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 .
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
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.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
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.
M.A. Candidate, Mora University
When asked about her experience participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Andrea de la Barrera Montppellier- states “HRAP was a very important turning point in my career. I transcended activism and became a human rights advocate. With the perspective that HRAP provided, I have been able to conduct strategic actions that led to concrete results regarding women’s rights and public policy evaluation.”
As Andrea and other Advocates have asserted, HRAP provides a unique environment for sharing their experiences, their strategies and best practices with other human rights professionals and organizations. In this respect, Andrea says “HRAP also gave me a broader perspective regarding human rights. I used to believe that human rights work depended only on volunteers and philanthropy and I realized it depends also on many professionals working to strengthen democratic change all over the world. “During the time they spend at Columbia University, Advocates are able not only to build long-lasting relationships with other activists, but also to meet with a range of human rights organizations, international institutions, foundations, donors, and policymakers that are based in New York City. In this regard, Andrea states “Another great feature of the program was the forum it provided. Exposing our political stands to global decision-makers such as Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz or Valclav Havel was a very empowering experience”. Furthermore, these meetings often lead to joint projects and funding opportunities. In Andrea’s case, she was able to engage in an internship at Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in early 2007. According to Andrea “It was a great opportunity, since it opened opportunities to advocate at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the case Gonzalez et alt. (“Campo Algodonero vs Mexico which at that time was at the Inter-American Human Rights Court) and to disseminate femicide reports at the Inter-American Human Rights Protection System. Eventually, the networks from both HRAP and CEJIL led to specific collaborations between organizations in the strengthening of Campo Algodonero case. The Inter-American Court ruled against Mexico regarding violence against women (femicide), in a historic sentence both for Mexico as well as for the Regional Systems of Human Rights Protection.”
Since she left the program, Andrea became an independent consultant on gender and human rights. Through her work, she assists organizations that want to impact public policy in bringing both human rights and gender perspectives to its mainstream values. In the past year, she collaborated as an independent consultant with International Planned Parenthood and PRODESC. From 2003 to 2010, she was part of the team of Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, a think tank devoted to social change, public-budget analysis, and transparency. At Fundar, she coordinated research on gender and justice and also served as the institutional liaison for the Civilian Monitor of Policy and Security Corps in the Mountain of Guerrero. Currently, she works with EPADEQ on a project that analyzes the gender expressions of the organization of 15 Supreme Tribunals of Federal States in Mexico, in order to make specific recommendations regarding gender equality. When reflecting on the influence HRAP had on her career, Andrea affirms “ The global benefit of my participation was the incorporation of a comprehensive perspective of the work that relates to human rights and that is not delimited to activism. I realized the importance to maintain a healthy life and a balanced life in order to make sustainable advocacy projects. And to always assume that our great innovative ideas have already occurred to someone else and that they may have already an evaluation which could be shared to strengthen our strategies”.
Article written by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
April 2017 Update: Andrea completed her Master's in Political Sociology in 2014 at Instituto Mora. She will be pursuing a PhD in Sociology starting in 2017 under the COMEXUS Fulbright García Robles Scholarship.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Director, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
Mikheil (Misha) Mirziashvili is a 1999 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. Misha is a founder and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. Since 2016, Misha has been the chairman of the board at the Center of Development and Democracy. His work is focused on the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries. It includes monitoring the process of European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia and providing information on this process to the interested stakeholders, such as students, youth activists, religious groups, ethnic minorities and IDPs, through workshops and public lectures. In 2013 Misha served as a member of the Steering Committe of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Civil Socity Forum. He is an author of the Guidebook on EU-Georgia Association Agreement (2014) and a co-author of the report Implementation of EU-Georgia Association Agenda 2014-2016: Assessment by Civil Society (2017).
At the time of his arrival in HRAP, Mirziashvili had been working as the executive director of Association Studio Re, an independent television studio and NGO he had founded in 1992 to use the media to focus on human rights, conflict resolution, and peace-building in his home country. Through his participation in HRAP, Mirziashvili acquired many skills in advocacy and human rights tools that he has used since to advance a career supporting non-profit organizations for nearly two decades. He says that his time during HRAP “was the first such long, intensive, and diverse experience for me…I’m continuing to work in the non-profit sector, but the field of my work is widening (geographically and thematically), giving me the opportunity for self-actualization.”
HRAP brings together human rights advocates from around the world for a four-month training session at the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Explaining the benefits of his experience in HRAP, Mirziashvili states, “It helps with improving knowledge of human rights and with skills how to advocate. Participants come in contact with colleagues and partners and learn how to network.” The participants will gain these skills through coursework at Columbia University, training workshops on topics such as fundraising and networking, and attending meetings and presentations with foundations, NGOs, and financial institutions in New York City and Washington, D.C. relevant to the advocates’ personal work and profiles.
After leaving HRAP, Mirziashvili continued making a difference with Association Studio Re until moving on to become a program coordinator and then program manager of the Integration and Civic Education Program at the Open Society Institute Georgia Foundation in 2005. While serving there, he had been one of the persons responsible for the recommendations on Georgia's action plan for the European Neighborhood Policy. At the same time, he was involved in various activities aiming at conflict resolution in Abkhasia and South Osetia. He also coordinated a number of projects that addressed the problems of the integration of ethnic minorities into Georgian society. In addition, Mirziashvili was one of the initiators of the “South Caucasus Documentary Film Festival of Peace and Human Rights – Nationality: Human” during the festival’s startup years in 2006 to 2008.
Mirziashvili remarks that after leaving HRAP he was better suited for his work and the international career on which he embarked. He says, “In all my work since HRAP, I had favorable reception.” In 2009, he was appointed to the position of project manager of the Black Sea Peace-Building Project at Crisis Management Initiative, a Finnish independent NGO working to resolve conflict and build sustainable peace founded by Martti Ahtisaari, where he served until 2013. Out of his office in Brussels, Mirziashvili oversaw operations of the Black Sea Peace-Building Project operating in seven countries–Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. His projects provided support for self-ruling civil society expert councils for conflict resolution/transformation and peace initiatives. Misha continues to work in the same international and regional contexts as a civil society leader, a contributor and an evaluator of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration processes in the Eastern European countries.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010; updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
Director of the Cabinet for the President, Cambodia National Rescue Party
1999 Advocate Chantha Muth is the Director of the Cabinet for the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. After HRAP, he continued to work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He then joined the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs as Senior Program Manager. From 2010 to 2012, he worked with the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur. Before HRAP, he worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Border Relief Operations, and the UN Transitional Authorities in Cambodia (UNTAC). He also worked as journalist and was a General-Secretary to an international corporation for another two years.
—Article composed by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
South Africa, 1993
Advocate / Senior International Consultant, Greg Moran and Associates
A member of the 1993 class, Greg Moran still looks back on HRAP fondly. Not only did he gain exposure to various human rights organizations at the international level, but he also “gained a greater understanding of human rights in a global context.” He states: “In addition to the prestige that comes with having participated in HRAP, the exposure to various aspects of human rights advocacy has helped [my career] immensely.” In fact, the experience helped him to realize a different career path than the one he had originally been pursuing. Moran writes: “In 1995, I was approached by the South African Constitutional Assembly to assist in the management of the extensive public participation process that was an integral part of the process to develop the new South African Constitution. [The role] required me to design and implement mass national education and awareness campaigns on human rights and constitutionalism.”
After working with the South African Constitutional Assembly, Moran became the first Head of the Education, Training and Information Department of the then nascent South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), again designing and overseeing national human rights awareness and education campaigns as well as assisting key role players – including prisons, police and the military – to develop and implement their own human rights programmes. After four and a half years, Moran left the SAHRC at the end of 2000 to embark on a career as a senior international consultant to various international development partners (including the United Nations and European Union). In this role, he has designed, implemented and evaluated a range of human rights and good governance programs (including those focused on access to justice, rule of law, gender equality, democracy and social justice) in various African and Asian countries.
Currently, Moran is involved in a number of projects, including leading the evaluation of the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, and as a lead technical advisor to the Danish International Development Agency’s ‘Right to Services and Good Governance Programme” in Ghana, focusing on issues such as the Judiciary’s anti-corruption strategy and the establishment of Gender-Based Violence Courts. Moran also recently designed a human rights program in Pakistan on behalf of the European Union.
With extensive experience as a human rights advocate and senior international development consultant, Moran leaves those at the beginning of their careers with the following advice: “…learn as much as you can about human rights at the global level–who are the actors and what are their agendas - and focus on particularly on ‘new’, emerging and evolving issues such as climate change and its effect on human rights and democracy; safety and security concerns and what these mean for human rights and democracy (including how they contribute to the shrinking space for civil society); conflict resolution and transitional justice; and forced migration and the rights of migrants. These are areas that not only include significant human rights challenges in themselves, but also allow for the increasing erosion of human rights in the name of internal security.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Member of the House of Representatives, Uruguayan Parliament
1990 Advocate Felipe Michelini Delle Piane, Esq., visited ISHR during a trip to NYC in the spring of 2011. He informed us of his activities: “I am a member of the House of Representatives in the Uruguayan Parliament for Nuevo Espacio, one of the political parties that comprise the governmental left-wing coalition of the Frente Amplio. I have a seat at the key Legal and Constitutional Committee and at the Special Committee on Human Rights and Violence, among others. I also serve as a member of the Uruguayan delegation to the MERCOSUR Parliament. In addition to my political duties I teach International Human Rights Law at the University of the Republic of Uruguay.” Between 2005 and 2009, he was the Deputy Minister of Education and Culture and I chaired Uruguay's delegation to UNESCO.
We asked him how HRAP affected him both professionally and personally. He replied: “My participation in HRAP gave me a broad and full overview of human rights issues and a basic approach to international law. It was an opportunity to meet the society of New York and America as a whole . To experience the Columbia campus life was also a key ingredient of the program. Finally I was able to build an international network in the area, that has lasted since those times until these very days.” After HRAP, he earned the LL.M. at Columbia Law School.
When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of his participation in HRAP, he replied: “The greatest benefit of having attended the Columbia HRAP is to be part of a worldwide community of human rights advocates who share the same experiences and the same commitment.”
—Article composed by Stephanie V. Grepo, Director, Capacity Building, April 2011