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 .
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
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, Florencia 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.”
Florencia 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, Florencia 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.
Florencia 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, Florencia 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: Florencia is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.
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.”
National Level Coordinator, Positive Women Network (PWN+)
Anbu Sengo Arasi is a 2008 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Reflecting on her experience while in HRAP, Anbu lists the benefits by saying I “developed my writing skills, developed my skills in fundraising, gained an international network, gained self-confidence, and had very good exposure with human rights organizations at the international level.” HRAP serves as a comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills building, and academic coursework with the goal of providing human rights advocates the many benefits Anbu lists.
Anbu worked as a Program Officer with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) at the time of her arrival in HRAP. In this role, she acted to defend the rights of Dalit women laborers and to achieve gender justice. For Anbu, the development of writing, fundraising, and networking skills has greatly assisted her work in human rights advocacy. In addition, HRAP also serves as a meeting ground for human rights advocates to learn from one another and become more familiar with the activities and programs of international human rights organizations. Many graduates leave HRAP with a better awareness of human rights advocacy and a stronger sense of their own potential. In Anbu’s words, “The program helped me to gain more courage to perform my work and to provide advocacy in all issues of human rights.”
Graduates of HRAP also routinely use their participation to bolster their own profiles and expand their operations, possibly even leading to honors and awards for their accomplishments. Although a very recent graduate of HRAP, Anbu replies to the topic of being specially recognized for her work by saying, “Not yet.”
Since October 2009, Anbu has served as National Level Coordinator with the Positive Women Network (PWN+), an all-India network of HIV-positive women, focused on improving the quality of life of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. In her role as National Level Coordinator, Anbu coordinates trainings and facilitates programs at the district level and for state/national advocacy. Presently, she is advocating issues pertaining to pregnant HIV positive women and towards preventing HIV transmission from parent to child.
- Article composted by Andrew Richardson, June 2010
Executive Director, Skills and Agricultural Development Services
When asked about the contributions of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Peter Mulbah says, “Let me start by extending my many thanks and appreciation to HRAP and all those who gave me guidance throughout the program in 2008.” Mulbah is an HRAP graduate from Liberia and serves as the director of Skills and Agricultural Development Services. The organization is currently working on a community forestry program in Liberia with the goal of empowering forest-dependent communities to freely participate and equally benefit from Liberia’s natural resources.
SinceMulbah's very recent graduation from HRAP, his prominence as an environmental advocate has risen significantly. In his words, “Since I came from the HRAP program, everybody in Liberia sees me as a brand new person. In fact, they say ‘the new Peter has come.’ This has helped to increase my credibility and transparency; people call me every day for consultancy work.” Peter reports he has accordingly gained recognition locally, nationally, and internationally among civil society groups for his work. He is serving as the civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee and is leading the National Stakeholders Consultation and Participation processes leading to the formulation of the Liberia Readiness Plan Proposal to be submitted in August to the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund at the World Bank. This requires him to travel extensively on behalf of Liberia, including to several international meetings and workshops on climate change. He received a sponsorship to participate in the Equitas Human Rights Program in Canada. He also participated in the Environmental Leadership Program at the University of Berkeley, California.
HRAP acts as a multi-disciplinary training program to provide human rights advocates with the training and expertise not only to advance the projects of their home organizations and individual pursuits, but also to improve their character and presentation as model leaders. For Peter, “HRAP increased my level of self-confidence. As a result, I am a regular guest on TV/Radio talk shows with regards to community rights to environmental sustainability and natural resources governance. I have grown overnight as a national expert, and thousands of people look up to me for guidance and direction on human rights advocacy.”
In addition to his already notable achievements and environmental advocacy work, Mulbah was invited to join the 2010 Kinship Conservation Leadership Fellows Program in June and July 2010 which will take place in the United States. He will also continue traveling extensively in his position as civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee to participate in climate change negotiations prior to the 16th Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010. Reflecting overall on his participation in HRAP, Mulbah states, “I cannot imagine where I would be without HRAP. What could be the future of my advocacy in Liberia? I shall forever be grateful to HRAP in all of my career and works that I do.”
Sierra Leone, 2007
Executive Director, Fambul Tok
John Caulker participated in HRAP in 2007 when he was the Executive Director of the Sierra Leonean human rights NGO “Forum of Conscience” (FOC) which drew attention to the role of diamond mining in Sierra Leone’s past war and pushing for recognition of the environmental degradation associated with mining. As former national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, Caulker pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefited Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, Caulker also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
In 2007, HRAP provided Caulker with the rare opportunity of reflection. Away from the frontline, he decided it is time to confront and work on remaining weaknesses. “Am I on the right track?” was just one of the many questions that John sought to address. The intensive discussions with scholars, practitioners and fellow advocates provided many new insights, proved others wrong and helped him refine his communication strategies. The program also raised his attention to how essential consultation and local ownership is in process of reconciliation. In particular, Caulker built on his friendship with Libby Hoffmann, founder of the “Catalyst for Peace” foundation. Inspired by his dedication, leadership and vision, Libby, who has been active for more than 20 years in peace building, decided to partner with Caulker and establish Fambul Tok (Krio for “Family Talk”). Asked how HRAP benefited him the most, Caulker responds: “It made Fambul Tok possible”.
Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-owned program that builds upon Sierra Leone’s “family talk” tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle. It works at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies—practices that many communities have not employed since before the war. Through drawing on age-old traditions of confession, apology and forgiveness, this distinctly Sierra Leonean initiative has provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to come to terms with what happened during the war, to talk, to heal, and to chart a new path forward, together.
Caulker, Sara and Libby have released the book and movie “Fambul Tok” which relates the amazing story of an African journey in forgiveness. For more, see www.fambultok.org.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
United States, 2007
Executive Director, Ella Baker Center
“The HRAP program is the kind of program that delivers a lifetime of benefits. Already, I refer my colleagues to other participants in the program and we are in the process of expanding our work on juvenile incarceration from a local to a national level and are looking to international examples of restorative justice. This would not have been possible without the HRAP program.”
Blessed with a strong sense of social responsibility and deep understanding of the importance of protecting the weak and vulnerable, Zachary Norris joined HRAP in 2007 when he was serving as the Director of the “Books Not Bars” campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. From 2003 to 2010, after graduating cum laude from NYU School of Law, he worked to build California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth. Through this program, Norris fought to redirect California’s resources away from youth incarceration and toward the creation of youth opportunities. As part of this effort, he provided training on court advocacy, recruited new families of incarcerated youth, addressed the media, lobbied the legislature, and coordinated rallies and campaigns. The nationally-known campaign contributed to efforts to close three youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones and defeated Prop 6 -- one of the state’s most destructive and ineffective ballot measures.
At Columbia University, Norris gained a broader set of tools for social change. Making full use of the manifold opportunities that our program offers, Norris profoundly expanded his fundraising skills, improved on his campaign strategies and tapped into HRAP’s wider network of scholars, politicians, lawyers, philanthropists, and activists. Inspired by the work of his fellow advocates, Norris came to refine his understanding of what is possible. The intimate four-month engagement opened his eyes to finding partners and solutions to juvenile incarceration outside the United States. He came to appreciate even more the advantages of restorative over punitive justice.
In 2010, Norris' laudable work and aspiring vision was honored by the Open Society Foundation with the prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship. The Foundation helped him give birth to his new project “Justice for Families”, a new national support, advocacy and organizing initiative of families of court involved and incarcerated youth that works to challenge the community disinvestment, zero tolerance school policies, and punitive justice. Norris and his team are striving to build a national bipartisan movement for justice reinvestment--the reallocation of government spending away from mass incarceration and toward investment in families.
January 2014 update: Norris is currently the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.
November 2016 update: Norris is currently serving on the Justice for Families board. He was a recipient of the American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award in 2015, and is a member of the 2016 class of the Levi Strauss Foundation's Pioneers of Justice. Norris is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland, California.
Program Coordinator, National Center for Advocacy Studies
“In the changing socio-economic, political, and cultural context, there is an increasing realization of the need to bridge the gap between grassroots activism and macro-level policy initiatives.”
Constantly seeking new ways to better effect change, Sandeep Pattnaik joined HRAP in 2007 after having served as a member of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) in India seven years. In his role at NCAS, Sandeep focused on promoting a “people-centered policy environment” in which people could feel comfortable advocating for themselves against violations of human rights and social justice. During HRAP, he found that his understanding of human rights activism in a global economy deepened, and he developed contacts with various other organizations who have continued to extend their support and solidarity to the movement that Sandeep is a part of.
Since HRAP, Sandeep has been engaged in an NCAS project called Adivasi Resource Center (ARC), a center dedicated to Indigenous people. His efforts are directed towards closing the information gap between the Adivasi people and governmental issues by building a space for dialogue between them and legislators. He writes: “As an advocate of human rights, I have founded [my] campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian constitution: the right to life and the right to livelihood.” Sandeep’s struggle for the rights of local populations have also led him into a battle against POSCO, a South Korean company trying to establish a steel plant in the Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha that puts local indigenous peoples at risk of industrial pollution. In order to combat these environmental violations, Sandeep provides strategic support to local organizations, conducts environmental impact assessments and prepares and files petitions to take legal action against the company.
Sandeep leaves human rights advocates at the beginning of their careers with the following advice:
“The process of policy-making… has changed in a paradigm shift due to the techno-economic revolution, the process of globalization and further marginalization of subaltern sections… The changing power equations at all levels of governance require a holistic approach and multiple strategies that can integrate the power of people with the power of information… and alliances to challenge unjust policies and exploitative politics.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Facilitator, Social Action for Change (SAC)
Ly Pisey is a 2007 graduate of the Human Rights Advocate Program from Cambodia. She currently serves as the Facilitator of Social Action for Change (SAC). In this role, she provides technical and advocacy support to grassroots movements, workers and activists to bring about social, economic and political change in Cambodia. Pisey also serves as the coordinator of Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), a sex worker collective that works to end all forms of violence and discrimination against sex workers and their children.
In reflecting how her participation in HRAP has enhanced her work in human rights, she writes that the program provided her with the skills and confidence to become involved in other human rights initiatives. For example, she co-founded the Rainbow Community of Kampuchea (RoCK), a non-profit organization that works to eliminate discrimination of the LGBT community in Cambodia in 2009.
A year later, she co-founded the Cambodian Women’s Movement for Social Justice (CWMSJ) which raises concerns about the status of women’s rights. As the core organizer of CWMSJ, Pisey is responsible for developing CWMSJ’s advocacy strategies and community mobilization efforts. This movement was sparked by Cambodia’s Prime Minster, Hun Sen’s defamatory comments to Mu Sochua, a female Member of Parliament. In response to his comments, Sochua sued the Prime Minister only to be faced with possible imprisonment. Due to CWMSJ’s advocacy campaign, Sochua was only required to pay the civil compensation to the Prime Minister.
In describing CWMSJ’s landmark campaign, Pisey explains, “We embarked on this campaign not because she's a Member of Parliament but she is one of the few political leaders who took a risk to advocate for women's rights. We decided to take action on her behalf despite the risks we faced for speaking out.”
Since 2012, Pisey serves as the core organizer of the ASEAN Grassroots People's Assembly (AGPA). AGPA is a four-day event that brings together over 2000 Cambodian activists. It aims to expand the democratic space and increase public awareness of ASEAN, human rights and the negative impacts of development.
When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she writes that the program helped her to grow as an advocate and brought her closer to her dream of making the world a better place.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013
February 2017 Update: Pisey has more recently taken a larger role in providing support to the United Sisterhood Alliance and access to basic services such as healthcare and housing.
In 2011, 2007 Advocate Priscila C. Rodriguez Bribiesca co-founded Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE) a Mexican-US NGO with offices in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez Bribiesca reports: “SAKBE´s mission is achieving social change through the promotion of human and environmental rights by using litigation and communication strategies. Sakbe works both nationally and internationally towards improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the promotion of development agendas for local communities and indigenous groups in public policies, development projects and conflicts.”
SAKBE’s first grant came from the Bank of Information Center to promote transparency policies and practices in the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in Mexico. Rodriguez Bribiesca reports that SAKBE is also working with the Siemenpuu Foundation, based in Finland, on obtaining a grant to continue with the legal defense work for the Triqui indigenous community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Rodriguez Bribiesca elaborates: “I am responsible for the documentation process of the REDD projects in Mexico--getting the relevant information from the World Bank and Mexico´s governmental authorities to give communities the possibility to participate in this process which will be implemented in indigenous and rural communities. One goal is bringing their concerns to the World Bank.”
Rodriguez Bribiesca recognizes HRAP’s impact on her work. “Before this program,” she says, “I was not aware of the importance of making strategies at the international level. All the site visits 9to the different foundations and organizations) gave me the big picture of the role of advocacy. Furthermore, HRAP gave me a more general comprehension of the different tools and strategies that I can use to be more effective.” She said some of the contacts she made through HRAP are now her allies. They include the Indian Law Resource Center, Amazon Watch, the Center of International and Environmental Law and the Center for Justice and Inter-American Law. SAKBE’s fundraising successes to date are also linked the fundraising classes that are part of HRAP. Rodriguez Bribiesca explains: “The fundraising workshops greatly strengthened my knowledge of the many steps of this process, from writing a letter of inquiry to cultivating a profesional relationship with foundation staff. After HRAP, I got a generous grant from Hewlett Foundation.”
She adds, “The experience from my internship at the Center for Justice and International Law and my contacts and studies [through HRAP] allowed me to start representing the Precautionary Measure Process in favor of the Community of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are getting support from international organizations, including the Washington Office of Latin America and Amnesty International, on this case--particularly to make the Mexican government accountable for protecting the Triqui Community and safely returning them to their territory and bringing justice to the victims of the massacre.”
She has also been instrumental in having public hearings at IACHR on issues affecting different indigenous communities and the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America.
She has been recognized with many honors and awards including an award to participate in “Woman in Management” at CEDPA in 2008 and a full scholarship from American University to attend the International Environmental Law Summer Program and the Seminar on Trade and Environment. She received a full scholarship to attend the LLM Program in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2012. From July to December 2012, she will intern at IACHR.
She concludes. “I can surely say without exaggeration, HRAP changed my life. Before my participation in the Program, my work as an advocate was limited to the local systems of justice. I did not know anything about the international bodies of justice and accountability mechanisms. I also did not have the contacts and knowledge needed to start working on at the international level, such as the processes before the IACHR and the World Bank. Moreover even if I had some idea about these processes, I could hardly contact member of these bodies directly because of the geographic and language obstacles, which now no longer exist thanks to HRAP.”
National Director, Center for Applied Studies of Economical and Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC)
When asked about his experience at the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Jorge Cortes Fajardo of Bolivia points out how it provided him with the opportunity to “get to know other advocates from around the world and the important work they do for the defense of human rights victims and for policy change.” One of the many benefits of the HRAP is the unique environment in which advocates are able to share theirs valuable grassroots experiences, exchange ideas, and share best practices and resources for advocacy.
Jorge is currently the National Director and legal representative of the Center for Applied Studies of Economical Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC). The organization’s work is focused on the strengthening of indigenous people and social movements to monitor and advocate for human rights and environmental justice. According to Jorge, “HRAP was an excellent opportunity to reach out to US-based NGOs and to support our networking for human rights advocacy.” He underscores the value of the meetings with the NGO communities of New York and Washington DC. Jorge said that the meetings led to joint actions between CEADESC and several organizations such as the Indian Law Resource Center and the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Since he left HRAP, Jorge has gone on to notable achievements both at the national and international levels. In 2009, CEADESC contributed to the recognition of indigenous peoples human rights in the new Bolivian Constitution. CEADESC then published two human rights assessment studies related to transnational extractive industries companies in Bolivia. Their case studies were recently presented in the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples Issues in New York. Due to CEADESC’s contribution to the defense of human rights, the organization has recently been honored as an outstanding partner by the American Jewish World Service at its 25th anniversary celebration in New York in October 2010.
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
Executive Director/Health Program Associate, Physicians for Social Justice
2006 Advocate Chukwumuanya Igboekwu currently works as Executive Director and Health Program Associate of Physicians for Social Justice (PSJ) which he co-founded in 2004. PSJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community health, human rights and broader social justice for marginalized rural communities in northern Nigeria. He coordinates PSJ’s advocacy efforts and also manages PSJ’s service delivery programs that provide access to basic social services including health, education and community development.
He reflects that his participation in HRAP provided a “unique networking opportunity of a lifetime”. When he participated in 2006 as Health Program Associate of PSJ, he wrote two articles: ‘Why Pharmaceutical Companies Must Not Deny People with HIV/AIDS Access to Life-Saving Antiretroviral Medicines Using the Excuse of Patent Protection’ and ‘The World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement’. These articles were published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. He states, “The Washington D.C. networking trip afforded me the opportunity to speak with State Department officers to support the importance of continuous funding to the Global AIDS program through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).”
Igboekwu says that his participation in HRAP led to funding from American Jewish World Service and the Global Fund for Children for approximately $ 180,000 dollars in total to date. He highlights, “PSJ has grown from a small community-based organization into a national level NGO that plays active role in shaping HIV/AIDS policy in Nigeria.” As a result of his dedication in collaborating with other stakeholders for the protection of people living with HIV/AIDS, thousands of people with HIV/AIDS from rural areas in Nigeria have more access to life saving antiretroviral drugs and live in integration within their communities. Also, he and his staff at PSJ developed a project, supported by the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called “Community AIDS Program”. PSJ’s Community AIDS Program was a winner of the 2010 joint UNAIDS/UNDP Red Ribbon Awards in Vienna, Austria.
Igboekwu enthusiastically expresses his strong gratitude toward the staff of the Institute (then Center) for the Study of Human Rights, “They inspired me and gave me all the exposure that helped shape my understanding of human rights and the global economy. They were every ready to assist me make that connection with potential partners or resources that I need for my work. Even when I returned to Nigeria, they continued supporting me and PSJ.” After the program, he received his master’s degree in Public Health from University of Lagos, Nigeria, in 2008.
He concludes, “HRAP was an extraordinary program that gave me insight with the intersection between health and human rights. The program was very intensive and exciting by providing opportunities to explore new partners, academic topics in the field of human rights and engagement with U.S. policy makers along with CEOs of big US pharmaceutical companies whose business have a strong impact on poop people’s access to medicines in developing countries.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, August 2011
Executive Director, Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU)
2006 Advocate James Makor the Executive Director of the Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), which is dedicated to facilitating and promoting community-based sustainable nature and human resource management and development in Liberia. He officially represents the institution, coordinates three core programs with project officers, and serves as secretary to the Board of Directors.
Makor says that dynamic networking he did through HRAP is “paying off”. He reflects, “The networks I established at Columbia Law School continue to interact with my organization on issues surrounding concessions in Liberia. Through HRAP, SAMFU started collaborating with United Steel and Allied Worker Union on labor reform at Firestone.” He adds that American Jewish World Services, whose staff he met through HRAP, is currently one of SAMFU’s donors.
After HRAP, he attended a financial training for NGO staff from the Management and Accountability of Non-Governmental Organizations (MANGO). He cites as one of his more recent accomplishments the partnership between SAMFU and Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) on a project called Sustainable Forest Management. During the project, he has been involved in the formulation and signing of Cooperate Social Agreements between multinational and local forest communities. Also, his organization addressed issues of benefit sharing from forest resources and provided trainings to enable the communities to track their local development budget.
When asked about his memories of HRAP in 2006, he states, “I feel that the greatest benefit to me was the establishment of new networks.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Up to date as of April 2017.