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 .
United States, 2014
Managing Director, Dekane Consulting
When I was around 8 years old, we had a neighbor who was beating his wife. The lady would come to our house seeking help, and my dad would mediate. I saw all this happen. One night, the lady came out, and the husband asked her to the leave the house and go back to her father’s house. She had nothing. I was so mad, I cannot forget that, and I’m 42 today. It was really clear to me that women in Africa needed help. Growing up, I would talk about it with my father--he’s very open and he raised us that way. We were able to discuss issues in society like domestic violence. Little by little, he pushed us to do what we wanted to do. For me, it was very clear: I wanted to be a businesswoman, but at the same time, I wanted to use any money that I made to help people. My grandmother would say, “Oh, she has a huge heart. All she does is spread her wealth around.” When I was in my twenties, I began to use those resources to empower women who were not in the same situation. I would give them some money to start a business, I would teach them budgeting the way I understood it at the time: when you spend something, you want to make a profit so you don’t lose money. If you buy something for one dollar, make sure you sell it for three or four dollars. This is something I wanted to do ever since I was little, it was inside of me. I did not plan to do it because my plan was to be a businesswoman and make money, I wanted to empower people. And that’s how I got to this work. After the Human Rights Advocates Program ends, I am hoping to look more at working at the foundations level. I’m hoping to be able to provide grants for marginalized populations.
What I have enjoyed the most about the Human Rights Advocates Program was the fact that I met all these Advocates from outside the US who are doing extraordinary work, and despite being from different locations, we are able to relate to each other on the work that we do. It doesn’t matter if you are in the US, Greenland, Rwanda, or South Sudan. We have the same issues. This is priceless—I don’t think we could get this anywhere else. I grew from this experience. Another favorite aspect is the capacity-building aspect of the program. The fund-raising session was a wonderful experience, because the facilitator came with simple ways of doing fundraising, and we learned that a funder is more impressed by a few pages of information that are clear and understandable over 50 pages that are not.
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Rakai AIDS Information Network (RAIN)
Program Officer, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
Senior Legal Advisor and Grants Manager, Refugee Law Project, Makerere University
Just before entering law school, Salima Namusobya discovered her calling. At the time, her cousin was turned away from an engineering job simply because she was a woman. “I felt she had been treated unfairly,” Salima explains. “She had gone through the full process and had the qualifications for the job but was turned down for not being a man. This story informed my decision to study human rights as one of my elective courses, and my undergraduate dissertation was particularly about discrimination of women in employment.”
After earning her law degree, she focused on the rights of forced migrants while working as a Research Assistant for a member of the Uganda Parliament representing one of the constituencies in Northern Uganda—a region that had been affected by armed conflict since 1986. “People don’t know there are standards out there,” she explains, “and that government has an obligation to protect, respect and fulfill rights, including socio-economic rights like food, housing, health and development.”
Of her human rights career, she says, “What I do directly impacts people. Clients come back to me and say, ‘Thank you.’ There is the sense of being useful.” Salima is currently the Senior Legal Advisor for Refugee Law Project and affirms that in her work of legal advocacy of human rights, she can cause an individual case to have an impact on thousands. She says, “I’m a more positive person now, having seen change happen. I have learned that promotion of human rights requires continuous advocacy. I think that human rights advocates should be more strategic, and make interventions that cause legal, policy and social changes that will impact many people, for example through public interest litigation.” As an example, she cites a current legal case in which she is involved where her organization is seeking an interpretation of Ugandan law to consider qualifying Rwandan refugees as citizens. “If this one case succeeds,” according to Salima, “it will rewrite the status of refugee rights throughout Uganda.”
“People should know that human rights advocacy is not something ‘out there,’ meant for a specific group of individuals,” she says. “It is something anybody can do—sign a petition, call the police, be aware. Each human being has a role to play. What is important is for everybody to ask themselves what role they can play. Given where I sit, I continue to ask myself, how else can I contribute? How can I make an impact?”
April 2017 Update: In addition to continuing to serve as the Executive Director of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Salima currently serves on the boards of several local and international NGOs. In 2015, Salima was honored for her efforts and became a laureate of the Vera Chirwa Award for Human Rights Advocacy in Africa.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Program Assistant, Sexual and Reproductive Rights , Center for Women’s Rights
Andrea Nuila, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, recently received her Master’s Degree in public international law at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. While in Europe, she has worked with Dutch grassroots organizations and student movements in order to raise awareness against gender violence and inequality, as well as supporting a national campaign that seeks improved labor conditions for young workers.
She writes: “There is much work to do, even being outside my own country; after all, there is injustice in all parts of the world.” When she participated in HRAP, she was working at the Women’s Rights Centre, Centro de Derechos de Mujeres, in Honduras.
Upon her return after the completion of the program, she was appointed to the Honduras Commission of Truth, Comisión de Verdad. The Commission of Truth was composed of national human rights NGOs and honorable commissioners from the American region, including Nora Cortiños (co-founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (Winner of the Nobel Peace Price) and founded by international organizations and EU governments. Andrea writes: “In the beginning I was part of the research team that interviewed victims of political persecution, torture, and other human rights violations. In a second stage we identified emblematic cases of human rights violations that could eventually be brought before national and international courts. Before the final report was published I was also part of the editing team regarding these emblematic human rights cases.”
Reflecting on her participation in HRAP, Andrea notes the benefits of her collaborations with activists in NYC. While here, Andrea met with Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!, an organization dedicated to publicizing and ending street harassment through an online forum of documenting and sharing instances of harassment on smartphones. Andrea went on to start a Hollaback! in Honduras under the name Atrevete Tegus, and is currently part of a group that will be starting the first Hollaback! in the Netherlands. While in New York she also met with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was a partner with her organization. They collaborated on a report detailing the banning of the morning after pill in Honduras, which was presented before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
She describes how the program has affected her work: “My participation in HRAP provided me with advocacy tools for every job I’ve had after coming back from NY, and opened several doors for me on a professional and personal level. The strategic campaign workshop we received has always been a reference when brainstorming on possible human rights campaigns back home. The fundraising skills that we learned were particularly important for me…HRAP was the first time I was actually taught how to do international fundraising. The opportunity to take a course on campus was also fulfilling, I had no idea that only few months after the program and taking the course ‘History & Reconciliation,’ I would be working at an actual Truth Commission in Honduras, where of course everything I learned was very useful.”
She also values her interactions with her colleagues, recalling the multicultural environment and the “lived experience and historical backgrounds of the rest of Advocates, which was also an eye-opener as it exposed me to struggles in other parts of the world.
-Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
November 2016 update: Andrea is now living in Heidelberg, Germany where she has been working at the International Secretariat Headquarters of FIAN International for a year. Her work, which takes on a holistic approach, centers on peasant rights, the rights of human rights defenders in dangerous situations, and the justifiability of the right to food. Of course, even from afar Honduras remains a priority for Andrea. She is an ad-honorem member of CLADEM Honduras, which is a regional women’s rights organization, where she assists other NGOs and grassroots organizations on legal issues associated with human rights.
United States, 2007
Executive Director, Ella Baker Center
“The HRAP program is the kind of program that delivers a lifetime of benefits. Already, I refer my colleagues to other participants in the program and we are in the process of expanding our work on juvenile incarceration from a local to a national level and are looking to international examples of restorative justice. This would not have been possible without the HRAP program.”
Blessed with a strong sense of social responsibility and deep understanding of the importance of protecting the weak and vulnerable, Zachary Norris joined HRAP in 2007 when he was serving as the Director of the “Books Not Bars” campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. From 2003 to 2010, after graduating cum laude from NYU School of Law, he worked to build California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth. Through this program, Mr. Norris fought to redirect California’s resources away from youth incarceration and toward the creation of youth opportunities. As part of this effort, he provided training on court advocacy, recruited new families of incarcerated youth, addressed the media, lobbied the legislature, and coordinated rallies and campaigns. The nationally-known campaign contributed to efforts to close three youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones and defeated Prop 6 -- one of the state’s most destructive and ineffective ballot measures.
At Columbia University, Zachary gained a broader set of tools for social change. Making full use of the manifold opportunities that our program offers, Zachary profoundly expanded his fundraising skills, improved on his campaign strategies and tapped into HRAP’s wider network of scholars, politicians, lawyers, philanthropists, and activists. Inspired by the work of his fellow advocates, Zachary came to refine his understanding of what is possible. The intimate four-month engagement opened his eyes to finding partners and solutions to juvenile incarceration outside the United States. He came to appreciate even more the advantages of restorative over punitive justice.
In 2010, Zachary’s laudable work and aspiring vision was honored by the Open Society Foundation with the prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship. The Foundation helped him give birth to his new project “Justice for Families”, a new national support, advocacy and organizing initiative of families of court involved and incarcerated youth that works to challenge the community disinvestment, zero tolerance school policies, and punitive justice. Zachary and his team are striving to build a national bipartisan movement for justice reinvestment--the reallocation of government spending away from mass incarceration and toward investment in families.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
January 2014 update: Zachary is currently the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.
November 2016 update: Zachary is currently serving on the Justice for Families board. He 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. Zachary is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland, California.
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2001
Member of Parliament, National Assembly
2001 Advocate Kizito Mushizi Nfundiko currently serves as Managing Director of Radio Maendeleo, Bukavu, in South-Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Radio Maendeleo is an independent community radio station broadcasting a mixture of programs to support social, political, and economic development in the Bukavu region. Kizito Mushizi Nfundiko is responsible for managing the editorial, technical, administrative, and financial units of the station.
He reflects that his participation in HRAP enhanced his professional profile in general. Since completing the 2001 HRAP, he has been elected member of the African Board of the World Association of Community Broadcasters and Advisor at the Central African Media Organization as well as Chair of the Journalists Organization in South-Kivu. He states, “It resulted also in a continuous support from the National Endowment for Democracy in funding our annual projects since 2001.” As a personal accomplishment, he highlights that he was motivated to continue his capacity development such as trainings in leadership, planning, and management. In 2007, he attended a three-week certificate training program in radio management in Belgium.
When asked about his greatest gain from HRAP, he says, “Studying at Columbia University through HRAP is prestigious and one must deserve it. The prestige bestowed upon me is the greatest motivation for me to be professional in my career.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
January 2014 update: After being elected in 2011, Kizito is currently serving as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of the DRC.