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 .
National Women Coordinator, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association
Chairperson, PINK Armenia
Nvard Margaryan has been working for more than five years at PINK Armenia, the largest LGBT community-based organization in Armenia. Elected as Chairperson in 2015, Margaryan 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 an e-magazine, As You, which presents readers with issues related to human rights, sexuality, gender and other issues. Currently Margaryan is involved in women's rights movement in Armenia and is a board member of the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women. Margaryan is also a board member of the Non-Discrimination and for Equality Coalition in Armenia. In 2018, Margaryan participated in the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network, Young Professionals Summit, and Brussels Forum. Margaryan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Yerevan State University.
Program Manager, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
Samuel Matsikure is a 2016 graduate of HRAP from Zimbabwe. He has been an LGBTI and minorities human rights activist for more than 16 years. He has been working in the sector on mental health, sex, and sexuality, STI management, HIV, SRHR, Human rights, capacity building, fundraising, management, research and writing on LGBTI issues. He is currently a programs manager for GALZ - An LBGTI Association in Zimbabwe.
HRAP had a major impact on Samuel’s progress in advocating for LGBTI rights in a turbulent environment. He says: “Since HRAP I have become the face and voice of LGBTI community through speaking on live community media shows, radio programs, by raising awareness on LGBTI realities, rights and violations that are experienced by the community, demand for social inclusion and recognition on LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe and Africa. The shows are broadcasted nationwide with over 15 000 live audience reaches per session. I have engaged over 70 Parliamentarians in Zimbabwe on LGBTI rights and the need to create policies and laws that protect the rights of LGBTI persons as equal citizens.” His advocacy efforts went beyond the national perspective and included engagement at the international level. Since HRAP, Samuel participated in the UN high-level multi-stakeholders meeting on Universal Health Coverage and at PITCH - the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response - Summit coordinated by Frontline Aids on HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health for Key Populations.
Samuel says: “The program gave me the determination to change the human rights landscape for LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe by engaging structures and people of influence within government, civil society and communities. I am more visible as a champion of human rights in Zimbabwe. I have also created a human rights page on social media to expand my scope beyond LGBTI rights. I have more networks and resource base I can reach out to for technical, financial, academic and mentorship support. I got a better understanding of local systems to work with on human rights advancement such as the Human rights commission, National Peace and Justice Commission, UN Human Rights Council, World Health Organization, UN agencies, and other human rights organizations in Zimbabwe and globally.”
When recalling the best parts of the program, Samuel notes: “The group cohesion and passion our class had were remarkable. I particularly appreciated the support we got from our director Stephanie Grepo [the Director of Capacity Building at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights] and the amazing and accommodating professors at Columbia University, including the leading professor of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Above all, the skills and knowledge we got are priceless.” Samuel keeps contact with fellow HRAP classmates. He even had a chance meet some of them in the framework of his advocacy work for the LGBTI persons’ rights globally.
Samuel’s current efforts focus on advocating for decriminalizing homosexuality in Zimbabwe, capacity building for parliamentarians, journalists and communities on LGBTI rights and the importance of social inclusion. Samuel recently enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Africa University to pursue human rights, peace and development studies and will be starting the program in August 2019.
- Article composed by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Communications Executive & Security Management Trainer, Defenders Protection Initiative
Mulshid is a 2016 graduate of HRAP from Uganda. He is the director of special projects and strategic initiatives at Defenders Protection Initiative. At the same time, he works as an associate consultant at Akijul (Enabling Change). He has worked closely with organizations to facilitate change management and other organizational learning and development processes.
Mulshid's areas of expertise include gender mainstreaming in organizations, people and organization, strategic management, human-centered design, humanitarian safety, protection and security management, the African human rights system, diversity and inclusion, advanced data analytics, digital transformation, and performance improvement.
He has also worked on specialized assignments in South East Asia, particularly in Cambodia and Myanmar, and across the Eastern and Horn of Africa, particularly focusing on project and program design, coordination and implementation.
Mulshid holds an M.Phil. in human rights and democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, and a B.Sc. with the Dean's Merit Award in Business Computing from Makerere University, Kampala.
- Article updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Legal/Program Officer, Uganda Network on Law, Ethic and HIV/AIDS (UGANET)
Betty is a Legal/Program Officer at Uganda Network on Law, Ethic and HIV/AIDS, an NGO committed to the development and strengthening of policies and ethical responses to HIV/AIDS in Uganda. She has headed the Kampala office since March 2011. She earned a bachelor’s of legal laws from Uganda Christian University in June 2008 and a postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Center in 2009. An enrolled Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and other subordinate Courts, she is a member of the Uganda Law Society and the East African Law Society.
El Salvador, 2016
President, Salvadorian Association for Survivors of Torture
Santos is the founder and president of the Salvadorian Association for Survivors of Torture, an association that gives psychological care to survivors of torture and their families and investigates various human rights abuses. He is the creator of a webpage called the Yellow Book, which documents the names of victims of injustice and abuse by the state. Santos has a degree in literature from the Autonomous University of Mexico. Through Scholars at Risk, he studied international law and human right law at the University of York in 2013.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Santos in the 2016 HRAP.
Program Manager, Just Nepal Foundation
Chhing is a founding member and Program Manager of Just Nepal Foundation, an organization that promotes education, social justice, and human rights by working within the rural mountain communities of Nepal. Chhing has been working to empower women and extremely marginalized groups in Nepal for the past 30 years. She is one of the founding members, chair, and current advisor of Mountain Spirit, another indigenous people’s organization. She has been active in relief efforts after the earthquake in Nepal. Chhing earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Culture and Literature from Padma Kanya University in 1988, a Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Extension & Women from University of Reading in 1991, and a master’s degree in Rural Development in 2016.
Program Manager, Ishtar-MSM
Wambaya Jeffrey Walimbwa works at Ishtar and is the Co-Chair of the SOGIE research Committee at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. Ishtar-MSM is a community-based organization that advances the sexual health rights of men who have sex with men to reduce stigma and discrimination they face by advocating for their rights to access health care, including STI/HIV and AIDS-related care and treatment. As a Program Manager and Researcher both at Ishtar and the G10, Wambaya has taken part in various activities on advocacy, policy and strategy formulation and research analysis. With experience in evidence-based HIV and Sexual health programming he has sat on a variety of Technical working groups on a national and international level. He is also a board member of the initiative of Equality and Non-Discrimination, an organisation based in Mombasa that engages people and institutions known to perpetuate violence against gender and sexual minorities.
Project Coordinator, Civil Society Development Centre (STGM)
In 1977, an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group organized a bomb attack in front of the Pharmacy Faculty of Istanbul University. In this attack, seven students were murdered and more than 40 students were seriously injured. Eleven years later, Saddam Hussein committed crimes against humanity on March 16, 1988, in Helebce, northern Iraq. On that day, his warplanes bombed Helebce with chemical weapons. At least 5,000 civilians—the majority of whom were children, women, and older people—were slaughtered and an additional 7,000 people were injured. And so my story starts two years after the Helebce Massacre.
When I was a university student in Ege University based in Izmir, my friends and I organized a series of peaceful protests around Turkey on March 16, 1990. After that, I faced some difficulties in Turkey, but I continued to work for human rights in Turkey and elsewhere. I was affiliated with the Izmir War Resisters Association and supported the conscientious objectors living in Turkey. I participated in an Amnesty International Turkey initiative in 1996. As a volunteer, I was selected as the campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Turkey during its 2000-2002 campaign against torture, formally known as “Take a Step to Stamp out Torture.” As a teacher, I worked to raise awareness about human rights. Since 2012, I have been working for Syrian refugees through the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Istanbul. Additionally, I am a project coordinator of The Psychological Support and Primary Health Care services for Syrian Refugees living in Kilis, Turkey, which is technically and financially supported by Médecins Sans Frontières. The prevention of conflict, discrimination, and violence including torture and ill-treatment, are main issues for me.
If anyone asks me why I work for human rights, my answer is that I listen only to the voice of my conscience.
I am currently working in the Civil Society Development Centre (STGM) as a project coordinator since August 2018. The STGM is a CSO based in Ankara, Turkey. My project is about the freedom of association and rights to participation. Full name is “Capacity Building for CSOs and Civil Networks for Further Development of Freedom of Association and Right to Participation” and it is financed by European Union. We are closely working with the Istanbul Bilgi University Civil Society Center for Civil Society Studies (STÇM) and the Association for Capacity Building (rights-based networks such as Human Rights Joint Platform, Network for Struggle against Impunity in Turkey) as project partners.
The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Fund sponsored the participation of Hakan Ataman in the 2015 HRAP.
Interim CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance
Sandra Creamer is a Wannyi/Kalkadoon Indigenous woman from Australia. Currently, she works on behalf of human rights for Indigenous persons as the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance and an adjunct Professor with the University of Queensland. She also serves as a legal officer, having worked in law for more than 15 years.
Creamer started as the Indigenous Community Liaison Officer with Legal Aid Queensland working with Indigenous women and children who were victims of crime. She also conducted legal information workshops and assisted in cases of racial discrimination and family law. Creamer advocates for Indigenous women, and it is important to her that they are always included in consultation and negotiations. She writes, “When women are included, it is then a collective voice from a community group. Indigenous women also need respect for their views and opinions—for Indigenous women and children have the right to live in a safe environment and be free from any forms of violence.
One of the biggest issues Creamer points to is that Indigenous peoples face is forced assimilation in regards to their land. “Indigenous peoples are being forced off their lands by mining companies, land acquisitions by governments, internal county conflicts, and climate change to name a few,” states Creamer “Indigenous peoples need their land because this is how their values and identities are embedded—for the land is their heritage. If we do not receive support because no one is hearing our voices, as discrimination and the doors of opportunity continue to close, where will we be in the future? We will be one world, one language—and the traditional knowledge of how to maintain the earth will be lost. Cultural identity is of profound importance for the diversity of the world and to maintain the earth. Indigenous peoples will not just be the invisible people—we will become a memory. This is why I am a human rights advocate.”
Project Manager/Art Project Coordinator, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca)
Sometime during the years of my adolescence, when trying to understand aspects of my life that Albanian society had forgotten to include in its school curricula, I was also trying to find people who were exploring the same issues.
When I met a group of young people who called themselves “The Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination,” I instantly felt that it was only natural for me to work with them since they had the same questions and they were doing something to answer them.
Now six years have passed and we have done a lot, but for some reason I cannot find a way or a strategy to summarize those achievements point by point—it has all flowed naturally. Nonetheless, it has a core set of questions really similar to the ones that we had from the beginning:
• What does it mean to be part of a community?
• What are your duties and the responsibilities when you undertake to speak for people who need to delegate their voice because of violence?
• What are the ways to give power to this voice, day by day, so that it takes shape in a way that in the end can speak for itself?
• How do you stay true to these ideals when you are surrounded by organizations that in the process of “professionalization” have lost contact with the community they are supposed to represent?
I have been criticized time after time for not speaking out about the difficulties of my community in Albania, but the answer is obvious to me: The problems of the LGBT community in Albania are similar, if not the same, as the problems that every LGBT community comes across in every corner of the world. It has a mix of socio-economic status, a backwards history, communism, liberal democracy, corruption, and ignorance.
The solutions, however, are different; they are local and each community has them. That is why these questions are so important and why they should not be taken for granted at the risk of alienating our community. It is not our duty to give voice to the LGBT community—that only opens new problems. Our only duty is to create ways and tools for the LGBT community to come together and speak. They must be able to speak clearly, loudly, freely, and intransigently.
In my context where people love to talk for and about others, working with artistic expressions has helped much more than having innumerable conferences where everybody—except the LGBT people themselves—talks about the needs of “the poor and violated” LGBT people. In the space that art creates, you can find the answers to the questions that I pose above, and in the best case you can create new questions. In my experience, the people who follow the conference circuit do not come to the art exhibitions.
Through this piece, I might be missing the opportunity to expose all “the personal achievements” of my work, but this does not matter.
The biggest achievement is being in this program, where I’ve had the time, chance, and luck to meet fearless people from all over the world with whom—maybe for the first time in my life—I understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, to transcend boundaries, come together, and try to answer these questions.
When I return to Albania I will continue to do what I have always done: To make the constant effort to stay true to my community and my principles.
Thank you, my dearest friends Anastasiya, Benson, Elina, Hakan, Gigi, Sandra, Sylvain, Swe Zin, Kyi Pyar and Yupar. A special thank you to Stephanie, Professor Sayantani Dasgupta and Professor Theodorus Sandfort.
Editor, European Radio for Belarus
I have not once asked myself why I am interested in human rights. At the beginning of my experience, I was an activist with a human rights organization in my country. Today, I am journalist. While it may seem that I am no longer involved with human rights, the media in my country does not have freedom of speech—this is a human rights violation. In Belarus, there are a number of human rights violations.
Upon reflection, I can say that my belief in religion has led me to human rights. It is not possible to remain on the sidelines when the world has injustice, inequality, humiliation, violence and the death penalty. I hold a deep conviction that the protection of human rights is a collective task. Respect for human rights is an indicator of the maturity of the state. We must search for mutual understanding and put the needs of others above our own.
Coordinator, Adivasi Women’s Network
I learned in my childhood that rights are never given. As the second of four children, I learned about survival of the fittest. I have applied this lesson to all aspects of my life.
I experienced discrimination in the family, at the community level, in religious institutions, and at the work place because of my gender, ethnicity, and class. Instead of accepting discrimination, I have always found alternatives.
From the time I became aware of these discriminatory ideologies and attitudes, I started raising my voice strategically. The first step was to seek a strong network with other women who have had similar experiences or concerns. By taking a preventive approach through various activities such as awareness raising, capacity building, and skills development, I have started to address the issues of gender-based violence faced by the Adivasi (Indigenous) women, focusing more on the strategic needs of Adivasi women to strengthen them from within. It’s with passion that I seek to empower Adivasi women because the outcome also gives me a sense of empowerment.
When I first got information about HRAP, I thought this was exactly what I needed. For me, joining HRAP was like turning the impossible into a reality because each part of the program has had a deep impact. The best element of HRAP is that it connects us with other advocates and gives opportunities to impart the knowledge and experience of diverse human rights advocacy efforts. When I return home, I’ll pass on the knowledge and information both practically and theoretically.
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.