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 .
Technical Advisor, Masaka Association of Persons with Disabilities Living with HIV & AIDS
Michael is the Technical Advisor on HIV/AIDS, disability and sexual and gender-based violence for the Masaka Association of Persons with Disabilities Living with HIV&AIDS (MADIPHA). MADIPHA's mission is to promote access to comprehensive HIV&AIDS services by all Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) through advocacy, mobilization, sensitization and training. MADIPHA aims to fully incorporate PWDs living with HIV/AIDs into society through advocacy measures that center PWDs while targeting key government agencies, line ministries and civil society organizations like the Uganda Human Rights Commission. He has trained village health teams, health workers and police in sign language and held workshops about PWDs who are living with HIV & AIDS as well as SGBV against PWDs. He worked with the local government on anti-poverty initiatives such as obtaining a grant for PWDs to start village and loan revolving groups, and given PWDs goats, chickens, vegetable seedlings and coffee seedlings to generate income at household level. At a regional level, he worked with other stakeholders to lobby for changing policies that maintain exclusion and segregation of PWDs from society. Michael holds a post graduate diploma in community-based rehabilitation from Kyambogo University-Kampala and a Bachelor of Adult and Community Education from Makerere University-Kampala.
Advocacy Officer, Lelewal Foundation
Aehshatou is the Advocacy Officer for Lelewal Foundation and the Women’s Coordinator and Women’s Wing President for Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), both indigenous peoples’ organizations working to improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples of Cameroon. Her areas of expertise are women’s and girls’ rights, environmental issues (especially climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies related to REDD+), the economic empowerment of women, and girl child education. She participated in the FIMI Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women and attended the United Nations Permanent Forum in 2014. She earned a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Yaounde.
Chairperson, PINK Armenia
Nvard has been working for more than five years at PINK Armenia, the largest LGBT community-based organization in Armenia. Elected as Chairperson in 2015, Nvard and her colleagues strive to create a safe space for LGBT people by promoting legal, psychological, and social protection and well-being. She also played a major role in the launching of a unique e-magazine, As You, which presents readers with issues related to human rights, sexuality, gender and other issues. Currently, Nvard is involved in the feminist movement in Armenia and is an active member of feminist platforms including the Feminist Platform of Armenia, the Young Women’s Network of South Caucasus, as well as the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women. Nvard earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Yerevan State University.
Program Manager, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
Samuel is the Program Manager for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). He has dedicated the past 13 years to working within LGBTI communities in a turbulent environment. He is a past chairman of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, a regional coalition of 19 organizations working on Health and HIV for MSM. He also served on the Global Forum for MSM for eight years. He has extensive experience teaching languages and Art and Design and providing therapy to families. He earned the Bachelor’s of Science Honor’s Degree in Sociology and Gender Development from Woman’s University in Africa. He holds diplomas in Higher Education (University of Zimbabwe) and in Systemic Family Therapy (Connect, the Zimbabwe Institute of Systemic Therapy).
Communications Executive & Security Management Trainer, Defenders Protection Initiative
Mulshid is currently the Communications Executive and Security Management Trainer at Defenders Protection Initiative, a non-profit organization working to strengthen the capacity of human rights defenders to mainstream security, safety and protection management in their work. He has a background in working to protect the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda through the secure documentation of human rights violations and abuses. Mulshid earned a bachelor’s degree in business computing from Makerere University in 2014. He has taken several courses in leadership, nonprofit strategy, organizational capacity development and fundraising.
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.
South Sudan, 2014
Taskforce for Engagement of Women, Institute for Inclusive Security
Human rights have always been a part of my life. My father passed away when I was only two. My mother moved us to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. She was my role model. She took care of us, she made sure we had food to eat, we went to school. She’s never been to school—she doesn’t even know how to write her name—but she was so passionate about sending us to school. She was also very active in community mobilization, especially in the local women’s organization. Every week, she would meet other women in the refugee camp to discuss issues affecting them. They used to think of activities where they can generate income to support their family. I learned a lot from her.
When I reached secondary school, I got a scholarship and was named a “Girl Child Ambassador.” I got involved with an organization called Health of Adolescent Refugee Program. I used to go with the project staff from one refugee camp to the next to talk to girls and their mothers about the importance of staying in school. I did that throughout high school.
I like everything about HRAP. The classes, networking, mentoring and workshops have been amazing. There’s nothing I don’t like. It’s important for me to transfer what I learned in HRAP to every single work that I do in the future, whether it be to an international organization, a community-based organization or my informal work. What I learned here really is valuable. It has added a lot of width and depth to my understanding. The transitional justice course at Columbia Law School has given me a deep understanding of what it means to prosecute, give amnesties, set up a truth commission, forgive, reconcile, and repatriate. Thanks to the knowledge I gained from my gender mainstreaming class, I am able to look at all the tools and mechanism for transitional justice from a gender lens. Thanks to Issues in Rural Development and Human Rights and Development Policy, I now understand what it means to have a rights-based approach to development and a people-centered kind of intervention. I also look forward to integrating oral history and historical dialogue to conflict-transformation programming as I found the tools from the Politics of History and Reconciliation class to be very useful.
Program Manager, Cheshire Services Uganda
Richard realized the importance of human rights for individuals with disabilities when he was studying at Makerere University in Uganda in 1999. “When I was at campus, there was an affirmative action policy for students like me who had a disability. However, there was a challenge when it came to the allocation of dormitory rooms. The allocation of the good rooms was based on an individual’s active participation in sports and games held on campus. This clearly excluded the disabled from the good rooms. The rooms that were left for us were the worst rooms next to the university toilets. I mobilized other students with disabilities. We went to the dean of student affairs and lodged our complaint. He saw our side of the issue. We were then allowed to pick our own rooms after that day. This made me realize, ‘Oh, this means you need to come out and speak up.’ I never used to talk. I didn’t think my voice would do anything but this opened my eyes. After that day, I began to speak up against injustices for the disabled when I saw them around campus and beyond.”
After university, Richard began to work for an organization that works on disability issues, eventually coming to his current work with Cheshire Services Uganda where he designs programs that address education, health and employment barriers for persons with disabilities.
Upon returning to Uganda, Richard wants to apply the knowledge of human rights he has gained through the HRAP program and courses to his work at the local level, emphasizing the practicability and the implementation of these rights for Ugandans especially those living with disabilities. Richard says, “I want to combine our service delivery with the human rights principles I have learned here. Any future project I do will have human rights at its core.
“These four months in HRAP have given me a lot of energy to face those who have tried to violate my rights in the past and to speak up for others whose rights have been violated. It is interesting that when laws become norms they are much more respected. What I want to see is the movement of the laws that Uganda has signed into norms that will be adhered to so they make a difference for those they were intended to benefit. I am incredibly thankful to HRAP for being on the side of disability rights and for giving me this opportunity.”
Sierra Leone, 2012
Executive Director, AdvocAid
Program Officer, Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Culture
Executive Director, Genocide Survivors Support Network
Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Human Rights & Gender Justice Program
For Rita Mainaly, human rights and human responsibility are inseparable. “To be a good citizen,” she says, “you need to act for the community. My parents taught me that I can be a role model for my society.”
As a pro bono lawyer at the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development, an NGO that helps to address cases of violence against women, Rita is a firsthand witness to the beating, harassment, trafficking and violence against women that goes unreported in Nepal. In rural Nepal especially, where Rita is from, there are two forms of discrimination that affect women. The first, she explains, is gender-based. Women are discriminated against simply for being women. The second is the caste hierarchy of Nepal in which women are victimized for being of a certain caste. “Women are considered second-class citizens and have no access to education,” she says. “These facts have encouraged me to follow human rights. I know I should do something for the women of this country.”
Describing a mission for her country, she says that while human rights are indivisible, women’s rights in Nepal are invisible and need to be made visible. “The defective value system in Nepal is the root cause of discrimination against women,” she says, adding that there needs to be “zero tolerance” for discrimination and violence against women. The challenge of achieving this, however, is one that Rita knows she cannot overcome alone. “For human rights,” she says, “a single person cannot do anything. We must work together in order to win together.”
Program Assistant, Uganda Land Alliance
“Once you start human rights work,” says John Mwebe, “you will never stop. You will keep advocating for one issue after another.” John, who has run from shoot-outs and rallied in the face of threats from landowners violating the rights of others, can be championed as the symbol of his own statement. “Anyone can do human rights,” he says, “but you must be prepared to rise to the challenges knowing that much more is possible. Based on all I’ve had to contend with in this work, I keep the feeling that the rights of the common man over land can be upheld.”
John began learning about human rights during his studies at Makerere University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Development Studies. “The best way to give back to our society is to take what we learn and apply it,” he says. After graduation, he co-founded Luwero Youth Integrated Development Program, a community-based organization. Shortly thereafter, he joined an agriculture organization to advocate for food security and land rights. From there, he realized the importance of land rights and joined the Uganda Land Alliance. “Ultimately,” he concludes, “I’m fighting for the land rights of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children. The right to land stands central to all other rights especially in an agrarian state that Uganda is—no right stands alone.”
John’s pursuit of human rights has also left an indelible mark on him. Aside from the danger in which he has found himself defending land rights, he explains, “There is an attachment developed while doing human rights work. When someone is evicted off land and has nothing left, you feel affected too.” John would like the Ugandan land tenure system to undergo a full overhaul to incorporate the rights of every Ugandan to equal access, ownership and use of land. Most importantly, he wants to see the government realize that land belongs to the people and that the opinion of the people should be sought first. Despite the magnitude of achieving such a vision, John is driven by faith in human rights to push forward its implementation. “Every morning,” he says, “I wake up, and I believe it will get better. I love my country, and I can’t give up.”
April 2017 Update: John is currently the Regional Program Coordinator in Africa for the International Accountability Project, a US based organization dedicated to creating global financial development policies that respect individual rights.
South Africa, 2010
Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, Stellenbosch University
Glenda Muzenda is a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocacy Program. She is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Her research focuses on the intersection of sexuality and gender in social development. Currently, she is working on a research project that explores sexuality and the role of agency among young women in South Africa. Before matriculating into Stellenbosch University, she received her Masters of Arts in Development Studies at the Erasmus University Rotterdam through the International Institute of Social Science (ISS). She writes that HRAP provided her with many new opportunities, including a scholarship to study at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.
HRAP is a four-month program held at the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Throughout the program, Advocates meet with a myriad of human rights organizations, institutions, donors, foundations and policymakers in New York City. Glenda writes that these networking opportunities were one of the greatest benefits of the HRAP program. They provided her with valuable information and connections that have shaped the course of her career.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013
February 2017 Update: Glenda is currently serving as the director of Women Act Now in South Africa.
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, Florencia 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.”
Florencia 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, Florencia 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.
Florencia 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, Florencia 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: Florencia is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.