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 .
Executive Director, Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas
Alejandro is the executive director of the Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs (or STDs) at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas, Mexico. He is a medical doctor and holds a master’s in public health sciences specializing in HIV/AIDS, human rights, gender, and public health management.
Alejandro reports: “I worked at the Collective for Family Health (Cifam) when I attended HRAP. It is a non-profit organization that worked with the Chiapas community to address the needs of the HIV/AIDs-affected persons. Thanks to HRAP, I was able to strengthen the capacity of Cifam to better advocate for human rights, especially for the rights of people living with HIV, transgender persons, and persons belonging to sexual minorities, including youth and women. Our goal was to increase their political participation and to remove barriers to healthcare and social programs. The skill set I developed at HRAP was instrumental for my promotion when I was appointed as the executive director of my organization in 2009. I relied on the networking, strategic planning, capacity building, and advocacy skills I earned with HRAP in my everyday work. I am now happy to see the practical results we achieved in Chiapas where a large number of community members and leaders became involved in grassroots organizations and there is improved access to health services. These achievements were possible sharing the vision, commitment, and lessons learned through the experience in HRAP.”
For Alejandro, attending HRAP’s class on fundraising with Sara Kriksciun was a gateway to reach for new donor organizations and to secure continued funding for Cifam. “Since 2010, we received funding from international donors, such as the Fund for Global Human Rights, United Nation’s Democracy Fund, Oxfam International. Thanks to Columbia University alumni, I was able to get a project financed by the Human Rights Small Grant Scheme of the Australia Agency for International Development,” says Alejandro.
Since 2013, Alejandro Rivera Marroquín joined the government service at the Ministry of Health in Chiapas where he manages the state’s healthcare services for persons affected with HIV/AIDS and STIs.
- Article composed by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
Executive Director, Skills and Agricultural Development Services
When asked about the contributions of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Peter Mulbah says, “Let me start by extending my many thanks and appreciation to HRAP and all those who gave me guidance throughout the program in 2008.” Mulbah is an HRAP graduate from Liberia and serves as the director of Skills and Agricultural Development Services. The organization is currently working on a community forestry program in Liberia with the goal of empowering forest-dependent communities to freely participate and equally benefit from Liberia’s natural resources.
SinceMulbah's very recent graduation from HRAP, his prominence as an environmental advocate has risen significantly. In his words, “Since I came from the HRAP program, everybody in Liberia sees me as a brand new person. In fact, they say ‘the new Peter has come.’ This has helped to increase my credibility and transparency; people call me every day for consultancy work.” Peter reports he has accordingly gained recognition locally, nationally, and internationally among civil society groups for his work. He is serving as the civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee and is leading the National Stakeholders Consultation and Participation processes leading to the formulation of the Liberia Readiness Plan Proposal to be submitted in August to the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund at the World Bank. This requires him to travel extensively on behalf of Liberia, including to several international meetings and workshops on climate change. He received a sponsorship to participate in the Equitas Human Rights Program in Canada. He also participated in the Environmental Leadership Program at the University of Berkeley, California.
HRAP acts as a multi-disciplinary training program to provide human rights advocates with the training and expertise not only to advance the projects of their home organizations and individual pursuits, but also to improve their character and presentation as model leaders. For Peter, “HRAP increased my level of self-confidence. As a result, I am a regular guest on TV/Radio talk shows with regards to community rights to environmental sustainability and natural resources governance. I have grown overnight as a national expert, and thousands of people look up to me for guidance and direction on human rights advocacy.”
In addition to his already notable achievements and environmental advocacy work, Mulbah was invited to join the 2010 Kinship Conservation Leadership Fellows Program in June and July 2010 which will take place in the United States. He will also continue traveling extensively in his position as civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee to participate in climate change negotiations prior to the 16th Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010. Reflecting overall on his participation in HRAP, Mulbah states, “I cannot imagine where I would be without HRAP. What could be the future of my advocacy in Liberia? I shall forever be grateful to HRAP in all of my career and works that I do.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
Sierra Leone, 2007
Executive Director, Fambul Tok
John Caulker participated in HRAP in 2007 when he was the Executive Director of the Sierra Leonean human rights NGO “Forum of Conscience” (FOC) which drew attention to the role of diamond mining in Sierra Leone’s past war and pushing for recognition of the environmental degradation associated with mining. As former national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, Caulker pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefited Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, Caulker also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
In 2007, HRAP provided Caulker with the rare opportunity of reflection. Away from the frontline, he decided it is time to confront and work on remaining weaknesses. “Am I on the right track?” was just one of the many questions that John sought to address. The intensive discussions with scholars, practitioners and fellow advocates provided many new insights, proved others wrong and helped him refine his communication strategies. The program also raised his attention to how essential consultation and local ownership is in process of reconciliation. In particular, Caulker built on his friendship with Libby Hoffmann, founder of the “Catalyst for Peace” foundation. Inspired by his dedication, leadership and vision, Libby, who has been active for more than 20 years in peace building, decided to partner with Caulker and establish Fambul Tok (Krio for “Family Talk”). Asked how HRAP benefited him the most, Caulker responds: “It made Fambul Tok possible”.
Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-owned program that builds upon Sierra Leone’s “family talk” tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle. It works at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies—practices that many communities have not employed since before the war. Through drawing on age-old traditions of confession, apology and forgiveness, this distinctly Sierra Leonean initiative has provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to come to terms with what happened during the war, to talk, to heal, and to chart a new path forward, together.
Caulker, Sara and Libby have released the book and movie “Fambul Tok” which relates the amazing story of an African journey in forgiveness. For more, see www.fambultok.org.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
United States, 2007
Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He also co-founded and co-directed Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic and served as the former director of the Books Not Bars campaign. During his seven years with this campaign, Norris built California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth, led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones, and defeated Prop 6—a destructive and ineffective criminal justice ballot measure.
In addition to his degrees from Harvard and NYU, Norris is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles. He was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow. He is a former board member at Witness for Peace and Just Cause Oakland and is currently serving on the board of Justice for Families. Norris was a recipient of the American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award in 2015, and is a member of the 2016 class of the Levi Strauss Foundation's Pioneers of Justice. He is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Program Coordinator, National Center for Advocacy Studies
“In the changing socio-economic, political, and cultural context, there is an increasing realization of the need to bridge the gap between grassroots activism and macro-level policy initiatives.”
Constantly seeking new ways to better effect change, Sandeep Pattnaik joined HRAP in 2007 after having served as a member of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) in India seven years. In his role at NCAS, Sandeep focused on promoting a “people-centered policy environment” in which people could feel comfortable advocating for themselves against violations of human rights and social justice. During HRAP, he found that his understanding of human rights activism in a global economy deepened, and he developed contacts with various other organizations who have continued to extend their support and solidarity to the movement that Sandeep is a part of.
Since HRAP, Sandeep has been engaged in an NCAS project called Adivasi Resource Center (ARC), a center dedicated to Indigenous people. His efforts are directed towards closing the information gap between the Adivasi people and governmental issues by building a space for dialogue between them and legislators. He writes: “As an advocate of human rights, I have founded [my] campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian constitution: the right to life and the right to livelihood.” Sandeep’s struggle for the rights of local populations have also led him into a battle against POSCO, a South Korean company trying to establish a steel plant in the Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha that puts local indigenous peoples at risk of industrial pollution. In order to combat these environmental violations, Sandeep provides strategic support to local organizations, conducts environmental impact assessments and prepares and files petitions to take legal action against the company.
Sandeep leaves human rights advocates at the beginning of their careers with the following advice:
“The process of policy-making… has changed in a paradigm shift due to the techno-economic revolution, the process of globalization and further marginalization of subaltern sections… The changing power equations at all levels of governance require a holistic approach and multiple strategies that can integrate the power of people with the power of information… and alliances to challenge unjust policies and exploitative politics.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Coordinator, Rainbow Community Kampuchea
Ly Pisey is a 2007 graduate of the HRAP from Cambodia. She currently serves as the coordinator of Rainbow Community Kampuchea, the LGBTIQ-led organization that she co-founded and where she served as the director of board in 2009-2017.
Ly has been actively involved in grassroots and social activism for poverty reduction, human rights, women’s development and LGBTIQ rights. In 2004, she joined Women’s Agenda for Change. In 2009, she became a program facilitator with the Social Action for Change and a member of the United Sisterhood Alliance based in Cambodia. Ly has assisted a number of organizations including Women's Network for Unity and the Cambodian Cross-Sector Network for Economic and Development System Analysis. In 2012, she was a core organizing member of Grassroots People's Assembly (AGPA) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a four-day event that brought together over 2000 Cambodian local activists during the ASEAN Summit.
Ly believes in collective voice and power that thrives for social justice and equality. She co-founded the Cambodian Women’s Movement for Social Justice (CWMSJ) among other women activists, which raises concerns about the status of women’s rights. As the core organizer members of CWMSJ, Ly was responsible for developing CWMSJ’s advocacy strategies and community mobilization efforts. This movement was sparked by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s defamatory comments to Mu Sochua, a female Member of Parliament. In response to his comments, Sochua sued the Prime Minister only to be faced with possible imprisonment. Due to CWMSJ’s advocacy campaign, Sochua was only required to pay the civil compensation to the Prime Minister.
In describing CWMSJ’s landmark campaign, Ly explains: “We embarked on this campaign not because she's a Member of Parliament but she is one of the few female political leaders who took a risk to advocate for women's rights and gender equality. We decided to take action on her behalf despite the risks we faced for speaking out about the equal and fair treatment of women in all sectors, including judicial and political sectors.”
When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she writes that the program helped her to develop various competencies: fundraising skills, human rights principles, and advocacy strategies, as well as support her dream of making the equal and just society.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013, updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
In 2011, 2007 Advocate Priscila C. Rodriguez Bribiesca co-founded Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE) a Mexican-US NGO with offices in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez Bribiesca reports: “SAKBE´s mission is achieving social change through the promotion of human and environmental rights by using litigation and communication strategies. Sakbe works both nationally and internationally towards improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the promotion of development agendas for local communities and indigenous groups in public policies, development projects and conflicts.”
SAKBE’s first grant came from the Bank of Information Center to promote transparency policies and practices in the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in Mexico. Rodriguez Bribiesca reports that SAKBE is also working with the Siemenpuu Foundation, based in Finland, on obtaining a grant to continue with the legal defense work for the Triqui indigenous community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Rodriguez Bribiesca elaborates: “I am responsible for the documentation process of the REDD projects in Mexico--getting the relevant information from the World Bank and Mexico´s governmental authorities to give communities the possibility to participate in this process which will be implemented in indigenous and rural communities. One goal is bringing their concerns to the World Bank.”
Rodriguez Bribiesca recognizes HRAP’s impact on her work. “Before this program,” she says, “I was not aware of the importance of making strategies at the international level. All the site visits 9to the different foundations and organizations) gave me the big picture of the role of advocacy. Furthermore, HRAP gave me a more general comprehension of the different tools and strategies that I can use to be more effective.” She said some of the contacts she made through HRAP are now her allies. They include the Indian Law Resource Center, Amazon Watch, the Center of International and Environmental Law and the Center for Justice and Inter-American Law. SAKBE’s fundraising successes to date are also linked the fundraising classes that are part of HRAP. Rodriguez Bribiesca explains: “The fundraising workshops greatly strengthened my knowledge of the many steps of this process, from writing a letter of inquiry to cultivating a profesional relationship with foundation staff. After HRAP, I got a generous grant from Hewlett Foundation.”
She adds, “The experience from my internship at the Center for Justice and International Law and my contacts and studies [through HRAP] allowed me to start representing the Precautionary Measure Process in favor of the Community of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are getting support from international organizations, including the Washington Office of Latin America and Amnesty International, on this case--particularly to make the Mexican government accountable for protecting the Triqui Community and safely returning them to their territory and bringing justice to the victims of the massacre.”
She has also been instrumental in having public hearings at IACHR on issues affecting different indigenous communities and the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America.
She has been recognized with many honors and awards including an award to participate in “Woman in Management” at CEDPA in 2008 and a full scholarship from American University to attend the International Environmental Law Summer Program and the Seminar on Trade and Environment. She received a full scholarship to attend the LLM Program in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2012. From July to December 2012, she will intern at IACHR.
She concludes. “I can surely say without exaggeration, HRAP changed my life. Before my participation in the Program, my work as an advocate was limited to the local systems of justice. I did not know anything about the international bodies of justice and accountability mechanisms. I also did not have the contacts and knowledge needed to start working on at the international level, such as the processes before the IACHR and the World Bank. Moreover even if I had some idea about these processes, I could hardly contact member of these bodies directly because of the geographic and language obstacles, which now no longer exist thanks to HRAP.”
National Director, Center for Applied Studies of Economical and Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC)
When asked about his experience at the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Jorge Cortés Fajardo of Bolivia points out how it provided him with the opportunity to “get to know other advocates from around the world and the important work they do for the defense of human rights victims and for policy change.” One of the many benefits of the HRAP is the unique environment in which advocates are able to share theirs valuable grassroots experiences, exchange ideas, and share best practices and resources for advocacy.
Cortés Fajardo is currently the National Director and legal representative of the Center for Applied Studies of Economical Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC). The organization’s work is focused on the strengthening of indigenous people and social movements to monitor and advocate for human rights and environmental justice. According to Cortés Fajardo, “HRAP was an excellent opportunity to reach out to US-based NGOs and to support our networking for human rights advocacy.” He underscores the value of the meetings with the NGO communities of New York and Washington DC. Jorge said that the meetings led to joint actions between CEADESC and several organizations such as the Indian Law Resource Center and the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Since he left HRAP, Cortés Fajardo has gone on to notable achievements both at the national and international levels. In 2009, CEADESC contributed to the recognition of indigenous peoples human rights in the new Bolivian Constitution. CEADESC then published two human rights assessment studies related to transnational extractive industries companies in Bolivia. Their case studies were recently presented in the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples Issues in New York. Due to CEADESC’s contribution to the defense of human rights, the organization has recently been honored as an outstanding partner by the American Jewish World Service at its 25th anniversary celebration in New York in October 2010.
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
Executive Director/Health Program Associate, Physicians for Social Justice
2006 Advocate Chukwumuanya Igboekwu currently works as Executive Director and Health Program Associate of Physicians for Social Justice (PSJ) which he co-founded in 2004. PSJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community health, human rights and broader social justice for marginalized rural communities in northern Nigeria. He coordinates PSJ’s advocacy efforts and also manages PSJ’s service delivery programs that provide access to basic social services including health, education and community development.
He reflects that his participation in HRAP provided a “unique networking opportunity of a lifetime”. When he participated in 2006 as Health Program Associate of PSJ, he wrote two articles: ‘Why Pharmaceutical Companies Must Not Deny People with HIV/AIDS Access to Life-Saving Antiretroviral Medicines Using the Excuse of Patent Protection’ and ‘The World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement’. These articles were published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. He states, “The Washington D.C. networking trip afforded me the opportunity to speak with State Department officers to support the importance of continuous funding to the Global AIDS program through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).”
Igboekwu says that his participation in HRAP led to funding from American Jewish World Service and the Global Fund for Children for approximately $ 180,000 dollars in total to date. He highlights, “PSJ has grown from a small community-based organization into a national level NGO that plays active role in shaping HIV/AIDS policy in Nigeria.” As a result of his dedication in collaborating with other stakeholders for the protection of people living with HIV/AIDS, thousands of people with HIV/AIDS from rural areas in Nigeria have more access to life saving antiretroviral drugs and live in integration within their communities. Also, he and his staff at PSJ developed a project, supported by the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called “Community AIDS Program”. PSJ’s Community AIDS Program was a winner of the 2010 joint UNAIDS/UNDP Red Ribbon Awards in Vienna, Austria.
Igboekwu enthusiastically expresses his strong gratitude toward the staff of the Institute (then Center) for the Study of Human Rights, “They inspired me and gave me all the exposure that helped shape my understanding of human rights and the global economy. They were every ready to assist me make that connection with potential partners or resources that I need for my work. Even when I returned to Nigeria, they continued supporting me and PSJ.” After the program, he received his master’s degree in Public Health from University of Lagos, Nigeria, in 2008.
He concludes, “HRAP was an extraordinary program that gave me insight with the intersection between health and human rights. The program was very intensive and exciting by providing opportunities to explore new partners, academic topics in the field of human rights and engagement with U.S. policy makers along with CEOs of big US pharmaceutical companies whose business have a strong impact on poop people’s access to medicines in developing countries.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, August 2011
Executive Director, Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU)
2006 Advocate James Makor the Executive Director of the Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), which is dedicated to facilitating and promoting community-based sustainable nature and human resource management and development in Liberia. He officially represents the institution, coordinates three core programs with project officers, and serves as secretary to the Board of Directors.
Makor says that dynamic networking he did through HRAP is “paying off”. He reflects, “The networks I established at Columbia Law School continue to interact with my organization on issues surrounding concessions in Liberia. Through HRAP, SAMFU started collaborating with United Steel and Allied Worker Union on labor reform at Firestone.” He adds that American Jewish World Services, whose staff he met through HRAP, is currently one of SAMFU’s donors.
After HRAP, he attended a financial training for NGO staff from the Management and Accountability of Non-Governmental Organizations (MANGO). He cites as one of his more recent accomplishments the partnership between SAMFU and Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) on a project called Sustainable Forest Management. During the project, he has been involved in the formulation and signing of Cooperate Social Agreements between multinational and local forest communities. Also, his organization addressed issues of benefit sharing from forest resources and provided trainings to enable the communities to track their local development budget.
When asked about his memories of HRAP in 2006, he states, “I feel that the greatest benefit to me was the establishment of new networks.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Up to date as of April 2017.
M.A. Candidate, Mora University
When asked about her experience participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Andrea de la Barrera Montppellier- states “HRAP was a very important turning point in my career. I transcended activism and became a human rights advocate. With the perspective that HRAP provided, I have been able to conduct strategic actions that led to concrete results regarding women’s rights and public policy evaluation.”
As Andrea and other Advocates have asserted, HRAP provides a unique environment for sharing their experiences, their strategies and best practices with other human rights professionals and organizations. In this respect, Andrea says “HRAP also gave me a broader perspective regarding human rights. I used to believe that human rights work depended only on volunteers and philanthropy and I realized it depends also on many professionals working to strengthen democratic change all over the world. “During the time they spend at Columbia University, Advocates are able not only to build long-lasting relationships with other activists, but also to meet with a range of human rights organizations, international institutions, foundations, donors, and policymakers that are based in New York City. In this regard, Andrea states “Another great feature of the program was the forum it provided. Exposing our political stands to global decision-makers such as Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz or Valclav Havel was a very empowering experience”. Furthermore, these meetings often lead to joint projects and funding opportunities. In Andrea’s case, she was able to engage in an internship at Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in early 2007. According to Andrea “It was a great opportunity, since it opened opportunities to advocate at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the case Gonzalez et alt. (“Campo Algodonero vs Mexico which at that time was at the Inter-American Human Rights Court) and to disseminate femicide reports at the Inter-American Human Rights Protection System. Eventually, the networks from both HRAP and CEJIL led to specific collaborations between organizations in the strengthening of Campo Algodonero case. The Inter-American Court ruled against Mexico regarding violence against women (femicide), in a historic sentence both for Mexico as well as for the Regional Systems of Human Rights Protection.”
Since she left the program, Andrea became an independent consultant on gender and human rights. Through her work, she assists organizations that want to impact public policy in bringing both human rights and gender perspectives to its mainstream values. In the past year, she collaborated as an independent consultant with International Planned Parenthood and PRODESC. From 2003 to 2010, she was part of the team of Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, a think tank devoted to social change, public-budget analysis, and transparency. At Fundar, she coordinated research on gender and justice and also served as the institutional liaison for the Civilian Monitor of Policy and Security Corps in the Mountain of Guerrero. Currently, she works with EPADEQ on a project that analyzes the gender expressions of the organization of 15 Supreme Tribunals of Federal States in Mexico, in order to make specific recommendations regarding gender equality. When reflecting on the influence HRAP had on her career, Andrea affirms “ The global benefit of my participation was the incorporation of a comprehensive perspective of the work that relates to human rights and that is not delimited to activism. I realized the importance to maintain a healthy life and a balanced life in order to make sustainable advocacy projects. And to always assume that our great innovative ideas have already occurred to someone else and that they may have already an evaluation which could be shared to strengthen our strategies”.
Article written by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
April 2017 Update: Andrea completed her Master's in Political Sociology in 2014 at Instituto Mora. She will be pursuing a PhD in Sociology starting in 2017 under the COMEXUS Fulbright García Robles Scholarship.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
MA Candidate, University of Nottingham - Malaysia Campus
Reflecting on her experience in the Human Rights Advocates Program, Miriam Ruiz Mendoza describes that “the knowledge on international advocacy for human rights took my organization closer to campaigns for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders.” Ruiz Mendoza, a 2006 HRAP graduate from Mexico, entered HRAP as the Development and Resource Coordinator at Communication and Information on Women (CIMAC), an NGO dedicated to incorporating women’s rights into the media and using the media as an educational and social transformation tool.
HRAP provides human rights advocates such as Ruiz Mendoza the opportunity to undergo further advocacy training, follow graduate coursework in the areas of their work, and develop new skills such as leadership, fundraising, and networking. Ruiz Mendoza states, “I have used a lot of what I learned in HRAP at CIMAC to present sound project proposals that in 2007 allowed us to get 365,000 USD, either with new foundations or some other that had stopped financing us.” While some graduates of HRAP find that their experience at Columbia University can lead to recognition from other institutions and fellowships with international organizations, many graduates such as Ruiz Mendoza find that “For me, being part of HRAP has not translated into prizes or recognitions but rather a series of informal calls from other colleagues in different cities and organizations to get precise information and suggestions on organizations issues.” HRAP graduates are routinely consulted by colleagues and others as Ruiz Mendoza describes because of the expertise they gain during the Program.
Shortly after leaving HRAP, Ruiz Mendoza joined the Susan G. Komen Global Initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness where she currently serves as the Program Manager for Mexico. Her duties involve coordinating, initiating, developing, and facilitating projects and programs to increase awareness on breast health and provide breast cancer detection throughout cities and states in Mexico. She says, “Not only the knowledge, the facts that I learned at HRAP, including burn-out, are part of what I am sharing with other Mexican women now, but mainly the spirit of the program, gaining tools to improve the human rights situation at all levels in my country.”
In 2008, Ruiz Mendoza was invited to take part in the International Visitors Leadership Program sponsored by the United States government. She was also chosen to represent and present the Susan G. Komen Global Initiative at the 2010 Komen’s affiliate conference in Dallas, Texas. Ruiz Mendoza remains in close contact with other Mexican human rights advocates and seeks to develop human rights training for other Mexicans. She is also planning on pursuing her master’s degree in the near future.
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
January 2014 update: Ruiz Mendoza is currently pursuing a M.A. is Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, School of Modern Languages and Cultures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sierra Leone, 2006
Program Manager, Peace and Security Program, Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD)
Agnes Sia Tamba is a 2006 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. After leaving HRAP, Tamba returned to Sierra Leone to continue working at the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD). Presently, Tamba is the Program Manager of the Peace and Security Program at NMJD. She works to address the root causes of conflict in the southern province of Sierra Leone. Tamba manages NMJD’s peace education program and helps communities claim their rights without resorting to violence.
HRAP is a capacity building program that strengthens the skills, knowledge and networks of accomplished human rights defenders. When asked about the impact HRAP has had on her work at NMJD, Tamba writes, “I gained a new perspective of how I can promote peace education as an area of conflict transformation.” She writes that her participation in HRAP has helped her successfully mainstream human rights based approaches within NMJD’s programs.
Advocates attend skill-building courses in a myriad of topics such as developing fundraising and advocacy campaigns. Tamba highlights the benefits of these courses on her work at NMJD. She writes that as a result of these trainings, she successfully developed advocacy strategies as part of NMJD’s chieftaincy reform campaign.
Concluding on her experience at HRAP in 2006, Tamba writes, “The diverse cultural experience of New York City and the hospitality of the HRAP staff and Columbia University community is something I will always remember fondly.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013
Executive Director, ProDESC
Before doing HRAP in 2005, Alejandra Ancheita worked for over a decade as a human rights advocate in Mexico. Upon her return, she founded the Project on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ProDESC), a human rights NGO based in Mexico City whose primary goal is to defend the rights of the Mexican people by fostering the enforcement of and accountability for these rights on a systematic level. According to Ancheita, her time spent at HRAP contributed skills and relationships that were crucial to her foundation and leadership of a new human rights organizations.
In her years at ProDESC, and as a litigation specialist at the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Pro) and the Center for Labor Support and Reflection (CEREAL), Alejandra has worked on strategic litigation and defense of human rights advocates and local communities. She has represented ProDESC at national and international conferences and committees, and argued cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, and several national courts. In 2009 Ancheita received a Master’s Degree in International Law and Global Justice at the Fordham University Law School, with the support of a Leitner Center Scholarship. During 2010 she was a visiting Scholar at the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, developing a research initiative called “Towards a Genuine Transnational Collaboration: Constructing Transnational Justice for Migrant Workers.” Alejandra returned to ProDESC in the fall of 2010, where she currently heads the Transnational Justice Area of the organization, coordinates fundraising activities, and designs strategies for ongoing and new ProDESC initiatives.
Ancheita believes that HRAP served as a platform to access tools for human rights capacity-building. It also allowed her to build networks with other human rights activists and organizations. Alejandra was one of the 25 finalists for the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.
Novermber 2016 update: In 2013, Alejandra received the Wasserstein Public Interest Award from Harvard Law School. She won the 2014 Martin Ennals Award for her efforts in the fight for the rights of the migrants, workers, and indigenous communities in her country. She is one of the leading Latin American voices in the human rights movement and has spoken in various international forums, such as the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society and the OECD Annual Meeting of National Contact Points, as well as arguing cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the national courts. She was acknowledged for her work as a human rights defender by the Mexican Senate in 2015 and by several communication media and by international institutions, such as the Spanish newspaper El País that named Ancheita one of the 25 most influential Latin Americans.
—Written by Alexandra Watson
Founder and Chief Executive Director, Health Governance Initiative
Jia Ping, a 2005 graduate of the Human Rights Advocate Program from China, states “HRAP provided me with a true understanding of human rights work.” He adds that the knowledge and skills gained from HRAP helped him carry out his work as the Founder and Chief Executive Director of the Health Governance Initiative (formally known as the China Global Fund Watch Initiative). The Health Governance Initiative (HGI) is an independent non-profit organization and civic think tank that undertakes public health policy research in areas such as anti-discrimination, LGBT and human rights, drug policy and food safety issues.
One of the many benefits of the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University is the networking opportunities. Every year, Advocates participate in a networking and advocacy trip to Washington DC to meet with organizations, government agencies, and foundations that pertain to their specific needs and interests. Ping maintained relationships with the organizations that he met with during his advocacy trip in Washington D.C. in 2005. Since 2007, he successfully re-connected with these organizations in Washington. D.C. and received financial support for his organization.
Ping, a leading human rights lawyer and researcher on HIV/AIDS in China advocates for the rights of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS in China. He has published numerous papers and books on various topics such as law, government transparency on health governance and drug policies. He recently co-authored the blood transfusion compensation plan for PLHIV community in China. The compensation plan and related report was also submitted to China Ministry of Health and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Since HRAP, Ping has gone on to achieve notable professional accomplishments. In 2008, Ping was named an Asia Society’s Asia 21 Leader Fellow. In 2009, he was selected as the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader. Young Global Leaders represent the future of leadership, coming from all regions of the world and representing business, government, civil society, arts, academia and media, as well as social entrepreneurs. Ping was named a member of the Sino-European Platform on Biomedical Research Ethics (SPERE) in 2011. Since 2013, he has served as an Advisory Group member for a project entitled Governance of Multilateral Grant-Making Institutions (GMGI) by Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs).
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013