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 .
Executive Director, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants-Nigeria
Sylvester Uhaa, a graduate of the 2013 Human Rights Advocates Program, was recently awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue his MA in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, UK.
Sylvester is the founder of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE-Nigeria), which he initiated as a chapter of International CURE in 2008.CURE-Nigeria advocates for the provision of opportunities for those in prison to change their lives; the use of alternatives, especially for juveniles and women; the respect for the rights and dignity of those in prison; the minimum use of pre-trial detention in accordance with legal instruments, as well as a moratorium on the construction of new prisons in Nigeria; the abolition of the death penalty and torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment of suspects, and extra-judicial killings. Also, CURE-Nigeria provides legal aid for detainees who are poor and cannot afford to pay for the services of a lawyer, and establishes educational programs in the prisons, among other things. Under Sylvester’s leadership CURE-Nigeria has developed from a state to a national organization.
Reflecting on recent accomplishments, Sylvester notes the release of eight detainees from prisons through legal aid provided by his organization. They also recently published their newsletter, “The Advocate,” online and in print. Additionally, he shipped a 40-foot container of books from the Minnesota-based organization Books for Africa, which he is distributing to prisons and school libraries across Nigeria. He is also in the midst of planning research on female detainees and prisoners and babies leaving in prison, as well as people incarcerated on debt-related issues. Other on-going projects include the establishment of libraries in prisons and public primary schools, legal aid for indigent detainees, campaigns against the use of torture, and the building of an ICT center in the Kaduna Juvenile Borstal Institution.
Sylvester observes the merits of the program on his work: “HRAP presented me with the biggest stage or platform to spring up since I began CURE-Nigeria in 2007 in terms of exposure to new funding opportunities, networks and people; it added to my confidence; gave me additional skills and sharpened already acquired skills.” Another benefit was his collaboration with Jaclyn Sawyer, a current graduate student in Social Work at Columbia University, who was awarded the Davis Project for Peace grant to go to Nigeria and work on his “Books Behind Bars” Project.
November 2016 update: Sylvester earned a master's degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford in 2015.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Secretary General, Youth Action Nepal
Rupa is a passionate advocate for sexual and reproductive rights for the youth of Nepal and for gender equality overall. Of her work, Rupa says “Since I was a child I have seen that in my country there is not the same level of respect for women as there is for men. I observed consistently that women were not at the same level and are put on a different track from early on in their lives. Seeing this gender inequality coupled with the caste system made me want to fight injustice in my country and to fight for equal rights and opportunities for all.”
Seeing how deeply embedded stereotypes were being used to justify gender-based violence in her country, Rupa became interested in working with youth to combat these attitudes. As a core team member and the Secretary General of Youth-Action Nepal, Rupa focuses on coordinating coalition activists and facilitating training workshops focused on sexual reproductive rights and health. Rupa is currently also a youth representative on the Adolescent Reproductive Health Subcommittee organized by the government of Nepal. A lawyer by training, Rupa is also a member of the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders.
In terms of her motivation, Rupa says, “I really believe that we all are the same, we are all human beings and we should all be treated equally. Yet each day we hear of murder and rape cases. Even if I am struggling or thinking about a different type of work, seeing these types of injustices continue is what inspires me to keep going. I feel inside me that as a youth, I have a duty to my country to use my voice for the thousands who cannot. I need to speak up for them also.”
Rupa says she greatly enjoyed the course on Gender Justice, in addition to the workshop on human rights research, writing and documentation with Human Rights Watch.
Sierra Leone, 2012
Executive Director, AdvocAid
Program Officer, Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Culture
Executive Director, Genocide Survivors Support Network
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Rakai AIDS Information Network (RAIN)
Program Officer, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
Co-founder and Director, Most Mira
Program Coordinator, Saathi
Palestinian Authority, 2012
Women Department Program Manager , Wi’am, The Palestinian Transformation Center
A member of the 2012 HRAP class, Lucy Talgieh has been advocating for human rights in Palestine since 2007. Specifically, she has been instrumental in creating awareness around issues such as gender based violence and, more broadly, women’s rights. When she joined HRAP, she was working with the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, a grassroots organization committed to establishing a culture of acceptance and justice in Palestine. It was during her time at HRAP that Lucy gained a multitude of skills that would aid her as she continued her human rights work. She writes: “HRAP assisted me in many ways.” Not only did she learn more about international human rights issues and enhance her leadership abilities, but she also broadened her network in important ways. During a program visit to Washington D.C., Lucy made a lasting connection with the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) that has allowed her to receive grants for programming and participate in ICAN’s yearly forum.
Lucy continues to work with the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center as the Women’s Project Coordinator. In addition, Lucy is involved with a number of different coalitions both regionally and nationally and recently helped organize a workshop series inspired by UNSCR 1325, a resolution highlighting the impact of warfare on women’s rights. Because of her tireless efforts, Lucy was honored by the International Commission for Human Rights in Palestine during International Women’s Day in March 2016.
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
National Director, Coalition of Political Parties Women
When Marayah Louisa Wychen-Munah Fyneah realized that her gender was precluding her from participating in the work of her political party, she decided to make changes. “We had a section for women in the party, but it was useless. We had no voice,” explains Marayah. She gathered women from various political parties and founded the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia in 2003. The main idea Marayah had in mind was to educate women about their rightful roles in the political life of Liberia.
“It is extremely difficult for a woman to be a part of political life anywhere in the world,” explains Marayah. “Today, in most countries, we have parallel systems of men and women being active in politics. It is unacceptable to have women isolated from men through different groups or committees in decision-making bodies.”
Marayah highlights the challenges activists face due to short-term funding possibilities. “To change the hearts and minds of people, you need years,” she explains. “If we want to see different patterns in political life in Liberia, we must work continuously on improving the participation of women, not just in numbers but in quality as well.”
While in HRAP, Sheila Platt’s workshop on stress and trauma made her realize and understand the importance of mental health for activists. Marayah appreciated the opportunity to learn about editorial writing and social media in human rights work. She sees social media as one of her priorities in the future. “Knowing that people from the other part of the world will be able to read about our work gives me additional strength to speak more loudly about my country’s concerns,” explains Marayah. “Furthermore, learning about the progress that other countries have made reminds me about the work that we still have to do. I know it won’t be easy but I won’t give up,” she says.
By 2011 Advocate Lana Ackar of Bosnia
April 2017 Update: Marayah is currently the National Coordinator of the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and serves as Secretary-General in the Liberian Women's National Political Forum. Additionally, she is the founder and President-Emeritus of the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
For Lana Ackar, the inspiration to pursue human rights was nurtured in her as a child. After the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, Lana, only 13, noticed her mother attending meetings in the evenings with female lawyers she knew. Soon, Lana learned that her mother was starting an NGO to provide legal assistance for women in her hometown who faced effects of the war such as dealing with property rights and domestic violence. Lana even watched as her mother’s organization assisted in drafting a law on gender equality in Bosnia. “I am my mother’s daughter,” she says. “I somehow wanted to contribute to what my mother and her colleagues were doing and that is why I studied law.”
Lana grew up with many rights that other girls did not have. She explains, “My sister and I were raised to be allowed to say what we want. Although my voice was always allowed to be heard, I learned that a majority of women’s rights are violated on a daily basis.” Lana thus confidently pursued the study of human rights, specifically women’s rights.
“I feel that when you do human rights work, you care—you’re alive. Your senses become sharper, and you just feel differently about people. I have learned people are not as simple as you think they are. Everyone has layers of personality and different needs.”
Lana now works with the NGO Pravnik, which seeks to bring together professionals and scholars from Southeastern Europe and beyond to study issues related to the rule of law and transitional justice. She hopes that the International Summer School Sarajevo project that Pravnik has been implementing for the last five years will contribute to the advancement of human rights in Southeastern Europe.
“Human rights work is not easy,” she comments. “You cannot do it if you do not have support from the closest people in your life—family, partner and friends. You may be doing great things but you need their support when it gets difficult. Learning through HRAP that there are so many people working in the field of human rights motivates me [because I see] that making the world a better place is possible.”
Vice President, Gesr Center for Development
“For me,” says Huda Ali, “human rights are a way of life. I want to promote it more in my country and build a peaceful country.” Huda, who grew up in war-torn Sudan, was inspired to work for human rights by becoming aware of the need for human rights in her country. “I lived in a kind of safe city in Sudan, rarely affected by war, but I knew other cities and parts of Sudan were not like this.” She explains how she had been fortunate to be raised in a family that supported women’s education, work and mobility explaining that her own situation is not that of most other Sudanese women.
Huda first joined political activists while completing her university studies. “We asked for a student union,” she recalls, “but we were faced with arrests and threats. This shocked me. It was then that I learned it was like that all over the country.” Huda decided to help spread the message and increase awareness of human rights among fellow students to change this oppressive culture. During her activism, though, she found a special interest in women’s rights. She says, “Gender-based violations of human rights are protected by the law in Sudan. Women have strong intellects but have not been given the chance to prove themselves.” With her organization, Gesr Center for Development, she continues to work toward the promotion of human rights.
Though early in her human rights career, Huda already expresses the great impact that her pursuit of democracy and human rights for her country has had on her. She says, “I’m more understanding, respectful and accepting of others. Human rights has made me stronger because it has given me a purpose and made me committed to convince others how necessary human rights are.”
President, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights
“I experienced discrimination on a low scale within my own family,” he says. “My father, who was a polygamist, needed to separate from my mother when I was 10 years old simply because having a Rwandese wife could not serve his political ambitions. I was therefore raised by my stepmother, who had her own kids. In such a situation, it was hard to expect equal treatment.” The discrimination he experienced as a Rwandan knew no borders. Simply because his name does not sound Rwandese, Elvis always needed to provide details on his family to get services provided to Rwandans even though he holds a state-issued ID from Rwanda. He was denied a passport by the Rwanda immigration office due to his father’s Congolese name. “This was the law in 2005,” he explains, “for children born of a father who was a foreigner. I was not considered a citizen with the same rights.”
During his troubles at the immigration office, Elvis discovered that there were many other people in similar situations and decided to do something about it. “Together we wrote a letter to the minister of justice denouncing the law,” he recounts. This advocacy effort succeeded as the law was finally changed in 2008 to grant full citizenship to children born to at least one parent who was a citizen. Meanwhile, Elvis came to a strong realization: “The event triggered in me the thought that others in different situations may be victims of other kinds of discrimination, too, so I should do human rights advocacy.”
In 1997, he helped to form the organization, Assez!, which advocated for the rights of children, especially those experiencing domestic abuse. With other young people facing similar discrimination and exclusion in Rwanda, Elvis co-founded a platform called Forum d’Echanges pour la Cohésion Sociale to offer all persons facing identity issues due to having parents from different countries an opportunity to share their frustration and experiences as a way to find personal relief and mutual support. He also served for three years as the Deputy Coordinator of the Access to Justice and Human Rights Education Project at another organization that he co-founded, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights, before becoming the organization’s President in August 2011.
For Elvis, human rights is not an abstract topic, but a powerful force that can change the world. “Human rights are like drugs,” he says. “The more you work in it, the more you get addicted. People may know human rights exist, but change can only happen when human rights are lived and promoted.”
February 2017 Update: Elvis received a PhD in Law from Utrecht University in 2015.
Founder, Women Integrated Initiative for Development
Lydia Cherop did not have the opportunity to spend her childhood in her home country, Uganda. “As a girl,” she tells, “I lived with my parents in exile in Kenya but didn’t know why.” Her parents hid their identities while in exile such that she wasn’t even aware of their real names at the time. After her father returned to Uganda, joined politics and helped Lydia and her family to return to Uganda, Lydia says, “I began to live my real life. I went to school and saw a future.”
Her challenges had not ended, though. Growing up, Lydia was faced with calls from her grandmother that she be circumcised and prepare for marriage. “I said no to her,” Lydia tells, and after earning her diploma, “I started working in radio where I talked about the rights of women and girls and at the same time raised money for my university degree.”
While Lydia is advancing her education at Uganda Martyrs University and is aware of her rights, others are not as fortunate. “Education in human rights opens doors to other rights,” she says, “but rights are still lacking. The difference between illiterate and literate women is a change in suffering.” Lydia started an organization called Women Integrated Initiative for Development that promotes and protects the rights of rural women and girls.
Lydia continues to look ahead to three goals: reducing poverty among women, realizing the rights of women and educating girls. “I am enlightened and can recognize human rights gaps,” she says, “because I am educated. I can understand human rights, but most women, unless educated, do not.” Lydia is aware that the achievements that she has made not only for herself but for many other women through human rights advocacy have rendered her a respected leader in her community, which continues to motivate her. “My parents are so proud of me,” she says. “My community honors me because I am a better person. This drives me to help them.”