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 .
For Hasina Khan, the pursuit of human rights developed from personal experience. She was born into a family and community that valued religion and traditional conservatism. As the fourth daughter in a very traditionally conservative family, she explains, “I was the first woman educated and the first non-believer in compulsory marriage for women. The traditional family demands marriage for women and does not accept a non-heterosexual person.” In rejecting these norms, she has had to separate herself from her family and her community, forcing her to fend for herself in order to pursue a full education and a more free life. Khan found strength and support in the grassroots women’s rights movement more than 20 years ago, especially at the organization Awaaz-e-Niswaan (Voices of Women). “Through Awaaz, I met and saw lots of women with similar experiences and in similar situations as my own.” Since then, Khan has been working with women who struggle with the traditional and religious norms that do not welcome them. “People have the freedom to take a stand and say that this is my choice,” Khan says. “If you are aware but silent this is problematic because the laws will not change.” While change has been slow, she readily speaks about the lessons her career in human rights has taught her. “It’s not magic that happens and makes change,” she says. “I expect not for today, but for tomorrow.” As a testament to her words, she explains that her nieces are talking openly to her and looking to her for guidance in their own challenges. Her community has also recognized the success she has achieved in her career. “They look to me now because of my awareness and successes. I continue my work for them and other women. I can’t jump in to say the traditional family and laws are not correct, but I can make the choice and help other women to make theirs.”
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, Mainaly is a firsthand witness to the beating, harassment, trafficking and violence against women that goes unreported in Nepal. In rural Nepal especially, where Mainaly 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 Mainaly 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.”
Regional Program Coordinator, International Accountability Project
John Mwebe is a development practitioner with knowledge and experience in project management and land rights advocacy. He engages actively in research on natural resource management and capacity building in human rights advocacy. He holds a Master’s Degree in Human Rights and works as the Program Coordinator for the Africa Region at the International Accountability Project. Mwebe envisions a future with communities in the lead in resource governance. He writes: “Once you start human rights work, you will never stop. You will keep advocating for one issue after another. Anyone can do human rights, 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.”
Mwebe 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, Mwebe 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 concluded, “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.”
Mwebe’s pursuit of human rights has left an indelible mark on him. Aside from the danger in which he has found himself defending land rights, he explained, “There is an attachment developed while doing human rights work. When someone is evicted off land and has nothing left, you feel affected too.” He believes the Ugandan land tenure system must 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.”
—Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Executive Director, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights
Salima Namusobya is the Executive Director of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights and an expert member of the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She is a lawyer and human rights advocate who has specialized in international human rights law and forced migration. Previously, she worked in various capacities with the Refugee Law Project, School of Law, Makerere University, and also served as the Eastern Africa Coordinator for International Law in Domestic Courts. Namusobya holds a Bachelor of Law Degree, a diploma in Legal Practice, and Master of Laws in Human Rights and Democratization. She co-wrote the textbook “Civil Procedure and Practice in Uganda” and contributed a chapter for the book “Litigating Health Rights in Africa.” She also serves on the boards of several local and international NGOs and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Strategic Litigation Working Group of the Global Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Network. Namusobya is a laureate of the Vera Chirwa Human Rights Award.
Executive Director, International Centre for Advocacy on Rights to Health
After losing a corporate job when his boss learned of his sexuality, Ifeanyi Orazulike focused his career on the LGTBI movement in Nigeria. He says Gani Fawehinmi, a Nigerian human rights activist, was his inspiration. “I took his quote and hung it on my wall,” Orazulike explains. “I wanted to do like he did and stand up for what I believe and for other people who feel the same thing I feel.” After only two months of joining the staff of the International Center for Advocacy on Rights (ICARH), he became the Executive Director due to the death of his predecessor. He says, “For me, this is the best job there is. I don’t get paid much, but I am happy. My pursuit of human rights has been a great challenge, but it has given me the strength to get where I am today as well as to encourage others.” As he explains, ICARH’s growth and development have fostered other LGTBI organizations in Nigeria as well as community centers for men who have sex with men (MSM) and sexual minorities. “Before [my organization], people could not talk about their sexuality and come out,” he explains. “I couldn’t accept this, and I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Orazulike now runs the first and only MSM clinic in Nigeria. As he affirms proudly, “I want to achieve results. I want to expand the work I’m doing, especially the clinic so that people can have more health access.” He plans to use human rights documentation and litigation cases to provide sexual minorities with more access to services since Nigeria considers homosexuality illegal. Although he was originally driven to the LGBTI movement in Nigeria by his own personal experience, he says that now, “the impact and lives I’ve touched through my work have ignited a passion in me. What I have succeeded to do for others in my own struggles motivates me to go further. By being focused, I have overcome many challenges. If I stay focused, I can overcome any challenge.”
Executive Member, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights
Emboldened by the struggle of the Naga and the discrimination he has faced, Athili Anthony Sapriina has become an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. Adhering to the UN Declaration on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which grants the right of self-determination “is one of the surest ways to peace,” Sapriina affirms. Following HRAP, Athili Anthony Sapriina secured a Rotary World Peace Fellowship to pursue studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution at The University of Queensland (Australia).
Human Rights Monitoring Officer, ACJPS
Naglaa Ahmed, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, has continued her work with the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) since completing HRAP. ACJPS is an organization whose mission is “dedicated to creating a Sudan committed to all human rights, the rule of law and peace, in which the rights and freedoms of the individual are honored and where all persons and groups are granted their rights to non-discrimination, equality and justice.” Ahmed is currently working on a report for ACJPS detailing recent practices of torture in Sudan, titled: “The Prevalence of Torture and No Way to Justice.” The report, which is still being finalized, will hopefully be out in August 2015. She has also recently worked as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, as well as continuing her work with REDRESS, which she began in 2010, through 2014.
In addition to these projects, she is proud of other initiatives she has launched since her return to Sudan in late 2010: “I was able to form a youth and students forum to advocate for law reform in Sudan, and also prepared and drafted with others a proposal for the prohibition of torture bill. In late 2010 and through 2011, I mobilized local NGOs and formed an initiative called The Returnee Support Initiative, aimed at providing support to returnees to southern Sudan. My motive was a sense of responsibility towards these returnees, who are struggling during these difficult economic times; for example, food prices have increased significantly, in addition to the government’s already harsh policy against South Sudanese people. The object of The Returnee Support Initiative is to provide direct support in terms of food, clothes, and blankets, in addition to medical and legal assistance.”
Ahmed notes that her time in HRAP enhanced her networking and communications skills and helped her develop new strategic approaches to tackling human rights issues. She also notes as a result of her time in the program, she was able to assist the REDRESS Trust, an organization which works to help victims of torture survivors obtain justice and reparations, in receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for their Project Criminal Law Reform in Sudan, while she was working for them as a local coordinator.
Ahmed emphasizes the value of connecting with other Advocates from around the world, writing: “I learned great deal from other Advocates’ experiences, which empowered me in many ways and motivated me to do more.” Her connections have helped in her in practical ways, as well; while planning a trip to Uganda in 2014, fellow 2010 Advocate Agnes Atim assisted her in obtaining her visa for her travels. She writes: “There are many great memories, though one of the greatest was forming an African Women group (members included Glenda, Agnes, Susan and myself). Our intention was to apply what we learned and to work on peace-building and women’s empowerment in South Sudan and other conflict areas, the dream to bring this to reality one day and hopefully to develop it in the near future.”
Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
Human Rights Program Coordinator, Youth with Physical Disability Development Forum
When James Aniyamuzaala became hard of hearing after an accident at the age of eight, it was not his first encounter facing the situation of persons with disabilities. His mother, Mary Aniyamuzaala, was a polio survivor and one of the founders of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda. As an orphan at the age of 12, he recognized that education was the only way for him to survive. However, Aniyamuzaala became frustrated with the stereotypes placed on him as a person with a disability. Aniyamuzaala made it his mission to prevent other persons with disabilities, particularly children and youth, from having the same challenges he had encountered. He says, “I seek to remove the institutional barriers that limit participation of persons with disabilities in development and community programs. I believe that the quality of life of a society can also be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” Aniyamuzaala also credits his mother as a strong source of inspiration to him: “I felt my mother had left behind a mission to help women and children with disabilities through her organization and that I was responsible to take over to realize her dream of good and improved standard of living for persons with disabilities.” Through student groups in high school, Aniyamuzaala began his work as an advocate for the disabled. He continues his work today through the numerous commitments he has made: human rights coordinator with Youth with Physical Disability Development Forum, president of the Uganda Federation of Hard of Hearing, board member of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People, and member of Global Partnership for Disability and Development. He says, “Positive and progressive action both locally and globally motivates me to keep advocating for human rights for persons with disabilities.”
Vice President, Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions
Siarhei Antusevich is a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. After finishing HRAP, Siarhei returned to Belarus to continue his work at the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) and Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) which is one of the largest independent self-governing trade unions in Belarus with an estimated 7000 members. Siarhei’s work at BITU focuses on raising awareness on violations of union rights in Belarus. Presently, he is the Vice President of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. In this role, Siarhei educates trade unions on their rights and represents their interests at the national government level. Since 2012, Siarhei has been a member of the Council of Improvement of Legislation in Labor Issues at the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice. Siarhei takes active part in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, where he was elected as member of the Steering Committee for 2016-2017.
The Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University is a capacity-building program based in New York City. HRAP provides proven human rights defenders with the skills and knowledge to carry out their human rights work in their home countries. In addition to expanding the human rights knowledge base of Advocates through graduate coursework and rigorous skills-building classes and trainings, HRAP facilitates networking opportunities for Advocates. Each year, HRAP organizes a week-long networking trip to Washington DC for Advocates to meet with NGOs and foundations in their areas of expertise. When asked about how HRAP has helped him with his current work, Siarhei writes, “The networking opportunities have strengthened my networks. The information that I’ve received from these contacts continues to serve as a resource to me.” During his time in Washington, DC, Siarhei met with numerous organizations such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations/Solidarity Center, International Labor Rights Forum, and the National Democratic Institute.
Siarhei remains in touch with his fellow HRAP 2010 classmates through LinkedIn, Facebook, and occasional conversations through Skype. When reflecting on his experience at HRAP, Siarhei concludes, “As a result of my participation in HRAP, my understanding of human rights issues and advocacy has changed entirely. I am proud to be a member of the HRAP family.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013; Updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
CEO, Hope Development Initiative
Dr. Agnes Atim Apea is the founder and CEO of the Hope Development Initiative (HDI), an organization dedicated to empowering rural women in Uganda to become financially independent. An entrepreneur herself with over 20 years of experience working with development agencies, Apea strives every day to instill that same drive that motivated her to found HDI in the farmers that she works with.
It was this passion to work toward the economic rights of women that led her to apply to HRAP in 2010. Apea writes: “HRAP built my leadership and advocacy skills” and gave her the opportunity to make crucial connections with other organizations. In fact, she was able to secure funding from UN Women after meeting representatives during her time with HRAP. Not only did Apea establish important points of contact, but she also made lasting friendships with her fellow advocate class, with which she is “constantly in contact.”
For her tireless devotion to HDI’s cause, Apea was honored with the Presidential Golden Jubilee Award on International Women’s Day in 2016. Today, she continues to work as passionately as ever with nearly 11,000 farmers in Uganda, helping them to maximize crop yield and profits.
—Article written April 2017
Resource Mobilization and Communications Officer, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Ghana)
Susan Aryeetey is a graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2010 from Ghana. After HRAP, Aryeetey continued working as the Resource Mobilization Manager at the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Ghana (FIDA-Ghana). In addition to her work in Ghana, Aryeetey is completing her Masters in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford via distance learning.
She writes that HRAP provided her with new ideas to improve FIDA-Ghana’s advocacy campaigns. Inspired by an oral history workshop offered by HRAP, she integrated recordings of women living with HIV and AIDs speaking about their challenges in owning property and obtaining their inheritance in her organization’s campaigns. Due to the innovative nature of this project, it was awarded funding.
Throughout the four-month program, Advocates participate in skills-building workshops and trainings to strengthen their skillsets as advocates and help them build stronger organizations in their home countries. These workshops address a wide range of topics such as fundraising, campaign strategy, advocacy tools, media relations, stress management and research and documentation. While at HRAP, Aryeetey sharpened her fundraising skills through a six-session workshop on fundraising taught by Erik Detiger, the founder of Philantropia. Detiger worked with Aryeetey to improve FIDA-Ghana’s fundraising plans and grant proposals. As a result, FIDA-Ghana received a grant in the amount of 74,000. This grant was extended to sustain the organization’s project until 2014. She writes that the fundraising skills she gained from HRAP helped FIDA-Ghana benefit from a two-year award of 174,000 which will support the organization’s efforts to improve women’s access to legal services.
In addition to the fundraising workshops, Aryeetey noted the significant impact that the stress management training has had on her personal and professional well-being. She remarked that the training was a “life saver,” adding that “as Advocates we tend to think more of getting the job done, forgetting to take care of ourselves, and I was beginning to feel exhausted.” The stress management training taught her to take proactive measures to relieve her stress. It allowed her to work more efficiently and reduce her stress level in a challenging work environment.
Aryeetey remains in touch with her fellow HRAP participants, including Tandia Bakary, Agnes Atim, Glenda Muzenda and Colette Lespinasse.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
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. Lespinasse 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.”
South Africa, 2010
Independent Consultant, Gender Development and Human Rights
Glenda Muzenda has more than 15 years of experience working in the development sector with international and regional and national organizations on human rights, women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender equality. She has also been working, advocating and lobbying for the sexual, reproductive, and general health rights of marginalized communities. She developed technical knowledge on advocacy and policy while working with caregivers and the LGBTI population in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Muzenda writes that the networking opportunities were one of the greatest benefits of HRAP. They provided her with valuable information and connections that have shaped the course of her career. In 2017, she served as a member of the Inkanyiso Media Network on the board of directors for Women Act Now in South Africa. Muzenda currently works as an independent consultant in gender development and human rights.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013
Program Coordinator, International Secretariat of FIAN International
Andrea Nuila received her master’s degree in public international law at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands) in 2015. Since finishing her studies, she has continued her work towards promoting human rights in Honduras. Currently, Nuila is living in Heidelberg, Germany. She coordinates the gender and women’s rights work at the International Secretariat of FIAN International and is a member of the Justiciability team. Her work, which takes on a holistic approach against the root causes of hunger, centers on coordinating the rights of women and gender and assisting the justiciability work on the right to food and other associated rights. From 2015 until its formal adoption in 2018 by the UN General Assembly, she was closely involved in the negotiations for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. She is an honorary member of CLADEM Honduras, which is a regional women’s rights organization, co-founder of LUCHEMOS, a Honduran feminist collective, and assists other national NGOs and grassroots organizations on legal issues associated with social and economic human rights.
In reflecting on her participation with HRAP, Nuila recalled the benefits of her collaboration with activists in NYC. While here, Nuila 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. Nuila went on to start a Hollaback! in Honduras under the name Atrevete Tegus, and was part of a group that started the first Hollaback! in the Netherlands. She also met with the Center for Reproductive Rights which collaborated with her organization at the time on a report detailing the banning of the morning after pill in Honduras, which was presented before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
- Article composed by Caroline Doenmez, updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018 and by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
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