Between 1989 and 2023, more than 350 advocates from nearly 100 countries have attended the program. HRAP participants have ranged from early-career advocates who cut their teeth in very urgent human rights situations to mid-career advocates who have founded organizations. HRAP alumni have served as UN special rapporteurs, in the ministries of their governments, and at leading human rights organizations around the globe. They have been recognized with honors including the Rafto Prize, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the highest acknowledgment from the international human rights community.
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 .
Most recently, Lina Castellanos was a Policy Research Fellow with the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Prior to earning her M.A. in International Affairs from The New School, Castellanos interned for Human Rights Watch where she worked with the Development and Outreach division and the Americas division. She has also worked with the Peace and Security section of UN Women.
Before moving to New York, Castellanos worked in Bogotá, Colombia with the Director General for the Colombian National Protection Unit, analyzing cases of human rights violations and advising the Director on the approval of security measures for over 300 cases. She has a B.A. in Political Science.
Interim CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance
Sandra Creamer is a Wannyi/Kalkadoon Indigenous woman from Australia. Currently, she works on behalf of human rights for Indigenous persons as the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance and an adjunct Professor with the University of Queensland. She also serves as a legal officer, having worked in law for more than 15 years.
Creamer started as the Indigenous Community Liaison Officer with Legal Aid Queensland working with Indigenous women and children who were victims of crime. She also conducted legal information workshops and assisted in cases of racial discrimination and family law. Creamer advocates for Indigenous women, and it is important to her that they are always included in consultation and negotiations. She writes, “When women are included, it is then a collective voice from a community group. Indigenous women also need respect for their views and opinions—for Indigenous women and children have the right to live in a safe environment and be free from any forms of violence.
One of the biggest issues Creamer points to is that Indigenous peoples face is forced assimilation in regards to their land. “Indigenous peoples are being forced off their lands by mining companies, land acquisitions by governments, internal county conflicts, and climate change to name a few,” states Creamer “Indigenous peoples need their land because this is how their values and identities are embedded—for the land is their heritage. If we do not receive support because no one is hearing our voices, as discrimination and the doors of opportunity continue to close, where will we be in the future? We will be one world, one language—and the traditional knowledge of how to maintain the earth will be lost. Cultural identity is of profound importance for the diversity of the world and to maintain the earth. Indigenous peoples will not just be the invisible people—we will become a memory. This is why I am a human rights advocate.”
Coordinator, Forensic Area Division, Centrde Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas
Maria Eugenia Carrera Chavez, a graduate of the 2013 Human Rights Advocates Program, returned to her position as the Coordinator of the Forensic Area Division at the Center for Forensic Analysis and Applied Sciences (CAFCA), where she works with Mayan indigenous communities in Guatemala to locate and identify the remains of those massacred during the 36-year-long civil war. According to a 1999 report, “Guatemala: Memory of Silence,” authored by the Commission for Historical Clarification, approximately 83% of the 200,000 people killed during this time were Mayan. Many bodies are still being unearthed today, and Maria and her organization work to return them to their families and strive for healing, transitional justice mechanisms, and human rights in Guatemala.
One current project at CAFCA is an assessment of the “Kaqchikel Case,” that concerns the grave Human Rights violations that occurred in the central area of the country against the Mayan Kaqchikel population during the Internal Armed Conflict. The process seeks to spur a serious investigative process within the Office of the Ministerio Público, the Attorney General, to provide access to justice to all victims and survivors of the abuses committed by the National Army. She writes:“The quantity of victims in this case is reported to be around 2,000, which means that if the process is successful, a similar amount of families will have the ability to go to a trial and demand a sentence for the perpetrators of these acts, including forced disappearance, sexual violence against women, massacres, and forced displacement.”
Reflecting on the benefits of HRAP, she notes that it strengthened her capacities, gave her theoretical knowledge of topics such as transitional justice and genocide, taught her how to efficiently utilize media sources, and strengthened her ability to create networks. She remains in frequent contact with her colleagues from the program, writing: “I made great and wonderful friends in the HRAP 2013 and once in a while we have a collective email with life updates. I also have new contacts on Facebook from other HRAP classes and we follow each other’s activities, even if we don’t know each other personally.” She also notes: “In general I feel much more confident with working in English when my work demands it. HRAP necessitated that I be able to clearly communicate what my organization is doing in a concise way and effective way. This skill has been extremely helpful for me in continuing to create new networks and to represent my organizations in different spaces worldwide.”
-Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
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
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
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
Director - International Human Rights Program, Arcus Foundation
The Human Rights Advocates Program was the key point in my development from an activist with courage, enthusiasm, and a vision into a more professional human rights advocate with knowledge, experience, and self-confidence,” wrote 2000 Advocate Adrian Relu Coman. Adrian participated in HRAP when he was serving as the Executive Director of ACCEPT, a Romanian NGO that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
His is a story of personal advancement which he used constructively to better the lives of many. Benefitting from his new knowledge, skills, contacts, and funds, Coman went on to work for two more years with ACCEPT, years in which Coman successfully galvanized public support in order to pressure policy-makers to repeal an antigay criminal law and adopt an anti-discrimination law. Benefitting from HRAP’s fundraising and proposal writing classes, he also raised a significant amount of funding.
Eager to enrich his practical insights with a profound academic understanding, Coman completed a bachelor’s degree in human rights at the City University of New York in 2005. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. While in New York, Coman was the Program Director at IGLHRC (now known as OutRight International), where he supervised the organization’s work at the United Nations. Then, along with the Baltic-American Partnership Fund, Coman worked for four years in grant-making for civil society development in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Coman served as the Parliamentary Assistant to Monica Macovei, Member of the European Parliament, and the EU-Moldova inter-parliamentary delegation, advising on matters of justice, human rights, internal affairs, anti-corruption, and democratic governance. His responsibilities were wide-ranging and included the drafting and negotiation of legislative amendments, speeches, and parliamentary questions, as well as coordination of public hearings and other events, including a campaign which resulted in the adoption of first anti-corruption declaration.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Ruşen Çakir is a 1993 Advocate. Based in Istanbul, Çakir has been working as a journalist since 1985. He worked for Nokta, Tempo, Cumhuriyet, Milliyet, CNN-Türk and NTV, Vatan, and Habertürk. Çakir is a co-founder and the current editor-in-chief of medyascope.tv. His focus as a journalist has been on Islamic movements, Kurdish affairs, and Turkish nationalism. He was a board member of the Open Society Foundation of Turkey from 2012 to 2016.
His publications include Verse and Slogan, The Islamic Formations in Turkey, 1990; Neither Sharia, nor Democracy, Understanding the Welfare Party, 1994; Resistance and Obedience, The Islamist Woman between Two Powers, 2000; Hizbullah Goes Deeper, The Future of Islamist Violence, 2001; Turkey’s Kurdish Problem, 2004; and The Battle between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen in 100 Questions, 2014.
—Article composed by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Rector, Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI
When asked about the effect of HRAP on him, 1993 Advocate Kujtim Çashku of Albania reported that HRAP provided him “another angle to see the world.” Çashku, a film director and screenwriter, has used his experience with HRAP to expand the importance of human rights through film and in his home country.
Some of Çashku’s notable works include Kolonel Bunker, a story about the communist regime in Albania, and Magic Eye, a story about manipulation in the media today. Both films have won several international awards and been recognized at film festivals throughout Europe. Kolonel Bunker was also submitted as the Albanian film to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Çashku directed the documentaries, The Tears of Kosova and Equinox.
According to Çashku, HRAP teaches participants a “new perception of time, power of selection and priorities, [and] culture of dialogue.” When not making films, Çashku serves as Rector of the Academy of Film & Multimedia MARUBI, which he founded in 2004. The school is the first university for film and television education and training in Albania and brings together students from throughout the Balkans.
Combining his passions for film, education, and human rights, Çashku acknowledges that through his participation in HRAP has assisted his work by helping to create the first International Film Festival of Human Rights in Albania in 2006, a cultural platform for the dissemination and awareness-raising on human rights issues. The festival, which is held annually at the MARUBI film school, will celebrate its 13th anniversary in 2018. Çashku also founded the First Albanian Forum of Human Rights (Albanian Helsinki Committee). In addition, he holds the titles of Member of the European Film Academy, Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), and the Orden del Merito Civile (Spain). He also holds the Doctor of Letters from Utica College in New York.
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018.