness about HIV and by strengthening the capacity of persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS to obtain their rights. “When you provide rights,” he explains, “you make people live life to the fullest.”
For Tunde, human rights advocacy started during a year of service during which he provided basic items to orphaned babies and prison inmates. He recalls, “Through reaching out to these communities, I was reaching out to humanity and bringing excitement and joy from just basic items.” Tunde involved himself in advocacy by joining AIDS Alliance in Nigeria in 2003. When some of the people he worked with died during treatment for the disease, the importance of human rights became even clearer for him. “Only people with an awareness of rights can assert themselves to procure treatments and come back to life in the community,” he says. Tunde has since used human rights to demand services and care and push for access to a comprehensive continuum of care, accountability and transparency in the utilization of HIV/AIDS funds; greater involvement of people living with HIV; and workplace policies for those infected by HIV/AIDS.
In his own life, meanwhile, human rights has offered him a whole new outlook to living. “I think holistically,” he says. “because human rights come in bunches—you can’t talk about one right without other rights.”
For Hasina Khan, the pursuit of human rights developed from personal experience. She was born into a family and community that valued religion and traditional conservatism. As the fourth daughter in a very traditionally conservative family, she explains, “I was the first woman educated and the first non-believer in compulsory marriage for women. The traditional family demands marriage for women and does not accept a non-heterosexual person.” In rejecting these norms, she has had to separate herself from her family and her community, forcing her to fend for herself in order to pursue a full education and a more free life. Khan found strength and support in the grassroots women’s rights movement more than 20 years ago, especially at the organization Awaaz-e-Niswaan (Voices of Women). “Through Awaaz, I met and saw lots of women with similar experiences and in similar situations as my own.” Since then, Khan has been working with women who struggle with the traditional and religious norms that do not welcome them. “People have the freedom to take a stand and say that this is my choice,” Khan says. “If you are aware but silent this is problematic because the laws will not change.” While change has been slow, she readily speaks about the lessons her career in human rights has taught her. “It’s not magic that happens and makes change,” she says. “I expect not for today, but for tomorrow.” As a testament to her words, she explains that her nieces are talking openly to her and looking to her for guidance in their own challenges. Her community has also recognized the success she has achieved in her career. “They look to me now because of my awareness and successes. I continue my work for them and other women. I can’t jump in to say the traditional family and laws are not correct, but I can make the choice and help other women to make theirs.”
Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Human Rights & Gender Justice Program
For Rita Mainaly, human rights and human responsibility are inseparable. “To be a good citizen,” she says, “you need to act for the community. My parents taught me that I can be a role model for my society.” As a pro bono lawyer at the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development, an NGO that helps to address cases of violence against women, Mainaly is a firsthand witness to the beating, harassment, trafficking and violence against women that goes unreported in Nepal. In rural Nepal especially, where Mainaly is from, there are two forms of discrimination that affect women. The first, she explains, is gender-based. Women are discriminated against simply for being women. The second is the caste hierarchy of Nepal in which women are victimized for being of a certain caste. “Women are considered second-class citizens and have no access to education,” she says. “These facts have encouraged me to follow human rights. I know I should do something for the women of this country.” Describing a mission for her country, she says that while human rights are indivisible, women’s rights in Nepal are invisible and need to be made visible. “The defective value system in Nepal is the root cause of discrimination against women,” she says, adding that there needs to be “zero tolerance” for discrimination and violence against women. The challenge of achieving this, however, is one that Mainaly knows she cannot overcome alone. “For human rights,” she says, “a single person cannot do anything. We must work together in order to win together.”
Program Assistant, Uganda Land Alliance
“Once you start human rights work,” says John Mwebe, “you will never stop. You will keep advocating for one issue after another.” Mwebe, who has run from shoot-outs and rallied in the face of threats from landowners violating the rights of others, can be championed as the symbol of his own statement. “Anyone can do human rights,” he says, “but you must be prepared to rise to the challenges knowing that much more is possible. Based on all I’ve had to contend with in this work, I keep the feeling that the rights of the common man over land can be upheld.”
Mwebe began learning about human rights during his studies at Makerere University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Development Studies. “The best way to give back to our society is to take what we learn and apply it,” he says. After graduation, he co-founded Luwero Youth Integrated Development Program, a community-based organization. Shortly thereafter, he joined an agriculture organization to advocate for food security and land rights. From there, he realized the importance of land rights and joined the Uganda Land Alliance. “Ultimately,” he concludes, “I’m fighting for the land rights of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children. The right to land stands central to all other rights especially in an agrarian state that Uganda is—no right stands alone.”
Mwebe’s pursuit of human rights has also left an indelible mark on him. Aside from the danger in which he has found himself defending land rights, he explains, “There is an attachment developed while doing human rights work. When someone is evicted off land and has nothing left, you feel affected too.” Mwebe would like the Ugandan land tenure system to undergo a full overhaul to incorporate the rights of every Ugandan to equal access, ownership and use of land. Most importantly, he wants to see the government realize that land belongs to the people and that the opinion of the people should be sought first. Despite the magnitude of achieving such a vision, Mwebe is driven by faith in human rights to push forward its implementation. “Every morning,” he says, “I wake up, and I believe it will get better. I love my country, and I can’t give up.”
April 2017 Update: Mwebe is currently the Regional Program Coordinator in Africa for the International Accountability Project, a US based organization dedicated to creating global financial development policies that respect individual rights.