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 .
Executive Director, Freedom and Roam Uganda
Joanita is the executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) diverse persons’ organization that advocates for the respect, protection, and fulfillment of their rights and reinforces feminist culture and narrative. Over the past eight years, Joanita has led the LBQ community by empowering its members and seeking synergies between the LGBTI and feminist movements. Her areas of expertise are organizational leadership, administrative and financial management, human rights advocacy, and civic activism.
Joanita holds a certificate in non-governmental organizations and civic activism from the Institute of International Education (USA). She earned a diploma in telecommunications engineering at the Uganda Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
Program Manager, Ishtar-MSM
Wambaya works at Ishtar-MSM, a community-based organization that advances the sexual health rights of men who have sex with men to reduce the stigma and discrimination they face by advocating for their rights to access health care, including STI/HIV and AIDS-related care and treatment. Ishtar-MSM is a member group of the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK). As Program Manager at Ishtar-MSM, Wambaya has taken part in various activities on advocacy, policy and strategy formulation, and analysis. He is experienced in evidence-based HIV and sexual health programming and has sat on a variety of technical working groups at the national level. He has a keen interest in community research and is a Co-Chair of the G10, a research agency at GALCK. He is also a board member of Initiative of Equality and No Discrimination, an organization based in Mombasa that engages people and institutions known to perpetrate violence against gender and sexual minorities.
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2015
Director of Programs , IMPACT
I am from the South Kivu province of Uvira in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2012, I have been the Program Director at IMPACT, an NGO based in Uvira. At IMPACT, we work to protect children who are being exploited at mining sites in Uvira and Fizi, and strive to hold accountable those who are engaged in the illegal exploitation of natural resources. Growing up in a family of seven, my hometown was greatly affected by the war in 1996 and 1998. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the country and hundreds of children were forced to become soldiers. With many people killed and countless others arrested and tortured, others simply disappeared. With my family, we fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania where we spent almost four years. In the camp, I heard thousands of people tell the same stories of rape, killing, maiming, looting of villages, and child recruitment. Those stories, along with those from my own experience, shaped my life and my views of humanity and the world. Upon returning to my hometown four years later I saw the destruction and desperation, as well as the hope of the people. I then decided to help my neighborhood with recovery efforts led by many young people. One of the efforts included mobilizing parents and children to rebuild badly destroyed houses and schools; answering the call helped to shape my humanitarian experience. Furthermore, my becoming an activist has been a way for me to give back to the community that I grew up in. Another blessing has been my family’s support as I earned a university degree. I continue to believe that my community and my country need young activists like me to continue fighting for human rights, justice, and peace.
National Director, Coalition of Political Parties Women
When Marayah Louisa Wychen-Munah Fyneah realized that her gender was precluding her from participating in the work of her political party, she decided to make changes. “We had a section for women in the party, but it was useless. We had no voice,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah. She gathered women from various political parties and founded the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia in 2003. The main idea Wychen-Munah Fyneah had in mind was to educate women about their rightful roles in the political life of Liberia.
“It is extremely difficult for a woman to be a part of political life anywhere in the world,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah . “Today, in most countries, we have parallel systems of men and women being active in politics. It is unacceptable to have women isolated from men through different groups or committees in decision-making bodies.”
Wychen-Munah Fyneah highlights the challenges activists face due to short-term funding possibilities. “To change the hearts and minds of people, you need years,” she explains. “If we want to see different patterns in political life in Liberia, we must work continuously on improving the participation of women, not just in numbers but in quality as well.”
While in HRAP, Sheila Platt’s workshop on stress and trauma made her realize and understand the importance of mental health for activists. Wychen-Munah Fyneah appreciated the opportunity to learn about editorial writing and social media in human rights work. She sees social media as one of her priorities in the future. “Knowing that people from the other part of the world will be able to read about our work gives me additional strength to speak more loudly about my country’s concerns,” explains Wychen-Munah Fyneah. “Furthermore, learning about the progress that other countries have made reminds me about the work that we still have to do. I know it won’t be easy but I won’t give up,” she says.
By 2011 Advocate Lana Ackar of Bosnia
April 2017 Update: Wychen-Munah Fyneah is currently the National Coordinator of the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and serves as Secretary-General in the Liberian Women's National Political Forum. Additionally, she is the founder and President-Emeritus of the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Co-founder, Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN)
Since graduating from HRAP in 2000, Nang Lao Liang Won - Tay Tay - has remained involved with the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an organization that she co-founded in 1999. In 2002, she and her SWAN colleagues launched the “Stop License to Rape in Burma” campaign, which has earned international recognition. SWAN was awarded the Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights and the Jean J. Kirkpatrick Award by the Women’s Democracy Network for her contributions to the advancement of women in Burma. She was an advisory team member of SWAN through 2015, and now serves as a board member of the organization. She has also worked in various capacities for the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), an umbrella women’s organization comprised of 13 women’s organizations from Burma from the time it was founded. Currently she serves as an advisory board member of WLB assisting its organizational, advocacy and strategy development. She has written many articles and reports on various human rights issues, in particular, women’s human rights violations committed by state actors in Burma for SWAN and WLB.
In addition to her work at SWAN and WLB, she has been a long-time member of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development, for which she served as a member of Task Force on Violence against Women and as a regional council member. Currently, she is an advisor to the Global Fund for Women and the Urgent Action Fund for Women.
Tay Tay stated that the capacity building elements of HRAP opened her eyes to new possibilities in her advocacy. She added that combination of academic coursework, networking, and workshops provided her with the knowledge, connections, and skills to effectively advocate at the international level. Since HRAP, she has done significant advocacy for women’s human rights in Burma at international level representing SWAN and WLB. Highlights of her advocacy work includes the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN Commission of the Status of Women, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the World Conference on Racism in 2001, the Beijing Plus Ten Process, and the Association for Women's Rights in Development forums.
In 2013, Tay Tay was named a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, D.C. During her fellowship, she explored strategies for protecting women’s human rights and promoting women’s participation in Burma’s democratization process.
Since the completion of her NED fellowship, Tay Tay has worked extensively inside Burma continuing her work in women’s human rights advocacy and empowerment. One of her recent significant contributions was acting as an overall Liaison Person of CEDAW NGO Reporting Process for the 64th CEDAW Session in particular for the production of WLB’s shadow report entitled “Long Way to Go”. In addition, she has contributed her experiences, knowledge, and skills to Burma’s political development and women’s movement of Burma as a gender consultant and resource person.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013, updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018 and by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019.
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 1996
Senior Reintegration Officer, UNHCR
“[My participation in HRAP] opened up new horizons of contacts at national and international levels and set an example for local activists to continue the meaningful work of human rights advocacy close to their homes in small villages and towns.”
Aimé Wata, a member of the class of 1996, began his human rights career with AJUV, a group dedicated to advocating on behalf of vulnerable populations in Uvira, which is a town located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Specifically, Wata helped provide legal advice to rural, uneducated families and aimed to bring the plight of detainees in local prisons to the attention of decision makers.
It was during his time with AJUV that Aimé joined HRAP, where he gained a deeper understanding of human rights and improved his English language skills. He also found himself gaining notoriety within his community–he writes: “the organizations I met and the contacts I established lifted my… credibility as a human rights activist in my town. I quickly became a resource… for all activists in my region, as well as a [primary contact] for international missions travelling to my area.” It is because of this increased visibility that, “despite continued violence in East Congo, the human rights movement remains resilient in my town.”
Wata’s experience in HRAP allowed him to take advantage of other opportunities and he eventually joined several international organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations. Today, that drive to protect human rights that he felt in 1996 has only grown stronger as he travels between Africa, Europe and Asia for his advocacy work. Most recently, Wata has dedicated himself to protecting the rights of populations in Central African Republic who are displaced because of their religious affiliations, working to create social cohesion in their communities and ensure basic needs like housing.
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.