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 .
Grants Coordinator, Fondo de Acción Urgente de América Latina y el Caribe Hispanohablante
Though forced migration, rape and domestic violence are part of Colombia’s everyday life, Nadia Juliana Bazán Londoño maintains that “there is also hope and willingness to improve our situation.”
Bazán Londoño says that her mother’s example motivated her to work in human rights. “I learned about inequalities [when I was] very young,” she says, “[by] attending political meetings at the university where my mother was studying.” In high school, she joined a group of conscientious objectors to military conscription. Through this group she first facilitated non-violent workshops for young people with the goal of changing their mindsets from war and violence to dialogue and non-violent strategies. Nadia then discovered the world of women’s funds and found her niche in supporting the impactful work of grassroots women’s organizations by securing financial resources for women’s rights.
She admits that in spite of the many challenges she faces in her human rights career, including stress and sometimes fear, she remains “strengthened by hope—the hope for transforming inequalities, the hope for clean water, and the hope for access to education, among other basic human needs. If everyone realizes that everything can be shared, then fulfilling rights will allow us to grow and develop as a nation. I have the sense of the right path and that in collaborating with others, you know you’re not alone and can find strength.”
April 2017 Update: Bazán Londoño is now a part of Women For Peace (Mujeres por la Paz) where she has been working to protect the rights of those affected by armed conflict in Colombia. This past year, her efforts were instrumental to allowing peace talks to come to fruition, eventually resulting in a permanent signed agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
President, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights
Elvis Mbembe Binda contributed to the creation of Assez! in 1997, an organization that advocates for the rights of children, especially those experiencing domestic abuse. Binda also co-founded a platform called Forum d’Echanges pour la Cohésion Sociale to offer all persons facing identity issues based on immigration and national identity an opportunity to share their frustration and experiences as a way to find personal relief and mutual support. Binda served for three years as the Deputy Coordinator of the Access to Justice and Human Rights Education Project and later became the President at another organization that he co-founded, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights.
For Binda , human rights is not an abstract topic, but a powerful force that can change the world: “People may know human rights exist, but change can only happen when human rights are lived and promoted.”
Executive Director and Founder, Women Integrated Initiative for Development
Lydia Carolyn Cherop is a 2011 HRAP graduate from Uganda. She is the executive director of Women Integrated Initiative for Development, an organization that she founded to help rural women. The organization currently provides technical assistance to more than 100 women in carrying out their local initiatives. Lydia volunteers to assist the Uganda Human Rights Commission, a national human rights institution, where she runs the Kapchorwa field office.
“HRAP built my capacity in human rights advocacy and exposed me internationally. I come from a rural community where few people are exposed internationally. I can now relate to issues globally,” she says.
Lydia 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 -- 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,” she 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.”
Lydia earned a master’s degree in development studies at Uganda Martyrs University with a scholarship from Irish Aid Uganda. “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.”
- Article updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2011
Coordinator, Action Large des Femmes Advocates
Ngungua Gisèle Sangua says, “Anyone can be a human rights activist. It’s not necessary to be a judge or lawyer.” Gisele started her career in human rights as a volunteer at a women’s organization when she was 17. While later working as a journalist, her interest in human rights intensified. She recalls, “The injustice that I saw made me want to be a voice for the voiceless. I hoped to change the injustice.”
After completing law school, Gisèle attended a human rights training in Cameroon, an event that would define her future involvement in human rights. “During the conference,” she says, “it was suggested that women lawyers were needed to address the situation of women. So we decided to create a group of women lawyers.” She helped establish the association of women lawyers association known as Action Large des Femmes Avocates (ALFA), where she now serves as coordinator. The nine staff members of ALFA provide legal representation and advocacy for women affected by discrimination and sexual and domestic violence.
Gisèle also hopes to fight against the negative clichés and images associated with Africa. “Human rights,” she says, “means living simply together in diversity. It doesn’t mean imposing on others a certain way of life but rather enhancing an exchange of cultures and customs within international agreement.”
Project Director, Centre for Social Transformation and Human Development
Colins Imoh has worked in various youth based organizations and was involved in the setting up of the Africa Network of Young Peace Builders (ANYP). He was the Africa Desk Coordinator working at the International Secretariat of the UNOY in the Netherlands. The ANYP is a continental initiative that joins the efforts of young people in over 40 African countries for the purposes of building peace and actively collaborating in the search for the non-violent resolution of conflicts.
Imoh was awarded the prestigious Winston Fellowship in 2003 to attend the Summer Peace Building Institute of the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in the USA. Professionally, he holds an MA in Conflict Transformation from EMU, Virginia, USA and an MPhil from the University of Cape Town in Environmental Management.
He was the pioneer Partners for Peace Project Manager, a network whose mission is to build social capital around peacebuilding through amplifying the voices of positive actors, building a network of self-identified agents of peace, and leveraging that network through facilitation, small grants, and capacity building. This network includes stakeholders from civil society, community-based, organizations, nongovernmental organizations, private companies, donor organizations, and the general public committed to promoting peaceable livelihoods in the Niger Delta.
Earlier in his career, Imoh was the Project Director of Centre for Human Development Social Transformation in Port Harcourt. He was responsible for planning and coordination of the Protect our Future Peace & Civic Education Project. Organizing training of stakeholders on social transformation as well as the host of a weekly Vision Nigeria Radio Programme on Democracy, Good Governance, Peace & Development. He was a member of the 2011 HRAP advocates at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights in Columbia University, New York, USA.
Imoh is currently pursuing a doctorate in peace education with a minor in research and measurement. His long-term goal is to establish a center in the Niger Delta, which will be involved in training, research and advocacy in the areas of environmental and conflict management.
Program Manager, AIDS Alliance in Nigeria
“To ask me why I am doing human rights,” Abu Tunde Irunukhar says, “is to ask me why I am being human. Human rights is about being human.” Tunde came to understand human rights while working with the HIV/AIDS community in Nigeria, where persons living with HIV/AIDS are not only stigmatized and rejected from society, but are seen as less than human on account of their HIV status. He began challenging this view by mobilizing communities and raising awareness about HIV and by strengthening the capacity of persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS to obtain their rights. “When you provide rights,” he explains, “you make people live life to the fullest.”
For Tunde, human rights advocacy started during a year of service during which he provided basic items to orphaned babies and prison inmates. He recalls, “Through reaching out to these communities, I was reaching out to humanity and bringing excitement and joy from just basic items.” Tunde involved himself in advocacy by joining AIDS Alliance in Nigeria in 2003. When some of the people he worked with died during treatment for the disease, the importance of human rights became even clearer for him. “Only people with an awareness of rights can assert themselves to procure treatments and come back to life in the community,” he says. Tunde has since used human rights to demand services and care and push for access to a comprehensive continuum of care, accountability and transparency in the utilization of HIV/AIDS funds; greater involvement of people living with HIV; and workplace policies for those infected by HIV/AIDS.
In his own life, meanwhile, human rights has offered him a whole new outlook to living. “I think holistically,” he says. “because human rights come in bunches—you can’t talk about one right without other rights.”
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