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 .
United States, 2010
Carl Wilkens Fellows, Genocide Intervention Network
Azra Smailkadic-Brkic, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, has continued her work on genocide education and prevention. A former Carl Wilkens fellow with the DC-based Genocide Intervention Network, she has since been working as a journalist in New York City, including a role as a correspondent for the magazine Novo Vrijeme from 2012-2013. Smailkadi-Brkic is proud of her role as the initiator and coordinator of the Srebrenica Genocide Commemoration in July 2011, which was held at Columbia University, Rutgers University, and the Turkish Cultural Center. She writes: “The project aimed to raise awareness about the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II that took place in Srebrenica, the world’s first United Nations ‘safe area,’ as well as wider Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. July 11, 2011 commemorated the 16th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in which more than 8,000 innocent Bosniak civilians were summarily executed and 30,000 were expelled from their homes. This anniversary raises awareness of the tragic suffering of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian people and honors and remembers those who died as a result of the policies of ethnic cleansing and aggression.” The Srebrenica Genocide Commemoration included several screenings of films that dealt with the topics of justice, war, and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The films included: “The Angel of Srebrenica” by Ado Hasanović, “Statement 710399” by Refik Hodžić and “Mother” by Elmir Jukić. Each screening also featured a display of the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt made by widows from Srebrenica, who are members of The Association Bosnian Family - BOSFAM, a non-governmental organization which aims to help war-affected women in Bosnia and Herzegovina cope with psycho-emotional traumas and poverty. In addition, there were two photography exhibits titled “The Shadows of Srebrenica” by Andy Spyra, and the “Mass Graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Smailkadi-Brkic reflects on the greatest benefits of HRAP as being “the people that I have met and knowledge that I have gained,” also noting the value of establishing firm connections during this time with several organizations. She also writes that HRAP: “Opened up my mind and helped me with crossing the bridge between theoretical knowledge, which I gained while attending the MA program in Human Rights at the University of Sarajevo-University of Bologna, and practice.” One of her favorite memories from the program is the project she participated in in the History & Reconciliation class. She writes: “I was part of a project (together with several other classmates, mainly from former Yugoslavia) where our task was to explore ‘The Role of Chetniks in the Second World War.’ I understood that until that point I only had folk knowledge about this topic. This class and this particular project helped me to approach this topic more academically and it was definitely an eye opening experience. This journey that I took with several other classmates in order to try to come to the shared narrative among different stakeholders is simple unforgettable.” -Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
Case Manager and Policy Advocate, African Services Committee
In reflecting on his participation in HRAP, Bakary Tandia writes, “Receiving the HRAP certificate from the Institute for the Study of Human Rights is a constant reminder that one must take more responsibility for human rights protection and demonstrate effective leadership in human rights promotion.”
Tandia co-founded The Abolition Institute, a human rights advocacy organization that focuses on slavery and human trafficking. Since its inception, the organization has developed strong working relationships and partnerships with organizations such as Rainbow Push Coalition and Anti-Slavery International, the oldest abolitionist organization in the world. With the support of U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Tandia reports that The Abolition Institute has successfully advocated for $3 million in new funding to create and expand anti-slavery programs in Mauritania and neighboring countries.
Since leaving HRAP, Tandia has continued working as both the Case Manager and Policy Advocate at the African Services Committee, an NGO dedicated to improving the health and self-sufficiency of the African community in New York City and beyond. As Case Manager, he provides assistance to African immigrants in accessing health and legal services. As a Policy Advocate, he works to raise awareness of public health and human rights issues in the African community through participating in advocacy and lobbying activities at city, state, and federal levels. He also represents the African Services Committee at the United Nations. He was among the 13 immigrant’s rights advocates arrested in an act of civil disobedience during a rally in September 2017 organized by the New York Immigration Coalition in protest against the current U.S. administration’s efforts to end the DACA immigrant amnesty program.
In summarizing the impact of HRAP on his current work at the African Services Committee, Tandia writes, “HRAP has assisted my work in human rights in many ways. It significantly increased my level of confidence when drafting press releases, media advisory, and petitions. In addition, the program broadened and strengthened my network.”
In 2012, he was awarded a fellowship that allowed him to attend the International Human Rights Colloquium organized by Conectas Human Rights in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This conference provided him with the opportunity to meet with human rights scholars and advocates from the Global South. He shared his valuable experience at HRAP with the conference participants and strongly encouraged them to apply for the program.
In collaboration with the Justice Initiative Program at Open Society Institute, he attended a conference on transitional justice in 2011. The conference attendees had a productive meeting in Nouakchott, Mauritania, with the representative of United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. Besides these conferences, he has attended numerous meetings with various national human rights organizations to learn more about their perspectives on the human rights conditions in their home countries. In 2011, he was featured on The White House Blog for his work in advocating for immigrant’s rights.
Tandia is a graduate of the Global Master’s Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He holds bachelor degrees in International Criminal Justice and Criminology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York, and the University of Abidjan ( Côte d'Ivoire).
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
Community and Government Liaison Officer, Winrock International
“I am more empowered to handle issues of good governance, human rights, and development head on,” states Evalyne Achan from Uganda, a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. HRAP is a four-month training program for human rights advocates. Based on the campus of Columbia University in New York City and utilizing the many NGO and rights networks available throughout New York, participants follow graduate courses, take part in skills-building workshops, and attend networking meetings among other program activities to advance their advocacy careers. Since completing the program, Achan remarks, “I can now talk with confidence on the rights of human rights issues and know which stakeholders I can work with in order to have issues of human rights addressed.
While in HRAP, Achan joined her current organization, Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that empowers the disadvantaged, increases economic opportunity, and sustains natural resources. She had previously worked for CARE International and the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development. At Winrock International, Achan is serving as the Community and Government Liaison Officer for the organization’s Northern Uganda Development of Enhanced Local Governance, Infrastructures, and Livelihoods (NUDEIL) Program. NUDEIL is a USAID Program that has been sub-contracted to Winrock International. In her position, Achan acts as advisor and facilitator for all programmatic aspects of NUDEIL. Her work is helping local communities and governments in northern Uganda to develop strong and transparent processes, build roads and schools, provide drinking water, and establish rural health and sanitation facilities. The result of Achan’s work provides employment, income, and a higher quality of life for communities in northern Uganda.
When asked about the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP, Achan fondly recalls one of the opportunities that she had during an event sponsored at the United Nations. “My greatest benefit,” she says, “was that my self-esteem was highly lifted, networks broadened, and meeting with key personalities in the world, like when I met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.”
Achan reports many wonderful accomplishments since her very recent participation in HRAP. She says, “I have been able to accomplish key things in my life, was able to raise funds for charity for Rural Development-Uganda, a community-based organization I co-founded to help in promoting and protecting the rights of the formerly abducted child mothers, widows, and women and at the same time improve their livelihoods.” Additionally, she explains how HRAP has advanced her personal work, saying, “Through the networks created while at HRAP, I have been able to sell more Paper Beads. The number stands at 2600 beads per month from 600-700 per month. It has helped me to broaden my understanding of human rights work and the roles of being human rights defenders.” Reflecting on her accomplishments and participation in HRAP, she concludes, “As much as the HRAP Program empowered me as an individual, the effect has trickled down to the communities in Northern Uganda.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, August 2010
Executive Director, Afghan Women Skills Development Center
Mary Akrami is a 2009 graduate of HRAP. Since 2018, she has been serving as the executive director of Afghan Women’s Network, an organization that engages in peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs and provides training and mentoring on mechanisms on women’s engagement in political and community-based peacebuilding. She is a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Selection Committee of Election Commission of Afghanistan.
Mary initiated the use of community-based peace shuras (councils) throughout Afghanistan to allow women to engage in conflict resolution at the local level. Mary says this served as a starting point for women’s inclusion in community-level decision-making.
Mary has been engaged in the fight for women’s rights since 2001. She is a founder and a former executive director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC), an organization focusing on the rights of women affected by violence. In this capacity, Mary established the first shelter for women at risk of violence in 2003 and contributed to the establishment of Bost Family Restaurant, the first restaurant in Afghanistan which provides jobs for female survivors of violence and contributes to women’s economic empowerment. Her activism to fight violence against women lead to the approval and implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women in Afghanistan in 2009.
Her work promoting women’s rights has been recognized at the global level on numerous occasions. In 2007, she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State, and in 2018, Mary won the N-Peace Award from the UNDP for her work promoting women’s rights. She has been a member of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights since 2013 and is a member of Frontline Defenders network in Afghanistan.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013, updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018, and by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Researcher/Project Manager - The Global Justice Program, HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley
Recent 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Elsadig Elsheikh from Sudan, remarks, “HRAP has increased my understanding to the larger framework of human rights work and advocacy, and the applicability of human rights framework to several aspects of our modern global and local social problems.” Upon entering HRAP, Elsheikh was acting as Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. The Institute pursues among its goals to deepen the understanding of the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparity with a focus on racially and ethnically marginalized population.
HRAP allows admitted advocates to expand their knowledge and capabilities using international human rights mechanisms and applying international law frameworks to their career and work objectives. The Program administers workshops and seminars in public speaking, leadership, and networking, among others, which impress upon many of its participants a renewed sense of commitment and fulfillment to their personal causes. For Elsheikh, “To be able to articulate the immediate needs to employ the human rights framework to tackle global challenges and to believe in the collective actions to challenge injustices and structures in so many different fronts” has been a personal accomplishment since his participation.
After leaving HRAP, Elsheikh went on to serve as a Resident Director at the Office of International Affairs/Honors Scholars Program in Bolivia. He has recently returned to his post at the Kirwan Institute as a Senior Research Associate to lead the institute’s Global Justice Program. His responsibilities include supporting the Institute’s short and long-term research projects, maintaining awareness of emerging research methods and investigative frameworks, and effectively representing the Institute’s directors with the Institute’s partners and collaborators at local, national, and international organizations.
Another feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for its participants to experience life in New York City, meet with other advocates and practitioners, and possibly make new lifelong friends. When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of participating in HRAP, Elsheikh says, “I think beside the great exposure to Columbia University, it was the fact to be able to know and to interact with the staff of ISHR and my colleagues in HRAP 2009 who added tremendous touch of humanity to my knowledge and enable me to reach new horizons.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
April 2017 update: Elsheikh is currently Researcher/Project Manager of the Global Justice Program at the HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Executive Director, Association Unity of Judges of Georgia
Recent graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Nazibrola Janezashvili from Georgia, states, “The main result of my participation in HRAP is increased awareness about human rights issues and activities of the USA-based human rights organizations.” When Janezashvili entered HRAP, she was serving as Project Director for Article 42 of the Constitution, an NGO in Georgia composed of professional lawyers who provide pro bono legal assistance and representation in courts and other state agencies to the victims of human rights abuses.
HRAP provides its participants with the opportunities to take part in training seminars and workshops for proposal writing, leadership building, and public speaking at Columbia University. According to Janezashvili, “After the program, I realized that my presentation skills are absolutely different and improved. The experience received during the program helps me to exercise my work more successfully and qualified.”
Upon her return to Georgia after HRAP, Janezashvili received higher professional recognition because of the education she had acquired. She was appointed from her position as Project Director of Article 42 of the Constitution to the post of Chairperson of the Board. Currently in this position, she supervises and manages the organization’s operations, leads board activities, and submits reports and presentations to the General Assembly regarding the organization’s activities. She has also begun her pursuit of a PhD program in Law at Caucasus School of Law in Georgia and is completing her dissertation on the subject of Women’s Rights.
Another important feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for participants to meet with other human rights advocates from around the world and share their different and unique perspectives and experiences. For Janezashvili, “The greatest benefit of my participation in HRAP is new relations with human rights defenders. I shared their experience in human rights which will help me in future activities.” The HRAP participants are also provided housing and accommodations during their four months’ stay in New York and Washington, D.C. for them to get to know one another and be comfortable during their stay. Janezashvili recalls from her experience, “I consider that the environment during the program helped me fast in adapting with program participants and friendship relations,” and “I am really happy that now I have friends around the world.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Janezashvili is currently the Executive Director of the Association Unity of Judges of Georgia.
February 2017 Update: Janezashvili has been a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow at Washington College of Law, American University since April 2016. She hopes to focus on judicial issues within human rights and specifically those associated with hate crimes against LGBT+ people.
Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy, Treatment Action Group
Before participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Kaplan had worked for nearly ten years in Bangkok as the co-founder and Policy and Development Director at the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG). When asked about her experience at HRAP, Kaplan writes, “I gained practical knowledge and skills that built upon my human rights work in Thailand and globally, and I made contacts with extraordinary advocates who continue to inspire and motivate me to continue my work.”
The Human Rights Advocates Program is a four-month program at Columbia University that provides participants with the resources to learn and grow as human rights advocates. Advocates are required to audit at least two graduate level courses at Columbia University. Kaplan writes, “The opportunity to engage and study with prestigious human rights and law professors expanded my knowledgebase and shaped my perspective on human rights.” In addition to graduate coursework in law and human rights, HRAP supplemented her human rights work in Thailand through advocacy trainings, valuable workshops and networking opportunities. In reflecting on her time at HRAP, she concludes, “I gained insights, connections, new ideas and exposure to extraordinary people and useful resources through the Human Rights Advocates program. “
Since her participation in HRAP, Kaplan started a new chapter in her career. She is the Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy at the Treatment Action Group. In this role, she develops and implements rights-based advocacy campaigns to promote access to Hepatitis C treatment in low and middle-income countries. Through her work, she influences government leaders and policymakers as well as funding agencies to promote and ensure the right to health and life for marginalized populations such as people living with HIV/AIDS.
She has co-authored numerous publications in collaboration with the University of British Columbia Urban Health Research Institute on barriers to healthcare access and problems of police abuse for people who inject drugs in Thailand. She has given numerous presentations, including a plenary at the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 2011. She was recently selected to serve on the Human Rights Reference Group for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM).
She is based in New York City and volunteers her time as an advisor to the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group. She remains in touch with many of her fellow advocates such as Mary Akrami, Nazibrola Janezashvili, Akinyi Ocholla, Florencia Rui and Anna Kirey.
November 2016 Update: Kaplan has worked on health and human rights issues in Asia since 1988. She spent 20 years working with grassroots HIV activists in Thailand on access to treatment for highly marginalized populations, namely people who use drugs, migrant sex workers, and people in prison. As the co-founder of Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, Kaplan helped bring attention to the human rights of people who use drugs and supported the founding of Thai Drug Users’ Network, which received a groundbreaking grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria for peer-led harm reduction services in Thailand. Kaplan also worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Treatment Action Group, where she helped mobilize a global movement for access to affordable hepatitis C virus treatment in low- and middle-income countries.nKaplan is a recipient of the 2009 John M. Lloyd Foundation HIV/AIDS Leadership Award, and the Health GAP Founders Award.
—Written by Karyn Kaplan
Chairlady, Minority Women in Action
Coming to the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009 from Kenya as a volunteer with Minority Women in Action (MWA), Akinyi Ocholla says of her time in HRAP: “My participation in HRAP boosted my networks, my insights into human rights work, my knowledge of working with people, and increased my resolve to continue working for the LGBTI community in Kenya.” Ocholla began volunteering with Minority Women in Action in 2006 and in 2009 became the chair lady of the organization where her work focused on promoting the issues of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women in Kenya.
In 2011 Akinyi stepped down as chair lady of the MWA's Steering Committee and took on the role as director. Over the next two years, she managed a staff of four and demonstrated her acquired skills by spearheading an intense proposal writing exercise and expanding MWA’s annual strategic plan. She raised public awareness through conversations with members of the Kenyan public on sexuality and gender norms; discussing sexuality in Kiswahili on public radio; speaking with the police; and presenting research papers at the annual conference of Kenya Counselling and Psychological Association to the attention of professional psychologists and counselors. Together with members of Women Who Love Women in Kisumu, Akinyi spearheaded a research project which involved interviewing medical personnel about their views on sexuality and lesbian and bisexual health at public hospitals and clinics in Nairobi and Kisumu. The research resulted in a publication in an international journal. A second research project conducted in a joint effort with the staff of the National Museum of Kenya sought to investigate the ethnological and historical presence of LGBTI persons in traditional Kenyan communities. These publications have been shared widely with the LGBTI community in Kenya.
Akinyi furthermore encouraged and supported MWA members to further their personal growth through participation in HRAP and International LGBTI Association (ILGA) conference events.
The effects of Ocholla’s success have spread to her fellow staff. In 2011-2014, Ocholla and MWA were officially elected as representatives of the Women’s Secretariat of ILGA. This gave MWA a new international role as a networking agency for the international lesbian community. It was a role that placed MWA in the spotlight and offered many opportunities for MWA members to step up and contribute to international lobbying efforts. For instance, MWA supported the 2013 Pan African ILGA Conference held in Nairobi.
On top of her work at MWA, Akinyi also served as a principal research officer at the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. Her duties included promoting, disseminating, and managing research activities and findings from various institutions as well as collecting information from ethnic communities in Kenya and educating citizens on their intellectual property rights. Ocholla also confirmed that her position at the Ministry benefitted from her participation in HRAP because of the recognition as a human rights advocate that HRAP bestowed.
In 2012 Ocholla stepped down from MWA leadership in the wake of an election of a new MWA steering committee. Ocholla earned a master’s degree in intersectional gender studies at Linköping University, Sweden in 2014. This, however, meant that she had to leave Kenya and relocate to Sweden where she currently resides. Since 2015, Akinyi specializes in new technologies and works as a java programmer, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation specialist.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010; Updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
Graduate Student, New School
Florencia Ruiz Mendoza, a 2009 HRAP graduate, is Director of Capacity Building for the Social Movements Historical Research Center, an NGO based in Mexico. Trained as a researcher, Ruiz Mendoza shares that her experience at HRAP has taught her how to manage an NGO and how to better understand and meet donor expectations of NGOs and their personnel. Reflecting on the benefits of the program, she states, “Thanks to the professional staff at ISHR, I was able to do a lot of networking in New York City and Washington and I realized how much I can [raise awareness of] our work both in Mexico and internationally.”
Ruiz Mendoza has expressed that the courses she chose to audit significantly contributed to her academic development. The connections she made through Columbia faculty paved the way for opportunities even after her completion of the program. Three months after her participation in HRAP, Ruiz Mendoza was awarded a scholarship from the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University to fund her participation in the Oral History Summer Institute Program. The program themed, “Oral History from the Ground Up: Space, Place and Memory,” focused on analyzing the meaning that space, place and memory have in the production of individual, social, cultural and political narratives.
Ruiz Mendoza shares that the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP has been, “All the knowledge I [received, and continue to receive] and all the wonderful people I met since then.” To HRAP, she attributes an increased confidence regarding her future professional career and her increased support of her colleagues and the communities they serve. About HRAP’s contribution to her work while in the US, she states, “I had the great opportunity to speak out about the stories of people whose voices have been silenced by the Mexican government.”
Reflecting on her overall experience, she fondly notes, “I will never have enough words to express how grateful I am with HRAP and its staff, it has been so far one of the most important experiences in my life and I will treasure [that] for the rest of my life.”
Since returning to Mexico, Ruiz Mendoza has resumed her duties as a researcher and has been appointed Director of Capacity Building. She was recently invited by both Instituto Mora and Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero to speak on a panel of experts about human rights issues.
—Article composed by Tiffany Wheatland, Program Coordinator, July 2010
January 2014 update: Ruiz Mendoza is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.
National Level Coordinator, Positive Women Network (PWN+)
Anbu Sengo Arasi is a 2008 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Reflecting on her experience while in HRAP, Anbu lists the benefits by saying I “developed my writing skills, developed my skills in fundraising, gained an international network, gained self-confidence, and had very good exposure with human rights organizations at the international level.” HRAP serves as a comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills building, and academic coursework with the goal of providing human rights advocates the many benefits Anbu lists.
Anbu worked as a Program Officer with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) at the time of her arrival in HRAP. In this role, she acted to defend the rights of Dalit women laborers and to achieve gender justice. For Anbu, the development of writing, fundraising, and networking skills has greatly assisted her work in human rights advocacy. In addition, HRAP also serves as a meeting ground for human rights advocates to learn from one another and become more familiar with the activities and programs of international human rights organizations. Many graduates leave HRAP with a better awareness of human rights advocacy and a stronger sense of their own potential. In Anbu’s words, “The program helped me to gain more courage to perform my work and to provide advocacy in all issues of human rights.”
Graduates of HRAP also routinely use their participation to bolster their own profiles and expand their operations, possibly even leading to honors and awards for their accomplishments. Although a very recent graduate of HRAP, Anbu replies to the topic of being specially recognized for her work by saying, “Not yet.”
Since October 2009, Anbu has served as National Level Coordinator with the Positive Women Network (PWN+), an all-India network of HIV-positive women, focused on improving the quality of life of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. In her role as National Level Coordinator, Anbu coordinates trainings and facilitates programs at the district level and for state/national advocacy. Presently, she is advocating issues pertaining to pregnant HIV positive women and towards preventing HIV transmission from parent to child.
- Article composted by Andrew Richardson, June 2010
Executive Director, 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.”
Sierra Leone, 2007
Executive Director, Fambul Tok
John Caulker participated in HRAP in 2007 when he was the Executive Director of the Sierra Leonean human rights NGO “Forum of Conscience” (FOC) which drew attention to the role of diamond mining in Sierra Leone’s past war and pushing for recognition of the environmental degradation associated with mining. As former national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, Caulker pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefited Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, Caulker also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
In 2007, HRAP provided Caulker with the rare opportunity of reflection. Away from the frontline, he decided it is time to confront and work on remaining weaknesses. “Am I on the right track?” was just one of the many questions that John sought to address. The intensive discussions with scholars, practitioners and fellow advocates provided many new insights, proved others wrong and helped him refine his communication strategies. The program also raised his attention to how essential consultation and local ownership is in process of reconciliation. In particular, Caulker built on his friendship with Libby Hoffmann, founder of the “Catalyst for Peace” foundation. Inspired by his dedication, leadership and vision, Libby, who has been active for more than 20 years in peace building, decided to partner with Caulker and establish Fambul Tok (Krio for “Family Talk”). Asked how HRAP benefited him the most, Caulker responds: “It made Fambul Tok possible”.
Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-owned program that builds upon Sierra Leone’s “family talk” tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle. It works at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies—practices that many communities have not employed since before the war. Through drawing on age-old traditions of confession, apology and forgiveness, this distinctly Sierra Leonean initiative has provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to come to terms with what happened during the war, to talk, to heal, and to chart a new path forward, together.
Caulker, Sara and Libby have released the book and movie “Fambul Tok” which relates the amazing story of an African journey in forgiveness. For more, see www.fambultok.org.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
United States, 2007
Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He also co-founded and co-directed Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic and served as the former director of the Books Not Bars campaign. During his seven years with this campaign, Norris built California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth, led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones, and defeated Prop 6—a destructive and ineffective criminal justice ballot measure.
In addition to his degrees from Harvard and NYU, Norris is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles. He was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow. He is a former board member at Witness for Peace and Just Cause Oakland and is currently serving on the board of Justice for Families. Norris was a recipient of the American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award in 2015, and is a member of the 2016 class of the Levi Strauss Foundation's Pioneers of Justice. He is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Program Coordinator, National Center for Advocacy Studies
“In the changing socio-economic, political, and cultural context, there is an increasing realization of the need to bridge the gap between grassroots activism and macro-level policy initiatives.”
Constantly seeking new ways to better effect change, Sandeep Pattnaik joined HRAP in 2007 after having served as a member of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) in India seven years. In his role at NCAS, Sandeep focused on promoting a “people-centered policy environment” in which people could feel comfortable advocating for themselves against violations of human rights and social justice. During HRAP, he found that his understanding of human rights activism in a global economy deepened, and he developed contacts with various other organizations who have continued to extend their support and solidarity to the movement that Sandeep is a part of.
Since HRAP, Sandeep has been engaged in an NCAS project called Adivasi Resource Center (ARC), a center dedicated to Indigenous people. His efforts are directed towards closing the information gap between the Adivasi people and governmental issues by building a space for dialogue between them and legislators. He writes: “As an advocate of human rights, I have founded [my] campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian constitution: the right to life and the right to livelihood.” Sandeep’s struggle for the rights of local populations have also led him into a battle against POSCO, a South Korean company trying to establish a steel plant in the Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha that puts local indigenous peoples at risk of industrial pollution. In order to combat these environmental violations, Sandeep provides strategic support to local organizations, conducts environmental impact assessments and prepares and files petitions to take legal action against the company.
Sandeep leaves human rights advocates at the beginning of their careers with the following advice:
“The process of policy-making… has changed in a paradigm shift due to the techno-economic revolution, the process of globalization and further marginalization of subaltern sections… The changing power equations at all levels of governance require a holistic approach and multiple strategies that can integrate the power of people with the power of information… and alliances to challenge unjust policies and exploitative politics.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.