Between 1989 and 2016, a total of 317 human rights advocates from 88 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 .
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.
Tutor, University of Yangon
Most of the people in Myanmar do not even know they have rights and do not understand the question, What is human rights? I am from a country with many human rights issues and we have yet to know the true taste of freedom. We are like fish that survive in a tiny lake not really knowing what is happening around the world. Because we don’t know how to take action to demand our rights, I want to teach these skills as a human rights educator.
Recently, I had the chance to participate in the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and its University Human Rights Education in Myanmar project. I have gained many benefits, skills, and knowledge—not only in an academic context, but in a practical one as well. These skills will help me contribute to the development of human rights in my country. For example, the research, interviewing, and critical thinking skills I gained through workshops were very useful. In my courses, I have gained knowledge that I have never learned before, such as the activities of NGOs, and the skills to teach human rights to others.
As such, human rights education is very important because it can be used as a tool for people to make change. When people are mindful and educated about human rights, they can take action to demand their rights, changing their views, attitudes, and practices in the process. Educators can influence the country, not just within the classroom, but through their day-to-day interactions and behaviors.
When I return back home, we will keep moving in the direction of human rights. We can train people to be human rights lawyers, helping them to know how to solve problems, such as which methods to use and which ones are ineffective. In this way, we can prevent human rights violations and future conflicts.
People have different names and different ways of life, but from the perspective of human rights, they are all the same. We can’t deny someone their individual human rights—there should be no discrimination or bias against anyone.
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.
Grants Coordinator, Fondo de Acción Urgente de América Latina y el Caribe Hispanohablante
Though forced migration, rape and domestic violence are part of Colombia’s everyday life, Nadia Juliana Bazán Londoño maintains that “there is also hope and willingness to improve our situation.”
Nadia says that her mother’s example motivated her to work in human rights. “I learned about inequalities [when I was] very young,” she says, “[by] attending political meetings at the university where my mother was studying.” In high school, she joined a group of conscientious objectors to military conscription. Through this group she first facilitated non-violent workshops for young people with the goal of changing their mindsets from war and violence to dialogue and non-violent strategies. Nadia then discovered the world of women’s funds and found her niche in supporting the impactful work of grassroots women’s organizations by securing financial resources for women’s rights.
She admits that in spite of the many challenges she faces in her human rights career, including stress and sometimes fear, she remains “strengthened by hope—the hope for transforming inequalities, the hope for clean water, and the hope for access to education, among other basic human needs. If everyone realizes that everything can be shared, then fulfilling rights will allow us to grow and develop as a nation. I have the sense of the right path and that in collaborating with others, you know you’re not alone and can find strength.”
April 2017 Update: Nadia is now a part of Women For Peace (Mujeres por la Paz) where she has been working to protect the rights of those affected by armed conflict in Colombia. This past year, her efforts were instrumental to allowing peace talks to come to fruition, eventually resulting in a permanent signed agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Executive Director, Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et aux Refugies
During the 1980s, Colette Lespinasse became an advocate as she learned about the plight of peasants and the urban poor in Haiti. She started attending meetings and activities to improve Haitian society. She quickly found an opportunity at the Catholic radio station, Radio Soleil. “I was inspired by the role of Radio Soleil to make changes. The information and education awareness programs it broadcast nationally made it the only radio [station in Haiti]to do this.” She later began to focus on migrant rights after discovering the discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. She says, “When the Dominican Republic expelled over 80,000 Haitians during the Aristide administration, I created my organization GARR because I wanted to improve relations and offer humanitarian assistance.” She has since opened up constructive dialogue between Haitians and Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. She said, “I discovered I need to keep working not just with Haitians but with Dominicans as well, to advocate not only within Haiti but within the Dominican Republic too.”
She concludes, “Human rights has given me a passion. Now, I can’t work somewhere without passion.”