Between 1989 and 2021, a total of 346 human rights advocates from 95 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, 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
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, ProDESC
Before doing HRAP in 2005, Alejandra Ancheita worked for over a decade as a human rights advocate in Mexico. Upon her return, she founded the Project on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ProDESC), a human rights NGO based in Mexico City whose primary goal is to defend the rights of the Mexican people by fostering the enforcement of and accountability for these rights on a systematic level. According to Ancheita, her time spent at HRAP contributed skills and relationships that were crucial to her foundation and leadership of a new human rights organizations.
In her years at ProDESC, and as a litigation specialist at the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Pro) and the Center for Labor Support and Reflection (CEREAL), Alejandra has worked on strategic litigation and defense of human rights advocates and local communities. She has represented ProDESC at national and international conferences and committees, and argued cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, and several national courts. In 2009 Ancheita received a Master’s Degree in International Law and Global Justice at the Fordham University Law School, with the support of a Leitner Center Scholarship. During 2010 she was a visiting Scholar at the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, developing a research initiative called “Towards a Genuine Transnational Collaboration: Constructing Transnational Justice for Migrant Workers.” Alejandra returned to ProDESC in the fall of 2010, where she currently heads the Transnational Justice Area of the organization, coordinates fundraising activities, and designs strategies for ongoing and new ProDESC initiatives.
Ancheita believes that HRAP served as a platform to access tools for human rights capacity-building. It also allowed her to build networks with other human rights activists and organizations. Alejandra was one of the 25 finalists for the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.
Novermber 2016 update: In 2013, Alejandra received the Wasserstein Public Interest Award from Harvard Law School. She won the 2014 Martin Ennals Award for her efforts in the fight for the rights of the migrants, workers, and indigenous communities in her country. She is one of the leading Latin American voices in the human rights movement and has spoken in various international forums, such as the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society and the OECD Annual Meeting of National Contact Points, as well as arguing cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the national courts. She was acknowledged for her work as a human rights defender by the Mexican Senate in 2015 and by several communication media and by international institutions, such as the Spanish newspaper El País that named Ancheita one of the 25 most influential Latin Americans.
—Written by Alexandra Watson
Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society Institute
When asked about the benefits of her participation in the Human Rights Advocates Program, Nana Afadzinu, a 2003 graduate from Ghana, answered, “I became a better human rights advocate. I became more knowledgeable, and that increased my confidence. I was able to contribute more to fighting for human rights with my organization and within the broader women’s and human rights’ movement.”
At the time of her arrival into HRAP, Afadzinu was working as Legal Advocate for Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment. One feature of the four months of HRAP is to teach advocates how to network as well as to introduce them to different NGOs and foundations that tailor to human rights and the individual pursuits of the participants. During her four months in HRAP, Afadzinu acquired $10,000 in funding for her organization from the Global Fund for Women to work on issues related to violence against women in Ghana.
After HRAP, Afadzinu went on to pursue further education, receiving her Masters in Law (L.L.M.) from New York University in 2005. She says, “The knowledge and skill acquired during those four months as an HRAP participant was invaluable and contributed to the quest for and my acquisition of a master’s degree.” Furthermore, she cites the lessons learned from the law classes at Columbia, the human rights symposia, the brown bag sessions, the experience-sharing with other HRAP participants, and the HRAP training seminars as having immensely contributed to the development of her career.
Some of Afadzinu’s professional accomplishments include coordinating the Domestic Violence Coalition from 2003 to 2004, which as she states, is “one of the most successful coalitions to date in Ghana” and succeeded in making addressing domestic violence and passing the Domestic Violence Bill top priorities on the policy agenda of the government of Ghana. Afadzinu has also recently served as the head of the Nigeria Office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa where she contributed to providing the necessary support for civil society in Nigeria to promote and protect fundamental human rights, consolidate democratic governance, and enhance transparency and accountability. Because of her extensive training, professional work, and experience in programs such as HRAP, Afadzinu is regularly sought for and invited by various organizations to present and facilitate sessions on advocacy and human rights.
Currently, Afadzinu works with Ibis-West Africa as its Regional Policy Advisor. In this position, she advises all of Ibis’ education and governance programs, supports developing advocacy strategies of thematic projects, locates and establishes contacts at the national, sub-regional, and international level to build partners in policy advocacy, and coordinates the development of Ibis’ extractive industries program. Afadzinu affirms the impact of HRAP on her career, saying, “I have used (and continue to use) what I learnt in HRAP in the different career (and even personal) spaces that I have found myself in; and have, on all occasions, contributed effectively to ensuring the respect, promotion, and protection of fundamental human rights.” In addition, she remarks, “In that sense, I am not the only one that has benefited but so has society at large. HRAP may only be building the capacity of few advocates at each time but that seeming ‘drop in the bucket’ makes wide ripples. I know because I am an example.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Afadzinu is currently the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.
Costa Rica, 2003
Executive Director, Association for Women’s Rights in Development
When asked about the greatest benefit of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Lydia Alpízar Durán, a 2003 graduate from Costa Rica states, “HRAP provided me with an opportunity to expand on my knowledge and experience. It was a valuable resource and space to learn and take time to reflect on my work.” The Human Rights Advocates Program is a capacity building program that provides courses and activities that address the wide range of needs of human rights leaders for both foundational and advanced knowledge as well as practical human rights skills.
After completing the program, Alpízar Durán began working for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). AWID is an international feminist membership organization committed to achieving women’s human rights and gender equality. Alpízar Durán managed AWID’s two programs: Where is the Money for Women’s Rights? and Building Feminist Movements and Organizations Strategic Initiatives. In 2007, she was promoted to Executive Director, a position that she continues to hold today. In this role, she strives to join feminists and activists together through their common goal of advancing the rights of women worldwide. Alpízar Durán enjoys her work at AWID, stating, “It’s a privilege and honor to lead such a vibrant organization and have the opportunity to work with activists from around the world.”
HRAP leverages the resources of Columbia University and NYC as a global center of NGOs and international organizations to provide Advocates with critical skills-building and networking opportunities. Alpízar Durán writes that these skills-building trainings along with learning about other human rights organizations were instrumental to her career development. In reflecting on her participation in HRAP, she recalls a course that she audited at Columbia University’s School of International and Political Affairs entitled Rethinking Human Rights. Alpízar Durán remarks that this graduate course helped her to think critically about the problematic or controversial topics within human rights theory, discourse and practice.
In addition to her work at AWID, she writes advocacy resources for women’s rights organizations and blogs for the Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw Women. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Global Fund for Women and the Central American Women’s Fund.
Alpízar Durán remains in touch with participants from her program. She frequently communicates with Patricia Guerro from Colombia as they work together on advocacy campaigns and in supporting with solidarity actions given the very high risk context in which Patricia works. Through her work, she has met HRAP alumni over the years. She states, “HRAP is an influential network of human rights activists. There is powerful solidarity among the alumni of this program.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, May 2013
Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria
When asked about the impact that HRAP has had on her career, Ladi Alabi, a 2001 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from Nigeria, writes, “HRAP provided me with a broader perspective of human rights as well as an improved approach to human rights advocacy.”
HRAP is a four-month residency program at Columbia University in New York City that provides Advocates with a structured curriculum of advocacy, networking, skills-building and academic coursework. HRAP is uniquely designed to give Advocates time and space to reflect on their work and share their experiences and insights with one another. Alabi writes, “My time at HRAP provided me with the opportunity to evaluate and reaffirm my commitment to human rights work, despite the inevitable risks in carrying out my work.” Presently, Ladi is a Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Nigeria. In this capacity, she is responsible for overseeing UNICEF’s Child Protection Program in nine states of Northern Nigeria.
Since HRAP, she completed her Masters in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. Alabi remains in touch with a few Advocates in her cohort along with Professor J. Paul Martin.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Alaliyaa
Taima Al-Jayoush is a 1999 Human Rights Advocate from Syria. After HRAP, Al-Jayoush continued her work as a lawyer, focusing her career on advocating for women rights in Syria. In 2009, she founded Alalyiaa, a pro-bono law firm in Damascus, Syria that provides legal aid for Syrian women in cases of violence such as honor crimes, trafficking, divorce settlements and custody disputes.
The Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University is an intensive capacity building program that provides Advocates with the resources to expand their knowledge and skills through trainings, workshops and relevant graduate coursework. When asked how her participation in HRAP assisted her work in human rights law and advocacy, Al-Jayoush writes, “HRAP gave me the space to learn more about human rights at the academic level. I closely studied the human rights conventions and treaties. I implemented what I learned at HRAP when representing political prisoners at the Supreme State Security Court in Damascus or Syrian women in Sharia, civil or criminal courts.”
Al-Jayoush is currently living in Montreal, Canada and continues managing her law firm Alalyiaa and assisting the Mahmoud Aljayoush Law Firm with various law cases. Al-Jayoush frequently communicates with former participants of the Human Rights Advocates Program over e-mail. She writes, “I still keep in touch with my friends in the program. I continue to respect and admire their work.”
, Lagos State University
When Tunde Akanni joined HRAP in 1998, he was working with the Centre for Free Speech in Nigeria, a free expression group co-established by 1997 Advocate Babatunde Olugboji. At the time, the group was in the process of advocating for the release of four Nigerian journalists who had been arrested for writing about the alleged 1995 coup attempt. The experience would be one of many in which Tunde was involved as an international consultant dedicated to human rights advocacy.
During HRAP, Tunde writes that he had “the opportunity to effectively internationalize [his] activities and improve [his] skills.” In fact, he credits a fundraising course taught by Paul Martin, the director at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the time, with helping him to secure a $20,000 grant to support his organization. Apart from building his skillset, Tunde connected with colleagues that he now remains in contact with even 20 years later.
Today, Tunde is involved in a number of initiatives related to internet governance at the Information Aid Network (IFAnet). He lectures at Lagos State University.