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, Afghan Women Skills Development Center
Mary Akrami is a 2009 graduate of HRAP. Since 2018, she has been serving as the executive director of Afghan Women’s Network, an organization that engages in peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs and provides training and mentoring on mechanisms on women’s engagement in political and community-based peacebuilding. She is a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Selection Committee of Election Commission of Afghanistan.
Mary initiated the use of community-based peace shuras (councils) throughout Afghanistan to allow women to engage in conflict resolution at the local level. Mary says this served as a starting point for women’s inclusion in community-level decision-making.
Mary has been engaged in the fight for women’s rights since 2001. She is a founder and a former executive director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC), an organization focusing on the rights of women affected by violence. In this capacity, Mary established the first shelter for women at risk of violence in 2003 and contributed to the establishment of Bost Family Restaurant, the first restaurant in Afghanistan which provides jobs for female survivors of violence and contributes to women’s economic empowerment. Her activism to fight violence against women lead to the approval and implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women in Afghanistan in 2009.
Her work promoting women’s rights has been recognized at the global level on numerous occasions. In 2007, she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State, and in 2018, Mary won the N-Peace Award from the UNDP for her work promoting women’s rights. She has been a member of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights since 2013 and is a member of Frontline Defenders network in Afghanistan.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013, updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018, and by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
National Level Coordinator, Positive Women Network (PWN+)
Anbu Sengo Arasi is a 2008 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Reflecting on her experience while in HRAP, Anbu lists the benefits by saying I “developed my writing skills, developed my skills in fundraising, gained an international network, gained self-confidence, and had very good exposure with human rights organizations at the international level.” HRAP serves as a comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills building, and academic coursework with the goal of providing human rights advocates the many benefits Anbu lists.
Anbu worked as a Program Officer with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) at the time of her arrival in HRAP. In this role, she acted to defend the rights of Dalit women laborers and to achieve gender justice. For Anbu, the development of writing, fundraising, and networking skills has greatly assisted her work in human rights advocacy. In addition, HRAP also serves as a meeting ground for human rights advocates to learn from one another and become more familiar with the activities and programs of international human rights organizations. Many graduates leave HRAP with a better awareness of human rights advocacy and a stronger sense of their own potential. In Anbu’s words, “The program helped me to gain more courage to perform my work and to provide advocacy in all issues of human rights.”
Graduates of HRAP also routinely use their participation to bolster their own profiles and expand their operations, possibly even leading to honors and awards for their accomplishments. Although a very recent graduate of HRAP, Anbu replies to the topic of being specially recognized for her work by saying, “Not yet.”
Since October 2009, Anbu has served as National Level Coordinator with the Positive Women Network (PWN+), an all-India network of HIV-positive women, focused on improving the quality of life of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. In her role as National Level Coordinator, Anbu coordinates trainings and facilitates programs at the district level and for state/national advocacy. Presently, she is advocating issues pertaining to pregnant HIV positive women and towards preventing HIV transmission from parent to child.
- Article composted by Andrew Richardson, June 2010
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
Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society Institute
When asked about the benefits of her participation in the Human Rights Advocates Program, Nana Afadzinu, a 2003 graduate from Ghana, answered, “I became a better human rights advocate. I became more knowledgeable, and that increased my confidence. I was able to contribute more to fighting for human rights with my organization and within the broader women’s and human rights’ movement.”
At the time of her arrival into HRAP, Afadzinu was working as Legal Advocate for Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment. One feature of the four months of HRAP is to teach advocates how to network as well as to introduce them to different NGOs and foundations that tailor to human rights and the individual pursuits of the participants. During her four months in HRAP, Afadzinu acquired $10,000 in funding for her organization from the Global Fund for Women to work on issues related to violence against women in Ghana.
After HRAP, Afadzinu went on to pursue further education, receiving her Masters in Law (L.L.M.) from New York University in 2005. She says, “The knowledge and skill acquired during those four months as an HRAP participant was invaluable and contributed to the quest for and my acquisition of a master’s degree.” Furthermore, she cites the lessons learned from the law classes at Columbia, the human rights symposia, the brown bag sessions, the experience-sharing with other HRAP participants, and the HRAP training seminars as having immensely contributed to the development of her career.
Some of Afadzinu’s professional accomplishments include coordinating the Domestic Violence Coalition from 2003 to 2004, which as she states, is “one of the most successful coalitions to date in Ghana” and succeeded in making addressing domestic violence and passing the Domestic Violence Bill top priorities on the policy agenda of the government of Ghana. Afadzinu has also recently served as the head of the Nigeria Office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa where she contributed to providing the necessary support for civil society in Nigeria to promote and protect fundamental human rights, consolidate democratic governance, and enhance transparency and accountability. Because of her extensive training, professional work, and experience in programs such as HRAP, Afadzinu is regularly sought for and invited by various organizations to present and facilitate sessions on advocacy and human rights.
Currently, Afadzinu works with Ibis-West Africa as its Regional Policy Advisor. In this position, she advises all of Ibis’ education and governance programs, supports developing advocacy strategies of thematic projects, locates and establishes contacts at the national, sub-regional, and international level to build partners in policy advocacy, and coordinates the development of Ibis’ extractive industries program. Afadzinu affirms the impact of HRAP on her career, saying, “I have used (and continue to use) what I learnt in HRAP in the different career (and even personal) spaces that I have found myself in; and have, on all occasions, contributed effectively to ensuring the respect, promotion, and protection of fundamental human rights.” In addition, she remarks, “In that sense, I am not the only one that has benefited but so has society at large. HRAP may only be building the capacity of few advocates at each time but that seeming ‘drop in the bucket’ makes wide ripples. I know because I am an example.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Afadzinu is currently the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.
Costa Rica, 2003
Executive Director, Association for Women’s Rights in Development
When asked about the greatest benefit of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Lydia Alpízar Durán, a 2003 graduate from Costa Rica states, “HRAP provided me with an opportunity to expand on my knowledge and experience. It was a valuable resource and space to learn and take time to reflect on my work.” The Human Rights Advocates Program is a capacity building program that provides courses and activities that address the wide range of needs of human rights leaders for both foundational and advanced knowledge as well as practical human rights skills.
After completing the program, Alpízar Durán began working for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). AWID is an international feminist membership organization committed to achieving women’s human rights and gender equality. Alpízar Durán managed AWID’s two programs: Where is the Money for Women’s Rights? and Building Feminist Movements and Organizations Strategic Initiatives. In 2007, she was promoted to Executive Director, a position that she continues to hold today. In this role, she strives to join feminists and activists together through their common goal of advancing the rights of women worldwide. Alpízar Durán enjoys her work at AWID, stating, “It’s a privilege and honor to lead such a vibrant organization and have the opportunity to work with activists from around the world.”
HRAP leverages the resources of Columbia University and NYC as a global center of NGOs and international organizations to provide Advocates with critical skills-building and networking opportunities. Alpízar Durán writes that these skills-building trainings along with learning about other human rights organizations were instrumental to her career development. In reflecting on her participation in HRAP, she recalls a course that she audited at Columbia University’s School of International and Political Affairs entitled Rethinking Human Rights. Alpízar Durán remarks that this graduate course helped her to think critically about the problematic or controversial topics within human rights theory, discourse and practice.
In addition to her work at AWID, she writes advocacy resources for women’s rights organizations and blogs for the Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw Women. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Global Fund for Women and the Central American Women’s Fund.
Alpízar Durán remains in touch with participants from her program. She frequently communicates with Patricia Guerro from Colombia as they work together on advocacy campaigns and in supporting with solidarity actions given the very high risk context in which Patricia works. Through her work, she has met HRAP alumni over the years. She states, “HRAP is an influential network of human rights activists. There is powerful solidarity among the alumni of this program.”
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, May 2013
Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria
When asked about the impact that HRAP has had on her career, Ladi Alabi, a 2001 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from Nigeria, writes, “HRAP provided me with a broader perspective of human rights as well as an improved approach to human rights advocacy.”
HRAP is a four-month residency program at Columbia University in New York City that provides Advocates with a structured curriculum of advocacy, networking, skills-building and academic coursework. HRAP is uniquely designed to give Advocates time and space to reflect on their work and share their experiences and insights with one another. Alabi writes, “My time at HRAP provided me with the opportunity to evaluate and reaffirm my commitment to human rights work, despite the inevitable risks in carrying out my work.” Presently, Ladi is a Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Nigeria. In this capacity, she is responsible for overseeing UNICEF’s Child Protection Program in nine states of Northern Nigeria.
Since HRAP, she completed her Masters in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. Alabi remains in touch with a few Advocates in her cohort along with Professor J. Paul Martin.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Alaliyaa
Taima Al-Jayoush is a 1999 Human Rights Advocate from Syria. After HRAP, Al-Jayoush continued her work as a lawyer, focusing her career on advocating for women rights in Syria. In 2009, she founded Alalyiaa, a pro-bono law firm in Damascus, Syria that provides legal aid for Syrian women in cases of violence such as honor crimes, trafficking, divorce settlements and custody disputes.
The Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University is an intensive capacity building program that provides Advocates with the resources to expand their knowledge and skills through trainings, workshops and relevant graduate coursework. When asked how her participation in HRAP assisted her work in human rights law and advocacy, Al-Jayoush writes, “HRAP gave me the space to learn more about human rights at the academic level. I closely studied the human rights conventions and treaties. I implemented what I learned at HRAP when representing political prisoners at the Supreme State Security Court in Damascus or Syrian women in Sharia, civil or criminal courts.”
Al-Jayoush is currently living in Montreal, Canada and continues managing her law firm Alalyiaa and assisting the Mahmoud Aljayoush Law Firm with various law cases. Al-Jayoush frequently communicates with former participants of the Human Rights Advocates Program over e-mail. She writes, “I still keep in touch with my friends in the program. I continue to respect and admire their work.”
, Lagos State University
When Tunde Akanni joined HRAP in 1998, he was working with the Centre for Free Speech in Nigeria, a free expression group co-established by 1997 Advocate Babatunde Olugboji. At the time, the group was in the process of advocating for the release of four Nigerian journalists who had been arrested for writing about the alleged 1995 coup attempt. The experience would be one of many in which Tunde was involved as an international consultant dedicated to human rights advocacy.
During HRAP, Tunde writes that he had “the opportunity to effectively internationalize [his] activities and improve [his] skills.” In fact, he credits a fundraising course taught by Paul Martin, the director at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the time, with helping him to secure a $20,000 grant to support his organization. Apart from building his skillset, Tunde connected with colleagues that he now remains in contact with even 20 years later.
Today, Tunde is involved in a number of initiatives related to internet governance at the Information Aid Network (IFAnet). He lectures at Lagos State University.