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 .
Country Representative, The Danish Association of the Physically Disabled-Uganda
National Women Coordinator, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association
Chairperson, PINK Armenia
Nvard Margaryan has been working for more than five years at PINK Armenia, the largest LGBT community-based organization in Armenia. Elected as Chairperson in 2015, Margaryan and her colleagues strive to create a safe space for LGBT people by promoting legal, psychological, and social protection and well-being. She also played a major role in the launching of an e-magazine, As You, which presents readers with issues related to human rights, sexuality, gender and other issues. Currently Margaryan is involved in women's rights movement in Armenia and is a board member of the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women. Margaryan is also a board member of the Non-Discrimination and for Equality Coalition in Armenia. In 2018, Margaryan participated in the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network, Young Professionals Summit, and Brussels Forum. Margaryan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Yerevan State University.
Program Manager, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
Samuel Matsikure is a 2016 graduate of HRAP from Zimbabwe. He has been an LGBTI and minorities human rights activist for more than 16 years. He has been working in the sector on mental health, sex, and sexuality, STI management, HIV, SRHR, Human rights, capacity building, fundraising, management, research and writing on LGBTI issues. He is currently a programs manager for GALZ - An LBGTI Association in Zimbabwe.
HRAP had a major impact on Samuel’s progress in advocating for LGBTI rights in a turbulent environment. He says: “Since HRAP I have become the face and voice of LGBTI community through speaking on live community media shows, radio programs, by raising awareness on LGBTI realities, rights and violations that are experienced by the community, demand for social inclusion and recognition on LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe and Africa. The shows are broadcasted nationwide with over 15 000 live audience reaches per session. I have engaged over 70 Parliamentarians in Zimbabwe on LGBTI rights and the need to create policies and laws that protect the rights of LGBTI persons as equal citizens.” His advocacy efforts went beyond the national perspective and included engagement at the international level. Since HRAP, Samuel participated in the UN high-level multi-stakeholders meeting on Universal Health Coverage and at PITCH - the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response - Summit coordinated by Frontline Aids on HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health for Key Populations.
Samuel says: “The program gave me the determination to change the human rights landscape for LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe by engaging structures and people of influence within government, civil society and communities. I am more visible as a champion of human rights in Zimbabwe. I have also created a human rights page on social media to expand my scope beyond LGBTI rights. I have more networks and resource base I can reach out to for technical, financial, academic and mentorship support. I got a better understanding of local systems to work with on human rights advancement such as the Human rights commission, National Peace and Justice Commission, UN Human Rights Council, World Health Organization, UN agencies, and other human rights organizations in Zimbabwe and globally.”
When recalling the best parts of the program, Samuel notes: “The group cohesion and passion our class had were remarkable. I particularly appreciated the support we got from our director Stephanie Grepo [the Director of Capacity Building at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights] and the amazing and accommodating professors at Columbia University, including the leading professor of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Above all, the skills and knowledge we got are priceless.” Samuel keeps contact with fellow HRAP classmates. He even had a chance meet some of them in the framework of his advocacy work for the LGBTI persons’ rights globally.
Samuel’s current efforts focus on advocating for decriminalizing homosexuality in Zimbabwe, capacity building for parliamentarians, journalists and communities on LGBTI rights and the importance of social inclusion. Samuel recently enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Africa University to pursue human rights, peace and development studies and will be starting the program in August 2019.
- Article composed by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Communications Executive & Security Management Trainer, Defenders Protection Initiative
Mulshid is a 2016 graduate of HRAP from Uganda. He is the director of special projects and strategic initiatives at Defenders Protection Initiative. At the same time, he works as an associate consultant at Akijul (Enabling Change). He has worked closely with organizations to facilitate change management and other organizational learning and development processes.
Mulshid's areas of expertise include gender mainstreaming in organizations, people and organization, strategic management, human-centered design, humanitarian safety, protection and security management, the African human rights system, diversity and inclusion, advanced data analytics, digital transformation, and performance improvement.
He has also worked on specialized assignments in South East Asia, particularly in Cambodia and Myanmar, and across the Eastern and Horn of Africa, particularly focusing on project and program design, coordination and implementation.
Mulshid holds an M.Phil. in human rights and democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, and a B.Sc. with the Dean's Merit Award in Business Computing from Makerere University, Kampala.
- Article updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Director, Human Rights Information Center
My human rights work started when I volunteered with the organization GENDERDOC-M in Moldova. I then joined Amnesty International to see what was going on there. Unfortunately, there was a conflict at Amnesty International [at that time] due to the homophobic views [of] some members [who] decided that, “If they come, we leave.” It was a good thing that only those that stand for ALL human rights remained at Amnesty in Moldova.
I decided not to stop at LGBT rights. Obviously, you can’t say there’s only one problem in society. When you tell people about gender equality and LGBT rights, they say, “There are problems bigger than that. Why don’t you tackle them?” I say, “We do. We work on all of them. You can work on them, too, if you want!” It’s still hard to work on LGBT rights being a gay or lesbian person. You’ll be tagged as someone who is defending your own interests and pushing your “gay agenda,” whatever that is.
In 2011, I joined the Non-Discrimination Coalition as it and other organizations were proposing a new law on anti-discrimination. At that time, everything that was named anti-discrimination was labeled “gay.” Unfortunately, the law got that label, too. The Non-Discrimination Coalition became very visible as it responded to LGBT opponents. The coalition got the reputation of being a “first source.” The Ministry of Justice decided to rename it “the Law on Ensuring Equality.” The good thing about the entire episode is that the entire society discussed this law. Now every gay person in Moldova knows that this law is going to protect them.
2011 was a very fruitful year for me personally. I did an alternative report for the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was my first report ever. A human rights adviser for the UN in Moldova encouraged and helped me to do this work. I presented it to Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I was very happy that the outcomes included the recommendations from my report. Of course when I went back with the report and recommendations, Moldova did not just endorse them fully. That’s when I understood I have to push a little—put a little pressure—to have the full effect.
Since [my experience with the Coalition] was quite overwhelming. I decided to do something less reactive and more proactive. I joined a UNDP program that supported decentralization in Moldova. As a human rights adviser, I encouraged the inclusion of a human-rights based approach at the local level. Projects needed to be conducted in a wide, participatory, and inclusive manner at the local level. It was a very challenging process. It’s not finished. We can expect to see the results in three to five years. That should not be disappointing but rather should set you to a reserve mode. Things do change, if you’re patient enough to see the change and not burn out, as happens to most of activists.
After UNDP, I found a really terrific opportunity as Director of the Human Rights Information Center (Moldova). My work is divided between representation (going to meetings, sitting for interviews) and accounting (sign this, sign that, go to the bank). It was challenging as well. While I thought (as Director) that I should be helping people, that’s not what I’ve been doing. I now understood an organization cannot help people without the work I am doing.
While in HRAP, I liked the course “Human Rights and Development Policies” the best in terms of the knowledge that I gained and the discussions with Professor Rainer Braun. The course that nourished my soul was “Narrative, Health and Social Justice” with Dr. Sayantani DasGupta. As homework, we watched movies and read books, including art books, which touch upon social issues. The combination of the professor presenting the whole skeleton of the course—you should read this, and you should discuss that—with the inputs of the students was very enriching as an experience.
When I return to Moldova, I want to [incorporate some of HRAP into] the Academy for Human Rights: sessions on social justice, the collection of narrative stories, and how to work with volunteers.
South Sudan, 2014
Taskforce for Engagement of Women, Institute for Inclusive Security
Human rights have always been a part of my life. My father passed away when I was only two. My mother moved us to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. She was my role model. She took care of us, she made sure we had food to eat, we went to school. She’s never been to school—she doesn’t even know how to write her name—but she was so passionate about sending us to school. She was also very active in community mobilization, especially in the local women’s organization. Every week, she would meet other women in the refugee camp to discuss issues affecting them. They used to think of activities where they can generate income to support their family. I learned a lot from her.
When I reached secondary school, I got a scholarship and was named a “Girl Child Ambassador.” I got involved with an organization called Health of Adolescent Refugee Program. I used to go with the project staff from one refugee camp to the next to talk to girls and their mothers about the importance of staying in school. I did that throughout high school.
I like everything about HRAP. The classes, networking, mentoring and workshops have been amazing. There’s nothing I don’t like. It’s important for me to transfer what I learned in HRAP to every single work that I do in the future, whether it be to an international organization, a community-based organization or my informal work. What I learned here really is valuable. It has added a lot of width and depth to my understanding. The transitional justice course at Columbia Law School has given me a deep understanding of what it means to prosecute, give amnesties, set up a truth commission, forgive, reconcile, and repatriate. Thanks to the knowledge I gained from my gender mainstreaming class, I am able to look at all the tools and mechanism for transitional justice from a gender lens. Thanks to Issues in Rural Development and Human Rights and Development Policy, I now understand what it means to have a rights-based approach to development and a people-centered kind of intervention. I also look forward to integrating oral history and historical dialogue to conflict-transformation programming as I found the tools from the Politics of History and Reconciliation class to be very useful.
Program Manager, Cheshire Services Uganda
ISHR was sorry to learn of the passing of Richard Mukaga in January 2020.
The following profile was compiled after Richard completed HRAP in 2013.
Mukaga realized the importance of human rights for individuals with disabilities when he was studying at Makerere University in Uganda in 1999. “When I was at campus, there was an affirmative action policy for students like me who had a disability. However, there was a challenge when it came to the allocation of dormitory rooms. The allocation of the good rooms was based on an individual’s active participation in sports and games held on campus. This clearly excluded the disabled from the good rooms. The rooms that were left for us were the worst rooms next to the university toilets. I mobilized other students with disabilities. We went to the dean of student affairs and lodged our complaint. He saw our side of the issue. We were then allowed to pick our own rooms after that day. This made me realize, ‘Oh, this means you need to come out and speak up.’ I never used to talk. I didn’t think my voice would do anything but this opened my eyes. After that day, I began to speak up against injustices for the disabled when I saw them around campus and beyond.”After university, Mukaga began to work for an organization that works on disability issues, eventually coming to his current work with Cheshire Services Uganda where he designs programs that address education, health and employment barriers for persons with disabilities.Upon returning to Uganda, Mukaga wants to apply the knowledge of human rights he has gained through the HRAP program and courses to his work at the local level, emphasizing the practicability and the implementation of these rights for Ugandans especially those living with disabilities. Mukaga says, “I want to combine our service delivery with the human rights principles I have learned here. Any future project I do will have human rights at its core.“These four months in HRAP have given me a lot of energy to face those who have tried to violate my rights in the past and to speak up for others whose rights have been violated. It is interesting that when laws become norms they are much more respected. What I want to see is the movement of the laws that Uganda has signed into norms that will be adhered to so they make a difference for those they were intended to benefit. I am incredibly thankful to HRAP for being on the side of disability rights and for giving me this opportunity.
Sierra Leone, 2012
Executive Director, AdvocAid
Program Officer, Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Culture
Executive Director, Genocide Survivors Support Network
Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Human Rights & Gender Justice Program
For Rita Mainaly, human rights and human responsibility are inseparable. “To be a good citizen,” she says, “you need to act for the community. My parents taught me that I can be a role model for my society.” As a pro bono lawyer at the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development, an NGO that helps to address cases of violence against women, Mainaly is a firsthand witness to the beating, harassment, trafficking and violence against women that goes unreported in Nepal. In rural Nepal especially, where Mainaly is from, there are two forms of discrimination that affect women. The first, she explains, is gender-based. Women are discriminated against simply for being women. The second is the caste hierarchy of Nepal in which women are victimized for being of a certain caste. “Women are considered second-class citizens and have no access to education,” she says. “These facts have encouraged me to follow human rights. I know I should do something for the women of this country.” Describing a mission for her country, she says that while human rights are indivisible, women’s rights in Nepal are invisible and need to be made visible. “The defective value system in Nepal is the root cause of discrimination against women,” she says, adding that there needs to be “zero tolerance” for discrimination and violence against women. The challenge of achieving this, however, is one that Mainaly knows she cannot overcome alone. “For human rights,” she says, “a single person cannot do anything. We must work together in order to win together.”
Regional Program Coordinator, International Accountability Project
John Mwebe is a development practitioner with knowledge and experience in project management and land rights advocacy. He engages actively in research on natural resource management and capacity building in human rights advocacy. He holds a Master’s Degree in Human Rights and works as the Program Coordinator for the Africa Region at the International Accountability Project. Mwebe envisions a future with communities in the lead in resource governance. He writes: “Once you start human rights work, you will never stop. You will keep advocating for one issue after another. Anyone can do human rights, but you must be prepared to rise to the challenges knowing that much more is possible. Based on all I’ve had to contend with in this work, I keep the feeling that the rights of the common man over land can be upheld.”
Mwebe began learning about human rights during his studies at Makerere University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in development studies. “The best way to give back to our society is to take what we learn and apply it,” he says. After graduation, he co-founded Luwero Youth Integrated Development Program, a community-based organization. Shortly thereafter, Mwebe joined an agriculture organization to advocate for food security and land rights. From there, he realized the importance of land rights and joined the Uganda Land Alliance. “Ultimately,” he concluded, “I’m fighting for the land rights of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children. The right to land stands central to all other rights especially in an agrarian state that Uganda is—no right stands alone.”
Mwebe’s pursuit of human rights has left an indelible mark on him. Aside from the danger in which he has found himself defending land rights, he explained, “There is an attachment developed while doing human rights work. When someone is evicted off land and has nothing left, you feel affected too.” He believes the Ugandan land tenure system must undergo a full overhaul to incorporate the rights of every Ugandan to equal access, ownership, and use of land. Most importantly, he wants to see the government realize that land belongs to the people and that the opinion of the people should be sought first. Despite the magnitude of achieving such a vision, John is driven by faith in human rights to push forward its implementation. “Every morning,” he says, “I wake up, and I believe it will get better. I love my country, and I can’t give up.”
—Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
South Africa, 2010
Independent Consultant, Gender Development and Human Rights
Glenda Muzenda has more than 15 years of experience working in the development sector with international and regional and national organizations on human rights, women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender equality. She has also been working, advocating and lobbying for the sexual, reproductive, and general health rights of marginalized communities. She developed technical knowledge on advocacy and policy while working with caregivers and the LGBTI population in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Muzenda writes that the networking opportunities were one of the greatest benefits of HRAP. They provided her with valuable information and connections that have shaped the course of her career. In 2017, she served as a member of the Inkanyiso Media Network on the board of directors for Women Act Now in South Africa. Muzenda currently works as an independent consultant in gender development and human rights.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013
Executive Director, Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas
Alejandro is the executive director of the Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs (or STDs) at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas, Mexico. He is a medical doctor and holds a master’s in public health sciences specializing in HIV/AIDS, human rights, gender, and public health management.
Alejandro reports: “I worked at the Collective for Family Health (Cifam) when I attended HRAP. It is a non-profit organization that worked with the Chiapas community to address the needs of the HIV/AIDs-affected persons. Thanks to HRAP, I was able to strengthen the capacity of Cifam to better advocate for human rights, especially for the rights of people living with HIV, transgender persons, and persons belonging to sexual minorities, including youth and women. Our goal was to increase their political participation and to remove barriers to healthcare and social programs. The skill set I developed at HRAP was instrumental for my promotion when I was appointed as the executive director of my organization in 2009. I relied on the networking, strategic planning, capacity building, and advocacy skills I earned with HRAP in my everyday work. I am now happy to see the practical results we achieved in Chiapas where a large number of community members and leaders became involved in grassroots organizations and there is improved access to health services. These achievements were possible sharing the vision, commitment, and lessons learned through the experience in HRAP.”
For Alejandro, attending HRAP’s class on fundraising with Sara Kriksciun was a gateway to reach for new donor organizations and to secure continued funding for Cifam. “Since 2010, we received funding from international donors, such as the Fund for Global Human Rights, United Nation’s Democracy Fund, Oxfam International. Thanks to Columbia University alumni, I was able to get a project financed by the Human Rights Small Grant Scheme of the Australia Agency for International Development,” says Alejandro.
Since 2013, Alejandro Rivera Marroquín joined the government service at the Ministry of Health in Chiapas where he manages the state’s healthcare services for persons affected with HIV/AIDS and STIs.
- Article composed by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019