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 .
Founder, Youth for Justice
Gelashvili originally set out to be a sociologist but reports, “I decided to work in human rights instead because I had an urge to go to the field, to hear the stories of people and to make change.” After her studies in England and the Netherlands, Gelashvili returned to Georgia shortly before the war with Russia broke out in 2008. Gelashvili says, “The war was the biggest incentive to change my profession and to begin working in human rights. There was rape, hostage taking, the destruction of houses, forcible displacement, and other violations. I witnessed the horror of this conflict with my own eyes, and it made me want to create change.”Gelashvili began working with Human Rights Priority and traveled around the country to document cases of war-related violence. Nino helped to present cases before national courts and also before the European Court of Human Rights. Gelashvili says, “We helped those affected by the war to see what options they had, which they weren’t aware of due to their deep shock. I felt that I was truly doing something to help in the aftermath of the conflict and it felt good. The strongest feeling that I have is my desire to help those in vulnerable situations. I realized that I want to keep stakeholders and the government awake and not give them room to do the wrong thing.”Gelashvili and two colleagues went on to found their own organization, Youth for Justice. The organization first began to work on issues around the access to health care for prisoners, an issue worsened by the high imprisonment rates following the conflict.Now the organization is working towards increased sustainability. Gelashvili says “When I get back I want to bring something with me from here, which is funding. One of the main priorities in coming here was to create connections to help raise funds to enable our organization to survive. This program helps immensely in this direction, there have been many opportunities to meet with donor representatives and to present our work and to get feedback.”Gelashvili reports that she also highly valued the skills-building workshops, especially the six-part workshop on research, documentation and writing, which was led by Diederik Lohman and Jane Buchanan of Human Rights Watch. Of her fellow HRAP participants, Gelashvili says “It has been good to have a chance to see the different approaches to prisoner rights and prison reform. I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know people. I know that our roads will cross someday. Our work is not only for our own countries, it has bigger outreach potential.”
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2011
Coordinator, Action Large des Femmes Advocates
Ngungua Gisèle Sangua says, “Anyone can be a human rights activist. It’s not necessary to be a judge or lawyer.” Gisele started her career in human rights as a volunteer at a women’s organization when she was 17. While later working as a journalist, her interest in human rights intensified. She recalls, “The injustice that I saw made me want to be a voice for the voiceless. I hoped to change the injustice.”
After completing law school, Gisèle attended a human rights training in Cameroon, an event that would define her future involvement in human rights. “During the conference,” she says, “it was suggested that women lawyers were needed to address the situation of women. So we decided to create a group of women lawyers.” She helped establish the association of women lawyers association known as Action Large des Femmes Avocates (ALFA), where she now serves as coordinator. The nine staff members of ALFA provide legal representation and advocacy for women affected by discrimination and sexual and domestic violence.
Gisèle also hopes to fight against the negative clichés and images associated with Africa. “Human rights,” she says, “means living simply together in diversity. It doesn’t mean imposing on others a certain way of life but rather enhancing an exchange of cultures and customs within international agreement.”
Founder, and Director , Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas
2003 Advocate Patricia Guerrero is the founder and director of Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas (LMD) an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for the restitution of the fundamental rights for displaced women who lost their rights due to armed conflict.
As a lawyer committed to the defense of human rights, she has represented the organization in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Colombian Government. Additionally, she is the director of the Gender, Democracy and Human Rights Observatory, which undertakes research on social and legal issues in Colombia.
Guerrero was also responsible for the construction of the City of Women (Ciudad de las Mujeres) in Turbaco, which offers housing to displaced women and their families. In recognition of her work, Guerrero received the Human Rights Prize awarded by Sofasa Renault in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the National Peace Prize in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the King of Spain Human Rights Award, and recognition from the U.S. Congress. She serves on the ad hoc advisory committee of approximately 20 organizations and individuals as part of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She was awarded the American Bar Association Human Rights Award in 2017.
When reflecting about her experience at HRAP, Guerrero writes: “It changed my life forever and the life of displaced women in Colombia. I will always be grateful for the hospitality of Columbia University, which I consider my alma mater to the people who fought for a Colombian woman to take part in the HRAP in 2003 to Professor J. Paul Martin who always believed in me to SIPA students who supported my projects and made them viable to Holly Bartling who taught me how to look for money to promote women’s rights to all the good professors of the program and to the rest of the advocates, especially Lydia Alpizar with who I maintain a deep, unshakeable friendship. I also wish to thank my beloved daughters Juliana, Juanita, and Silvana Brugman Guerrero, my granddaughter Micaela, and my husband Aris. Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank those who continue to believe in the great potential of thousands of anonymous human rights defenders in the world.”
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Co-founder, International Women’s Communication Centre
Dr. Limota Goroso Giwa co-founded the International Women’s Communication Centre (IWCC) in 1993. IWCC is an organization committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and other vulnerable groups in the Kwara State of Nigeria. What makes Dr. Goroso Giwa able to foster peace between religious communities in Kwara while also giving the women of those communities a multitude of opportunities is not only her incredible passion, but her ability to deeply understand those who she wants to help. She states: “If you want to work with rural women on communication issues, you have to speak their language. And their language is the language of survival.”
Prior to participating in HRAP in 2002, she had achieved great success in creating awareness of the daily struggles faced by Nigerian women and empowering women and girls at the community level. HRAP provided Dr. Goroso Giwa with the necessary skills to continue putting momentum behind the growth of the cause and organization that she cared so deeply about. Not only did she refine her proposal writing and find herself empowered by the networking opportunities offered by the program; she was inspired to later pursue a doctorate degree. She writes: “Over 12 years ago the memory of [my cohort’s] togetherness lingers in my mind… I will forever be grateful to have [had] the chance to participate in the program.”
Just one year after participating in HRAP, Dr. Goroso Giwa was nominated along with eight other Nigerian women for the Gender Empowerment Award, a distinction awarded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) project in Nigeria to women who have contributed to promotion of gender equality.
In 2005, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize” initiative for her contributions towards national peace, health, education, and human rights for women in Nigeria.
Coordinator, Projeto Trama
After HRAP, 1995 Advocate Michelle Gueraldi decided to study at Harvard Law School. She then served as a lawyer for the Organization of American States Human Rights Court in Costa Rica. While in Brazil, she worked primarily on human rights advocacy in human trafficking and children’s rights as an attorney. She published a book about human trafficking, Em Busca do Éden: Tráfico de Pessoas e direitos humanos, experiência brasileira, in 2012.
As of 2018, Gueraldi is a PhD student at the Law School of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal.
When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she writes that all aspects were beneficial for her work as a human rights lawyer. She writes: “HRAP gave me the tools to push my career forward as a human rights advocate. If it wasn’t for this program, I may not have been able to continue working in the human rights field. This program helped me discover new ways both globally and locally to continue my work.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013