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 .
Program Manager, Ishtar-MSM
Wambaya Jeffrey Walimbwa works at Ishtar and is the Co-Chair of the SOGIE research Committee at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. Ishtar-MSM is a community-based organization that advances the sexual health rights of men who have sex with men to reduce stigma and discrimination they face by advocating for their rights to access health care, including STI/HIV and AIDS-related care and treatment. As a Program Manager and Researcher both at Ishtar and the G10, Wambaya has taken part in various activities on advocacy, policy and strategy formulation and research analysis. With experience in evidence-based HIV and Sexual health programming he has sat on a variety of Technical working groups on a national and international level. He is also a board member of the initiative of Equality and Non-Discrimination, an organisation based in Mombasa that engages people and institutions known to perpetuate violence against gender and sexual minorities.
Project Coordinator, Civil Society Development Centre (STGM)
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.
I am currently working in the Civil Society Development Centre (STGM) as a project coordinator since August 2018. The STGM is a CSO based in Ankara, Turkey. My project is about the freedom of association and rights to participation. Full name is “Capacity Building for CSOs and Civil Networks for Further Development of Freedom of Association and Right to Participation” and it is financed by European Union. We are closely working with the Istanbul Bilgi University Civil Society Center for Civil Society Studies (STÇM) and the Association for Capacity Building (rights-based networks such as Human Rights Joint Platform, Network for Struggle against Impunity in Turkey) as project partners.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Hakan Ataman in the 2015 HRAP.
Interim CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance
Sandra Creamer is a Wannyi/Kalkadoon Indigenous woman from Australia. Currently, she works on behalf of human rights for Indigenous persons as the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance and an adjunct Professor with the University of Queensland. She also serves as a legal officer, having worked in law for more than 15 years.
Creamer started as the Indigenous Community Liaison Officer with Legal Aid Queensland working with Indigenous women and children who were victims of crime. She also conducted legal information workshops and assisted in cases of racial discrimination and family law. Creamer advocates for Indigenous women, and it is important to her that they are always included in consultation and negotiations. She writes, “When women are included, it is then a collective voice from a community group. Indigenous women also need respect for their views and opinions—for Indigenous women and children have the right to live in a safe environment and be free from any forms of violence.
One of the biggest issues Creamer points to is that Indigenous peoples face is forced assimilation in regards to their land. “Indigenous peoples are being forced off their lands by mining companies, land acquisitions by governments, internal county conflicts, and climate change to name a few,” states Creamer “Indigenous peoples need their land because this is how their values and identities are embedded—for the land is their heritage. If we do not receive support because no one is hearing our voices, as discrimination and the doors of opportunity continue to close, where will we be in the future? We will be one world, one language—and the traditional knowledge of how to maintain the earth will be lost. Cultural identity is of profound importance for the diversity of the world and to maintain the earth. Indigenous peoples will not just be the invisible people—we will become a memory. This is why I am a human rights advocate.”
Project Manager/Art Project Coordinator, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca)
Sometime during the years of my adolescence, when trying to understand aspects of my life that Albanian society had forgotten to include in its school curricula, I was also trying to find people who were exploring the same issues.
When I met a group of young people who called themselves “The Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination,” I instantly felt that it was only natural for me to work with them since they had the same questions and they were doing something to answer them.
Now six years have passed and we have done a lot, but for some reason I cannot find a way or a strategy to summarize those achievements point by point—it has all flowed naturally. Nonetheless, it has a core set of questions really similar to the ones that we had from the beginning:
• What does it mean to be part of a community?
• What are your duties and the responsibilities when you undertake to speak for people who need to delegate their voice because of violence?
• What are the ways to give power to this voice, day by day, so that it takes shape in a way that in the end can speak for itself?
• How do you stay true to these ideals when you are surrounded by organizations that in the process of “professionalization” have lost contact with the community they are supposed to represent?
I have been criticized time after time for not speaking out about the difficulties of my community in Albania, but the answer is obvious to me: The problems of the LGBT community in Albania are similar, if not the same, as the problems that every LGBT community comes across in every corner of the world. It has a mix of socio-economic status, a backwards history, communism, liberal democracy, corruption, and ignorance.
The solutions, however, are different; they are local and each community has them. That is why these questions are so important and why they should not be taken for granted at the risk of alienating our community. It is not our duty to give voice to the LGBT community—that only opens new problems. Our only duty is to create ways and tools for the LGBT community to come together and speak. They must be able to speak clearly, loudly, freely, and intransigently.
In my context where people love to talk for and about others, working with artistic expressions has helped much more than having innumerable conferences where everybody—except the LGBT people themselves—talks about the needs of “the poor and violated” LGBT people. In the space that art creates, you can find the answers to the questions that I pose above, and in the best case you can create new questions. In my experience, the people who follow the conference circuit do not come to the art exhibitions.
Through this piece, I might be missing the opportunity to expose all “the personal achievements” of my work, but this does not matter.
The biggest achievement is being in this program, where I’ve had the time, chance, and luck to meet fearless people from all over the world with whom—maybe for the first time in my life—I understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, to transcend boundaries, come together, and try to answer these questions.
When I return to Albania I will continue to do what I have always done: To make the constant effort to stay true to my community and my principles.
Thank you, my dearest friends Anastasiya, Benson, Elina, Hakan, Gigi, Sandra, Sylvain, Swe Zin, Kyi Pyar and Yupar. A special thank you to Stephanie, Professor Sayantani Dasgupta and Professor Theodorus Sandfort.
Editor, European Radio for Belarus
I have not once asked myself why I am interested in human rights. At the beginning of my experience, I was an activist with a human rights organization in my country. Today, I am journalist. While it may seem that I am no longer involved with human rights, the media in my country does not have freedom of speech—this is a human rights violation. In Belarus, there are a number of human rights violations.
Upon reflection, I can say that my belief in religion has led me to human rights. It is not possible to remain on the sidelines when the world has injustice, inequality, humiliation, violence and the death penalty. I hold a deep conviction that the protection of human rights is a collective task. Respect for human rights is an indicator of the maturity of the state. We must search for mutual understanding and put the needs of others above our own.
Coordinator, Adivasi Women’s Network
I learned in my childhood that rights are never given. As the second of four children, I learned about survival of the fittest. I have applied this lesson to all aspects of my life.
I experienced discrimination in the family, at the community level, in religious institutions, and at the work place because of my gender, ethnicity, and class. Instead of accepting discrimination, I have always found alternatives.
From the time I became aware of these discriminatory ideologies and attitudes, I started raising my voice strategically. The first step was to seek a strong network with other women who have had similar experiences or concerns. By taking a preventive approach through various activities such as awareness raising, capacity building, and skills development, I have started to address the issues of gender-based violence faced by the Adivasi (Indigenous) women, focusing more on the strategic needs of Adivasi women to strengthen them from within. It’s with passion that I seek to empower Adivasi women because the outcome also gives me a sense of empowerment.
When I first got information about HRAP, I thought this was exactly what I needed. For me, joining HRAP was like turning the impossible into a reality because each part of the program has had a deep impact. The best element of HRAP is that it connects us with other advocates and gives opportunities to impart the knowledge and experience of diverse human rights advocacy efforts. When I return home, I’ll pass on the knowledge and information both practically and theoretically.
South Sudan, 2015
Civic Engagement Officer, Community Empowerment for Rehabilitation and Development (CEFoRD)
The dark days of the Sudan from the 1880s until 2011, when the southern part of the Sudan separated and became independent, explain why I try to provide an atmosphere that can be favorable for all citizens to freely and constructively rebuild the hopes once lost and the future that has been left bare. It’s no wonder that among the many Sudanese people who have undergone hardships that I am among those born in the war, brought up with it, and to age with it. For the years of my life in exile (Uganda and Zaire, now the DRC) had been full of uncertainties. My career as an activist is due to what I went through and what other Sudanese at the camps went through, too. I decided not to commit suicide because it would not have benefitted anyone. As a child, I had to take a stand to address both social and economic conditions to improve my livelihood. My life as an orphan—even when I decided to go back home to South Sudan—was something that could not be imagined. I decided to think positively about my future and started to work in service for communities. I am a co-founder of Community Empowerment for Rehabilitation and Development (CEFoRD), which has the mission to create a “well-empowered, united and peaceful society” with youth as the primary target: the participatory approach we use is for both the educated and the non-educated.
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.
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
Founder, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities
I am from a country that has been characterized by a history of violence, human rights violations and genocide. Growing up in such a country, I personally experienced and witnessed a lot of human rights abuses. These experiences made me want to contribute to human rights advocacy and peace building, hoping to diminish and/or prevent human rights violations and violent conflict from happening again.
What I loved most about HRAP are the workshops and networking meetings that I attended. Attending these workshops with the other Advocates helped me understand human rights issues with a broader view. For example, hearing from my fellow Advocates and visiting organizations that support LGBT and indigenous peoples’ rights inspired me and helped me start thinking about how I can expand my work to include these groups. Also visiting potential funding organizations helped me learn that human rights and peace building work is not just one organization’s work--there can always be a way of partnering and complementing each other.
Through the HRAP workshops I learned a lot of skills and new ideas from both my colleagues and trainers. I have been in this work for the last 10 years, and I have always been giving myself to others and ignoring my own well-being. Through the Stress, Trauma and Resilience in Human Rights Work workshop, I was again reminded of the importance of taking care of myself before I take care of others. Once I get back home, I am going to develop a regular routine that will help me make my work less stressful. I visited many organizations, and I met with many important people who might be potential partners to work with in the future. I am going to try to keep the connections going. I plan to use the skills I learned from both the trainings and classes to improve my work. For example, I’m going to use Google Calendar [which HRAP uses to organize the schedules of participants] to organize my daily work. I plan to teach it to my co-workers and other friends who do not know about it because I think it’s a very important tool. The fundraising skills I learned will help me write clear proposals based on what interests the donor. Before, I didn't know that it’s very important to know what the interests of the donor are before writing a proposal. I also learned the importance of doing research, writing, and reporting about issues before you start doing anything, so as I think of expanding my work to other groups, I’m going to do a lot of research to know exactly what the problem is, and what are the solutions and actions that should be taken. I am not going to keep all these new skills to myself. As soon as I get back home, I will start sharing all the skills with my co-workers and other organizations that do similar work as well because I believe that there should be no competition in human rights and peace building work. We should collaborate and support each other.
Bizimana was the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund Advocate in the 2014 HRAP.
South Africa, 2014
Program Director, Best Solutions
I am an activist at heart. I was a student in the 1976 uprisings in South Africa, and I saw how we as students did that, and how things changed around us as a result. And as we marched, I began to realize how many people actually fought for my country and how the world came together through boycotting certain South African products. As a young girl, I knew which was a “whites only” toilet and which was a “blacks only” toilet. If I were to get sick and a “whites only” ambulance came, I knew I would rather be dead than to be taken in that ambulance.
I began to ask myself, what is it that I can do to make the lives of those in my community better? Eventually, I began to look into the affairs of children, especially the challenges that were most affecting their lives. I began to realize that many of these issues were around HIV/AIDS. It saddens me to realize that 30 years into the HIV/AIDs pandemic, my country is not doing that good. When you read the reports, it’s almost like we’re going back in time as far as prevention is concerned. I want the world to know that they should not be fatigued by HIV/AIDS. I’m seeing much activity around the AIDS Conference and World AIDS Day, but it cannot be only during the conferences and commemorative events that we are so “awake” about HIV/AIDS. The fact of the matter is that children are still losing their parents to HIV. I just want the world to know that HIV/AIDS is still there and to let more research be done on how we could actually have a zero-tolerance of HIV/AIDS. I think the face of HIV/AIDS has always been a black woman and a black child, and that’s the truth. And how do we empower them so that we change that face into a face of hope? Money is needed, empowerment of women is needed, and gender-based violence needs to actually be addressed. I want to say to the world, especially to policy-makers, no, this is not how the children would want it to be. I just want to leave this world a better place for children. If I die having seen just a little bit of that, I would die a satisfied woman.
Through the Human Rights Advocates Program, I’ve been exposed to many different people and their knowledge. I’ve learned how other women are working: women from Kenya, women from Greenland, women from the Philippines, among others. I have been gathering information on how things could be done better back home, and how to use an evidence-based approach to my work, how to fundraise, and how to present my work. I’ve also been exposed to issues that I wasn’t as familiar with, such as LGBT issues. I will take this home with me. I am so grateful because I know for sure that when I get back home, we will move from being good to being great as an organization, because of what I’ve been exposed to here.
Program Officer for Climate Change, Indigenous Information Network
I did not start out working in human rights. All through my schooling, I was thinking I would go into the banking sector or other corporate sector, and never did it cross my mind that I’d end up working in a civil society organization. I was still in college when I came across an organization that was coming to the community to do trainings, and I was motivated to join them as I believed in their mission. I became attached to the work, specifically the work on climate change, because I could see food security issues in the community. I saw a mine company arrive, extract and leave--with no benefit to the community whatsoever. We wanted to stop the mining and to have a participatory approach with the community to discuss how it would impact them. I also saw these communities stressed by lack of water access as an impact of climate change, having to walk long distances for little water.
I was drawn to HRAP because it pulls in a lot of people from different backgrounds. I really wanted to draw on the experiences from others in the field to build up my work. I especially wanted to be able to bring human rights arguments into the discussions with developers about how they are planning their projects because in our work with the indigenous movement, this has created a lot of challenges.
I’ve really enjoyed the workshops offered by HRAP, especially the fundraising workshops and the one on stress management. These workshops helped me to see things in a different way and to see that things don’t have to be complicated. It’s been an amazing experience taking classes at Columbia University—it’s made me stretch my limits and my understanding. I really enjoyed my class on Environment Conflict Resolution—it helped me to understand the aspect of conflict in relation to natural resources, climate change and how you can use that to add to your case with policymakers. Within the international process, I think my understanding of the human rights and development nexus will enable me to better engage with the international advocacy. Before HRAP, I was doing some work on documenting elders, climate change and traditional knowledge, and how communities were adapting. I didn’t know that was considered oral history until I participated in the oral history workshops through HRAP. I realized I’m already doing that! I think HRAP has made me realize how much more I could do to make my work better, and I think I have the knowledge and confidence now to really continue with the work when I return home.
When I get back to Kenya, my organization will host sessions where I’ll be transmitting what I learned from the workshops and from the advocacy trainings on media, and I’ll also be incorporating what I learned here into my work with the local indigenous women’s leadership school.
February 2017 Update: In November 2016, Edna was offered the opportunity to participate in the two year SGP Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Initiative at the Global Environment Facility. This fellowship is aimed towards offering Edna support as she builds leadership skills and learns new strategies for better engaging in climate change policy and initiative implementation at national levels. She was also selected in 2016 as an advisory board member to the International Indigenous Womens’ Forum (FIMI) to provide leadership guidance for Africa region.
Head of Department of Further Education, Institute of Learning Processes/University of Greenland
Coming from an indigenous society and growing up in my grandparents’ and parents’ homes, equality was always an issue. I grew up with my grandmother who is white Danish, and my grandfather, a Greenlander. I would sit in the kitchen and they would talk about equality. My parents were part of the first anti-colonialism movement for more cultural rights and language rights in Greenland. I grew up in a home where I did not see that there were any differences between whites, Greenlanders, or anyone.
When I became older and went to the public school, I learned that there was a big difference between those who knew the colonial language and the colonial ways of learning and thus has the chance of becoming something in the country, and those who couldn’t, who would have no future. During high school, I experienced very strong stratification between the Greenlandic and Danish people. In order to become successful, I really had to be like the white people, the Danish people. I tried everything to be like the white people, learning the language and culture, and even earning a degree in a foreign country, but it was always another identity than my own. So when I finished my education and came home, and my father told me, “Now you have your white man’s European degree, now you have to learn to be human again, if you want to work for your people.”
I came to a point in my life where I learned that I had to decolonize myself and find my identity. As part of that process, the passion for my people’s rights grew more and more, especially in relation to the educational system. We have people working with indigenous peoples’ rights in Greenland. However, the right and access to education is something that’s not really being worked on. I began to give different workshops and speeches in communities around the coast, mostly to people who have gone through cultural assimilation. Eight years ago, I was hired to be part of educational reform, training teachers in a process of school reform that is more culturally appropriate. Eventually, I got the chance to get into indigenous women’s rights work, and I was nominated to be part of the Global Leadership School of FIMI.
Hearing about the Human Rights Advocates Program was like a dream come true for me. My favorite part of the program was the combination between theory and practice. The three-minute presentations about our work [given during group meetings attended by all 10 participants] were hard for me as I’m used to putting everything in a much larger context. These are the things we need to learn here, and it’s something I would have never gotten anywhere else. After HRAP, I will go home with much more courage. I now have the academic background and practical skills so I feel very confident that I will this in my work going forward in Greenland.
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.