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 .
Human Rights Program Coordinator, For Equal Right Educational Center
Maria is the human rights programs coordinator at For Equal Rights Educational Center, a non-governmental organization based in Yerevan, which promotes civic consciousness and capacity building in human rights as well as democratic accountability. Maria manages the Article 3 Human Rights Club, which provides space, education, and networking opportunities for human rights activists, the media, and civil society organizations. Maria also led the organization of the first Human Rights Festival in Armenia. As a member of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Task Force-Armenia in 2016, Maria co-authored and presented recommendations on the implementation of the CEDAW in Armenia at the United Nations. She recently joined the staff of the Armenian Parliament’s My Step Revolution Faction as a legal researcher working on Armenia’s Euro-integration policies.
Maria received a master’s degree in law from the American University of Armenia and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Armenia State University. She is a member of the European Women Lawyers’ Association.
Activist, Middle East
As a women’s rights activist in the Middle East, this HRAP participant has dedicated her career to developing and maintaining a grassroots campaign that engages other women in an effort to protect, educate, and build equality for women throughout the region.
Fundraiser, Tzedaká Foundation
Asaravicius has worked on human rights education initiatives at various foundations and NGOs. She previously served as the Director of International and Social Justice at Hillel Uruguay. In Israel, she worked in the media and culture department of the Peres Center for Peace.
After living in Argentina, Israel and Spain, Asaravicius recently returned to Montevideo. She is currently working on resource mobilization at the Tzedaká Foundation. She earned the BA in Social and Political Science at the Universidad Católica del Uruguay.
Human Rights Project Leader, Research Center for the Teaching and Learning of the Law
Asúnsolo is the Human Rights Project Leader at the Research Center for the Teaching and Learning of the Law (CEEAD). The center’s mission is to transform legal education in Mexico to train lawyers to be committed to the rule of law and human rights in Mexico. Asúnsolo and his team have created a working group whose members come from civil society organizations and public institutions like the Supreme Court, the National Commission on Human Rights, and universities to develop a human rights educational model for law schools. CEEAD is also developing two manuals including an e-platform for human rights education for law schools. Additionally, Asúnsolo volunteers with a migrant shelter and holds workshops so that residents can know their rights and learn about the legal system.
Asúnsolo holds a Masters in the Advanced Studies of Human Rights from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and a Law Degree and a Masters in Applied Public Management from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.
Project Coordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières/Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly
In 1977, an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group organized a bomb attack in front of the Pharmacy Faculty of Istanbul University. In this attack, seven students were murdered and more than 40 students were seriously injured. Eleven years later, Saddam Hussein committed crimes against humanity on March 16, 1988, in Helebce, northern Iraq. On that day, his warplanes bombed Helebce with chemical weapons. At least 5,000 civilians—the majority of whom were children, women, and older people—were slaughtered and an additional 7,000 people were injured. And so my story starts two years after the Helebce Massacre.
When I was a university student in Ege University based in Izmir, my friends and I organized a series of peaceful protests around Turkey on March 16, 1990. After that, I faced some difficulties in Turkey, but I continued to work for human rights in Turkey and elsewhere. I was affiliated with the Izmir War Resisters Association and supported the conscientious objectors living in Turkey. I participated in an Amnesty International Turkey initiative in 1996. As a volunteer, I was selected as the campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Turkey during its 2000-2002 campaign against torture, formally known as “Take a Step to Stamp out Torture.” As a teacher, I worked to raise awareness about human rights. Since 2012, I have been working for Syrian refugees through the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Istanbul. Additionally, I am a project coordinator of The Psychological Support and Primary Health Care services for Syrian Refugees living in Kilis, Turkey, which is technically and financially supported by Médecins Sans Frontières. The prevention of conflict, discrimination, and violence including torture and ill-treatment, are main issues for me.
If anyone asks me why I work for human rights, my answer is that I listen only to the voice of my conscience.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Hakan Ataman in the 2015 HRAP.
Executive Director, Initiative for Equality and Non Discrimination
After HRAP, Esther Adhiambo started the Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND) in Mombasa, Kenya. INEND researches and undertakes strategic actions towards equality, acceptance and inclusion in the Coast Region of Kenya. INEND also promotes tolerance, non-discrimination, acceptance and inclusion of sexual and gender minorities.
Adhiambo writes: "My biggest win in the LBGQ movement has been the acceptance of sexual minorities by religious leaders in Mombasa County. This was not an easy journey, but I was able to overcome the obstacles. My constant plea to them was that equal human rights apply to all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation and identity. Happily, the end result of these relationships has been a reduction in violence against sexual minorities in the County."
Adhiambo has been in the LBGQ movement for eight years, having previously served as the Executive Director of Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved in Kenya (PEMA Kenya), an organization based in Mombasa that promotes harmony by empowering the local community to respect the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
-Updated by Jordan Lesser-Roy, Program Assistant, Spring 2020
Gender Officer, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
For Lana Ackar, a passion for pursing human rights has always been a large part of her life and within her professional career, she 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 serves as a board Member of 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 believes that the International Summer School Sarajevo project that Pravnik has been running since 2006 will contribute to the advancement of human rights in Southeastern Europe. In 2014, Ackar joined the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights based in Warsaw, Poland, where she currently works on advancing women's political participation and gender sensitivity of democratic institutions.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
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.”
Human Rights Monitoring Officer, ACJPS
Naglaa Ahmed, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, has continued her work with the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) since completing HRAP. ACJPS is an organization whose mission is “dedicated to creating a Sudan committed to all human rights, the rule of law and peace, in which the rights and freedoms of the individual are honored and where all persons and groups are granted their rights to non-discrimination, equality and justice.” Ahmed is currently working on a report for ACJPS detailing recent practices of torture in Sudan, titled: “The Prevalence of Torture and No Way to Justice.” The report, which is still being finalized, will hopefully be out in August 2015. She has also recently worked as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, as well as continuing her work with REDRESS, which she began in 2010, through 2014.
In addition to these projects, she is proud of other initiatives she has launched since her return to Sudan in late 2010: “I was able to form a youth and students forum to advocate for law reform in Sudan, and also prepared and drafted with others a proposal for the prohibition of torture bill. In late 2010 and through 2011, I mobilized local NGOs and formed an initiative called The Returnee Support Initiative, aimed at providing support to returnees to southern Sudan. My motive was a sense of responsibility towards these returnees, who are struggling during these difficult economic times; for example, food prices have increased significantly, in addition to the government’s already harsh policy against South Sudanese people. The object of The Returnee Support Initiative is to provide direct support in terms of food, clothes, and blankets, in addition to medical and legal assistance.”
Ahmed notes that her time in HRAP enhanced her networking and communications skills and helped her develop new strategic approaches to tackling human rights issues. She also notes as a result of her time in the program, she was able to assist the REDRESS Trust, an organization which works to help victims of torture survivors obtain justice and reparations, in receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for their Project Criminal Law Reform in Sudan, while she was working for them as a local coordinator.
Ahmed emphasizes the value of connecting with other Advocates from around the world, writing: “I learned great deal from other Advocates’ experiences, which empowered me in many ways and motivated me to do more.” Her connections have helped in her in practical ways, as well; while planning a trip to Uganda in 2014, fellow 2010 Advocate Agnes Atim assisted her in obtaining her visa for her travels. She writes: “There are many great memories, though one of the greatest was forming an African Women group (members included Glenda, Agnes, Susan and myself). Our intention was to apply what we learned and to work on peace-building and women’s empowerment in South Sudan and other conflict areas, the dream to bring this to reality one day and hopefully to develop it in the near future.”
Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
Human Rights Program Coordinator, Youth with Physical Disability Development Forum
When James Aniyamuzaala became hard of hearing after an accident at the age of eight, it was not his first encounter facing the situation of persons with disabilities. His mother, Mary Aniyamuzaala, was a polio survivor and one of the founders of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda. As an orphan at the age of 12, he recognized that education was the only way for him to survive. However, Aniyamuzaala became frustrated with the stereotypes placed on him as a person with a disability. Aniyamuzaala made it his mission to prevent other persons with disabilities, particularly children and youth, from having the same challenges he had encountered. He says, “I seek to remove the institutional barriers that limit participation of persons with disabilities in development and community programs. I believe that the quality of life of a society can also be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” Aniyamuzaala also credits his mother as a strong source of inspiration to him: “I felt my mother had left behind a mission to help women and children with disabilities through her organization and that I was responsible to take over to realize her dream of good and improved standard of living for persons with disabilities.” Through student groups in high school, Aniyamuzaala began his work as an advocate for the disabled. He continues his work today through the numerous commitments he has made: human rights coordinator with Youth with Physical Disability Development Forum, president of the Uganda Federation of Hard of Hearing, board member of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People, and member of Global Partnership for Disability and Development. He says, “Positive and progressive action both locally and globally motivates me to keep advocating for human rights for persons with disabilities.”
Vice President, Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions
Siarhei Antusevich is a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. After finishing HRAP, Siarhei returned to Belarus to continue his work at the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) and Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) which is one of the largest independent self-governing trade unions in Belarus with an estimated 7000 members. Siarhei’s work at BITU focuses on raising awareness on violations of union rights in Belarus. Presently, he is the Vice President of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. In this role, Siarhei educates trade unions on their rights and represents their interests at the national government level. Since 2012, Siarhei has been a member of the Council of Improvement of Legislation in Labor Issues at the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice. Siarhei takes active part in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, where he was elected as member of the Steering Committee for 2016-2017.
The Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University is a capacity-building program based in New York City. HRAP provides proven human rights defenders with the skills and knowledge to carry out their human rights work in their home countries. In addition to expanding the human rights knowledge base of Advocates through graduate coursework and rigorous skills-building classes and trainings, HRAP facilitates networking opportunities for Advocates. Each year, HRAP organizes a week-long networking trip to Washington DC for Advocates to meet with NGOs and foundations in their areas of expertise. When asked about how HRAP has helped him with his current work, Siarhei writes, “The networking opportunities have strengthened my networks. The information that I’ve received from these contacts continues to serve as a resource to me.” During his time in Washington, DC, Siarhei met with numerous organizations such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations/Solidarity Center, International Labor Rights Forum, and the National Democratic Institute.
Siarhei remains in touch with his fellow HRAP 2010 classmates through LinkedIn, Facebook, and occasional conversations through Skype. When reflecting on his experience at HRAP, Siarhei concludes, “As a result of my participation in HRAP, my understanding of human rights issues and advocacy has changed entirely. I am proud to be a member of the HRAP family.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013; Updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
CEO, Hope Development Initiative
Dr. Agnes Atim Apea is the founder and CEO of the Hope Development Initiative (HDI), an organization dedicated to empowering rural women in Uganda to become financially independent. An entrepreneur herself with over 20 years of experience working with development agencies, Apea strives every day to instill that same drive that motivated her to found HDI in the farmers that she works with.
It was this passion to work toward the economic rights of women that led her to apply to HRAP in 2010. Apea writes: “HRAP built my leadership and advocacy skills” and gave her the opportunity to make crucial connections with other organizations. In fact, she was able to secure funding from UN Women after meeting representatives during her time with HRAP. Not only did Apea establish important points of contact, but she also made lasting friendships with her fellow advocate class, with which she is “constantly in contact.”
For her tireless devotion to HDI’s cause, Apea was honored with the Presidential Golden Jubilee Award on International Women’s Day in 2016. Today, she continues to work as passionately as ever with nearly 11,000 farmers in Uganda, helping them to maximize crop yield and profits.
—Article written April 2017
Resource Mobilization and Communications Officer, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Ghana)
Susan Aryeetey is a graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2010 from Ghana. After HRAP, Aryeetey continued working as the Resource Mobilization Manager at the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Ghana (FIDA-Ghana). In addition to her work in Ghana, Aryeetey is completing her Masters in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford via distance learning.
She writes that HRAP provided her with new ideas to improve FIDA-Ghana’s advocacy campaigns. Inspired by an oral history workshop offered by HRAP, she integrated recordings of women living with HIV and AIDs speaking about their challenges in owning property and obtaining their inheritance in her organization’s campaigns. Due to the innovative nature of this project, it was awarded funding.
Throughout the four-month program, Advocates participate in skills-building workshops and trainings to strengthen their skillsets as advocates and help them build stronger organizations in their home countries. These workshops address a wide range of topics such as fundraising, campaign strategy, advocacy tools, media relations, stress management and research and documentation. While at HRAP, Aryeetey sharpened her fundraising skills through a six-session workshop on fundraising taught by Erik Detiger, the founder of Philantropia. Detiger worked with Aryeetey to improve FIDA-Ghana’s fundraising plans and grant proposals. As a result, FIDA-Ghana received a grant in the amount of 74,000. This grant was extended to sustain the organization’s project until 2014. She writes that the fundraising skills she gained from HRAP helped FIDA-Ghana benefit from a two-year award of 174,000 which will support the organization’s efforts to improve women’s access to legal services.
In addition to the fundraising workshops, Aryeetey noted the significant impact that the stress management training has had on her personal and professional well-being. She remarked that the training was a “life saver,” adding that “as Advocates we tend to think more of getting the job done, forgetting to take care of ourselves, and I was beginning to feel exhausted.” The stress management training taught her to take proactive measures to relieve her stress. It allowed her to work more efficiently and reduce her stress level in a challenging work environment.
Aryeetey remains in touch with her fellow HRAP participants, including Tandia Bakary, Agnes Atim, Glenda Muzenda and Colette Lespinasse.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
Community and Government Liaison Officer, Winrock International
“I am more empowered to handle issues of good governance, human rights, and development head on,” states Evalyne Achan from Uganda, a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. HRAP is a four-month training program for human rights advocates. Based on the campus of Columbia University in New York City and utilizing the many NGO and rights networks available throughout New York, participants follow graduate courses, take part in skills-building workshops, and attend networking meetings among other program activities to advance their advocacy careers. Since completing the program, Achan remarks, “I can now talk with confidence on the rights of human rights issues and know which stakeholders I can work with in order to have issues of human rights addressed.
While in HRAP, Achan joined her current organization, Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that empowers the disadvantaged, increases economic opportunity, and sustains natural resources. She had previously worked for CARE International and the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development. At Winrock International, Achan is serving as the Community and Government Liaison Officer for the organization’s Northern Uganda Development of Enhanced Local Governance, Infrastructures, and Livelihoods (NUDEIL) Program. NUDEIL is a USAID Program that has been sub-contracted to Winrock International. In her position, Achan acts as advisor and facilitator for all programmatic aspects of NUDEIL. Her work is helping local communities and governments in northern Uganda to develop strong and transparent processes, build roads and schools, provide drinking water, and establish rural health and sanitation facilities. The result of Achan’s work provides employment, income, and a higher quality of life for communities in northern Uganda.
When asked about the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP, Achan fondly recalls one of the opportunities that she had during an event sponsored at the United Nations. “My greatest benefit,” she says, “was that my self-esteem was highly lifted, networks broadened, and meeting with key personalities in the world, like when I met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.”
Achan reports many wonderful accomplishments since her very recent participation in HRAP. She says, “I have been able to accomplish key things in my life, was able to raise funds for charity for Rural Development-Uganda, a community-based organization I co-founded to help in promoting and protecting the rights of the formerly abducted child mothers, widows, and women and at the same time improve their livelihoods.” Additionally, she explains how HRAP has advanced her personal work, saying, “Through the networks created while at HRAP, I have been able to sell more Paper Beads. The number stands at 2600 beads per month from 600-700 per month. It has helped me to broaden my understanding of human rights work and the roles of being human rights defenders.” Reflecting on her accomplishments and participation in HRAP, she concludes, “As much as the HRAP Program empowered me as an individual, the effect has trickled down to the communities in Northern Uganda.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, August 2010
Executive Director, Afghan Women Skills Development Center
Mary Akrami is a 2009 graduate of HRAP. Since 2018, she has been serving as the executive director of Afghan Women’s Network, an organization that engages in peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs and provides training and mentoring on mechanisms on women’s engagement in political and community-based peacebuilding. She is a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Selection Committee of Election Commission of Afghanistan.
Mary initiated the use of community-based peace shuras (councils) throughout Afghanistan to allow women to engage in conflict resolution at the local level. Mary says this served as a starting point for women’s inclusion in community-level decision-making.
Mary has been engaged in the fight for women’s rights since 2001. She is a founder and a former executive director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC), an organization focusing on the rights of women affected by violence. In this capacity, Mary established the first shelter for women at risk of violence in 2003 and contributed to the establishment of Bost Family Restaurant, the first restaurant in Afghanistan which provides jobs for female survivors of violence and contributes to women’s economic empowerment. Her activism to fight violence against women lead to the approval and implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women in Afghanistan in 2009.
Her work promoting women’s rights has been recognized at the global level on numerous occasions. In 2007, she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State, and in 2018, Mary won the N-Peace Award from the UNDP for her work promoting women’s rights. She has been a member of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights since 2013 and is a member of Frontline Defenders network in Afghanistan.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013, updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018, and by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019