Between 1989 and 2021, a total of 346 human rights advocates from 95 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, 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
National Adviser, Danish Institute for Human Rights - Zambia
2003 Advocate Charles Dinda Founded and served as Executive Director of Law and Development Association (LADA) in Zambia from 1997 to 2010. LADA is a non-governmental civil society organization dedicated to advancing the legal, social and economic status of women and children by increasing their access to justice and securing their rights through legal education awareness, training of paralegals at the community level, provision of free legal assistance and representation in the courts of law in Zambia. Dinda managed the overall business of LADA, designed training curriculum for the paralegals trainings and supervised the activities of paralegals at community level. He later foundedZambia Women and Girls Foundation (ZaWGF) which protects women and girls from gender-based violence through enhancing the access to treatment, rehabilitation and menstrual hygiene and legal representation for sexually abused women as well as people living with HIV/AIDS. He is still a board member to ZaWGF even though he is currently serving as Senior Legal Advisor at DIHR in Zambia where he is serving as Senior Legal Advisor providing technical advice to European Union and GIZ funded project called Program for the Legal Empowerment and Enhanced Justice Delivery (PLEED) in Zambia.
Dinda shares his story about his work after participating in the 2003 HRAP:
“Participation in HRAP assisted me in many ways. First, I was able to improve the effectiveness of my organization. Also, I could improve my advocacy skills which eventually led staff and local communities to internally empower themselves with human rights issues.” As a result, his organization was appointed by the government to provide human rights training to the lower courts in Zambia. Also, the empowerment among his staff members and local communities synergized other local NGOs to enhance active interactions and human rights services. After his participation in HRAP, he continued to attend numerous trainings and certificate programs focusing on human rights topics such as health education, HIV/AIDS, human rights education and now access to justice.
He also highlights that HRAP provides invaluable networking resources for the development of his organization. In 2003, he met students from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After HRAP, the students Columbia University worked with him on an assessment of his organization’s program, Paralegal Services Program. The results of the assessment motivated him to develop a project called Paralegal Kids Program which teaches children in Zambia to be aware of child abuse and available reporting mechanisms. Also, after attending the resource mobilization skills training provided by HRAP, he acquired 12 funding partners at both the domestic and international levels. He states, “I was able to build LADA a bigger office and rent other NGOs some space in the office as a fundraising venture. Many women and girls have broken their silence on social injustice and gender-based violence in southern province in Zambia.”
He concludes, “I can never forget the first weekend when I arrived in New York City. Walking on the snow for the first time in my life, I could interact with a lot of people from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I benefited a lot from HRAP by taking quality courses at Columbia University. My experience with HRAP established who I am right now. I appreciate the supportive efforts from HRAP staffs including Paul Martin who was willing to give considerate advices regarding my work back then. Above all, the classmates of 2003 HRAP gave me the courage to continue my fight for human rights violation in Zambia.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
January 2014 update: Dinda is currently working as a National Adviser with the Danish Institute for Human Rights – Zambia on “The Enhancement of Access to Justice in the Local Courts in Zambia” project.
Founder, and Director , Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas
2003 Advocate Patricia Guerrero is the founder and director of Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas (LMD) an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for the restitution of the fundamental rights for displaced women who lost their rights due to armed conflict.
As a lawyer committed to the defense of human rights, she has represented the organization in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Colombian Government. Additionally, she is the director of the Gender, Democracy and Human Rights Observatory, which undertakes research on social and legal issues in Colombia.
Guerrero was also responsible for the construction of the City of Women (Ciudad de las Mujeres) in Turbaco, which offers housing to displaced women and their families. In recognition of her work, Guerrero received the Human Rights Prize awarded by Sofasa Renault in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the National Peace Prize in Colombia, a Special Mention from the Jury of the King of Spain Human Rights Award, and recognition from the U.S. Congress. She serves on the ad hoc advisory committee of approximately 20 organizations and individuals as part of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She was awarded the American Bar Association Human Rights Award in 2017.
When reflecting about her experience at HRAP, Guerrero writes: “It changed my life forever and the life of displaced women in Colombia. I will always be grateful for the hospitality of Columbia University, which I consider my alma mater to the people who fought for a Colombian woman to take part in the HRAP in 2003 to Professor J. Paul Martin who always believed in me to SIPA students who supported my projects and made them viable to Holly Bartling who taught me how to look for money to promote women’s rights to all the good professors of the program and to the rest of the advocates, especially Lydia Alpizar with who I maintain a deep, unshakeable friendship. I also wish to thank my beloved daughters Juliana, Juanita, and Silvana Brugman Guerrero, my granddaughter Micaela, and my husband Aris. Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank those who continue to believe in the great potential of thousands of anonymous human rights defenders in the world.”
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Professor of Law, Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh
Saifuddin Bantasyam left war-torn Aceh, Indonesia to participate in the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2002. He writes, “It was difficult to leave Aceh because there was so much human rights work to do.” Before participating in HRAP, Bantasyam co-founded and served as the Executive Director of Care Human Rights Foundation (CHRF), a non-governmental organization that documented human rights abuses and provided social tolerance trainings to the youth in Aceh, Indonesia.
The Human Rights Advocates Program is a four-month capacity-building program based in New York City. HRAP provides courses and trainings to provide advocates with an advanced knowledge in human rights as well as practical skills. HRAP builds on the skills of experienced human rights advocates that grapple with complex human rights issues. In reflecting on his experience at HRAP, Bantasyam writes, “HRAP provided me with the knowledge and tools to advance my human rights work at the CHRF and beyond.”
After graduating from HRAP in 2002, Bantasyam was eager to continue his work at Care Human Rights Foundation (CHRF). Within 9 months of his return, the Indonesian government under President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared a state of emergency and martial law in Aceh. Under the declared state of emergency, CHRF was forced to put a hold on its projects in the Aceh region. Then, the tsunami hit Aceh in December of 2004. Bantasyam and his family survived, but were left with nothing. A close colleague at CHRF and his wife and children were missing. A year after the devastating tsunami, he and his colleagues established the Aceh Recovery Forum to advocate for disaster survivors and help recover and rebuild communities in Aceh.
In 2005, things began to improve in the region as a peace deal between the Government of Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement was brokered. In August, the two factions signed the Aceh peace agreement “Memorandum of Understanding” in Helsinki, Finland. Bantasyam took on an important role in improving the relations between the two groups and helping the country to move forward. He was appointed as Vice Dean for Cooperation Affairs at Syiah Kuala University. In this role, he led a team of Professors that drafted the new governing law of Aceh. Additionally, he served as an expert to the Provincial Parliament, overseeing the final draft of the Law of Governance and helping draft a provision on human rights. The Indonesian parliament passed the new Aceh governing law, giving the province greater autonomy and control over its resources, along with the much desired permission to form provincial political parties.
Presently, Bantasyam is a law professor at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, teaching international human rights law. In 2011, he became the Director of Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies of University of Syiah Kuala in Banda Aceh. As Director, he is responsible for managing the Center and overseeing the department’s thematic research as well as organizing academic workshops, seminars and courses. In 2008, he helped facilitate a student exchange program with Osaka University, Hiroshima University, Meio University, and Nagasaki University in Japan. In 2012, the Center started an exchange student program in the area of peace and human security.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court of Sariaya
2002 Advocate Francelyn G. Begonia is Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Sariaya in Quezon Province in the Philippines.
She reflects that HRAP workshops provided an opportunity to broaden her perspectives on human rights issues by exploring diverse cases of human rights violations. She states, “Opportunities to apply my HRAP training in my current work are very limited because I preside over a first-level court which has no jurisdiction over most human rights… However, I was a government prosecutor for almost four years prior to my judicial appointment and I investigated, filed and prosecuted criminal indictments for human trafficking, child and spousal abuse. What I took from HRAP was a specialized training that forced me to go beyond my traditional training as a lawyer when investigating cases, assessing evidence and arguing cases.”
HRAP program provides various academic resources such as reading materials, books, and articles reinforcing advocates’ motivation for human rights issues. Begonia states, “I took home so many reading materials that I would not have had access to because of limitations in my country. I still use the red book, 25 Human Rights Documents, when I lecture on human rights. Some of these materials became a part of the library of our NGO and were very useful resources in our policy research.”
After HRAP, Begonia returned to her home non-profit organization, the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc., and utilized the network of contacts she gained through HRAP for fundraising, advocacy and campaign work. She also earned the Master of Laws degree in Public Service Law from the New York University School of Law in 2003. She says that HRAP taught her inter-personal communication and negotiation skills by giving her the space to discuss human rights issues with other advocates coming from different cultures and belief systems.
“Advocates must not only have the heart for human rights; more basic is having the heart for another advocate. Although the HRAP schedule was brutal, every moment was worth it.”
Project Director, Center for the Right to Health (CRH) in Nigeria,
2002 Advocate Bede Chimezie Eziefule currently serves as Project Director at the Center for the Right to Health (CRH) in Nigeria. CRH advocates for the full realization of the right to health in Nigeria and to promote respect for ethics and human rights in healthcare policies and practices for vulnerable groups such as people living with HIV/AIDS, women, youth and children. He manages the project from development to evaluation and designs capacity building projects on human rights issues such as sexual health, HIV/AIDS, STI and sexual minorities. He also conducts human resource development trainings on grant writing, research and human rights activism within the organization.
He highlights that his participation in HRAP “greatly enriched” his career and “immensely benefitted” his organization. He states, “The partnership with human rights organizations I developed while participating HRAP have facilitated my professional career with an opportunity to attend numerous international conferences and meetings. Also, the skills I received sharpened my theoretical understanding of human rights.” As a result, his profound understanding of human rights positively influenced on “increasing the quality of human rights researches and reports” that he conducted after the program.
Since his participation in HRAP, Bede developed the Sexual Minorities Project that mitigates the impact of HIV/AIDS among sexual minority groups. He also has started managing a project called “Health on Wheels” that provides mobile primary healthcare and education services to the rural communities suffering from poverty and geographical isolation. Due to his significant leadership role in HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, he was chosen to participate in International Leadership Visitors Program in 2008.
When asked for his final thoughts about his participation in HRAP, he concludes, “The friendships that I gained in New York have remained my greatest pillar of hope and encouragement for my work.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, August 2011
United States, 2002
Managing Director, Health Global Access Project (Health GAP)
When Jennifer Flynn Walker graduated from the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2002, she was serving as Co-Founder and Executive Director of the New York City AIDS Housing Network. She states, “Through HRAP, I learned ways to advance the right to housing. One thing that struck me was that the stronger the body of local laws affirming that right, the easier it would be to have the right recognized on the national and international level.” Flynn Walker continued working with NYC AIDS Housing Network after HRAP, and as she notes was the first to successfully advocate for the passage of right to housing legislation. This legislation creates a short time frame for people living with AIDS to move into permanent housing and it is the first of its kind in any major City for any population in the United States.
While HRAP is designed primarily for human rights advocates from low-income countries, advocates from high-income countries who represent marginalized communities such as Flynn Walker from the United States are welcome to participate as well as share and learn with other advocates. HRAP graduates usually cite the diversity of the participants as one of the best features of the program. According to Flynn Walker, “the greatest benefit, by far, was meeting the amazing activists from around the world.” She concludes, “Those connections are priceless.”
After HRAP, Flynn Walker went on to many new accomplishments. She has written numerous articles on AIDS and social justice issues, including The Drug Users Manual published by Open Society Institute in 2005 and, with Eustacia Smith, a chapter of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation published by Soft Skull Press in 2004. She was a Taproots Fellow at the Center for Community Change headquartered in Washington, D.C. and served as a consultant to the Open Society Institute where she provided training in community organizing and advocacy skills to drug-user unions in the former Soviet Union.
Because of her work, training, and expertise, Flynn Walker was highlighted as one of the leading LGBT/AIDS Activists by HIV Plus Magazine in 2009. In 2005, she was honored as the recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award, a $125,000 prize. In addition, she received the NYC Council Hero Award in 2002 during her participation in HRAP.
Today, Flynn Walker lives in Brooklyn with her spouse, Roger Williams University School of Law Professor Bela August Walker. They have a son, Flynn and she is expecting their second child in December. She left her position as Executive Director of NYC AIDS Housing Network in 2007 and currently serves as Managing Director of Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), an international AIDS advocacy organization. In this role, Flynn Walker is responsible for all Health GAP administration, fundraising, and campaign coordination.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
Co-founder, International Women’s Communication Centre
Dr. Limota Goroso Giwa co-founded the International Women’s Communication Centre (IWCC) in 1993. IWCC is an organization committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and other vulnerable groups in the Kwara State of Nigeria. What makes Dr. Goroso Giwa able to foster peace between religious communities in Kwara while also giving the women of those communities a multitude of opportunities is not only her incredible passion, but her ability to deeply understand those who she wants to help. She states: “If you want to work with rural women on communication issues, you have to speak their language. And their language is the language of survival.”
Prior to participating in HRAP in 2002, she had achieved great success in creating awareness of the daily struggles faced by Nigerian women and empowering women and girls at the community level. HRAP provided Dr. Goroso Giwa with the necessary skills to continue putting momentum behind the growth of the cause and organization that she cared so deeply about. Not only did she refine her proposal writing and find herself empowered by the networking opportunities offered by the program; she was inspired to later pursue a doctorate degree. She writes: “Over 12 years ago the memory of [my cohort’s] togetherness lingers in my mind… I will forever be grateful to have [had] the chance to participate in the program.”
Just one year after participating in HRAP, Dr. Goroso Giwa was nominated along with eight other Nigerian women for the Gender Empowerment Award, a distinction awarded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) project in Nigeria to women who have contributed to promotion of gender equality.
In 2005, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize” initiative for her contributions towards national peace, health, education, and human rights for women in Nigeria.
Human Rights Officer, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Khan is a 2002 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Following her time with HRAP, Khan returned to India and worked in the state of Gujarat with women survivors of sexual violence, fighting to get the strategic use of sexual violence during the 2002 unrest in Gujarat recognized and addressed in order to secure justice for survivors. Khan went on to complete a Masters in Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 2005 through an international fellowship program of the Ford Foundation.
Khan then went on to work with the United Nations Mission in Darfur from 2005-2007 on documenting and setting up remedial measures for sexual and gender-based violence in collaboration with government authorities. Starting in 2009, Khan worked in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq with the UN on post- conflict reconstruction, specifically supporting the development of legislative frameworks and the issue of conflict-related detainees.
Khan currently works as a Human Rights Officer and team leader for the women’s rights team of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Her duties include monitoring, reporting and building capacity of local institutions on women’s rights and gender. She also works on the implementation of UN Security Council 1325 and subsequent UN Security Council Resolutions on women’s participation in political and peace processes.
When asked about the impact that HRAP had on her capacity and skills, Khan says "The exposure I had through the program broadened my understanding of international human rights law and advocacy tools. The greatest benefit was the exposure to a different education system which helped me with pursuing further education. It also exposed me to a broader global scenario than only my own context. I learned a lot in terms of issues in other parts of the world and advocacy and campaign methods being used, and I learned about formulating my arguments using international human rights law."
Executive Director, Economic and Social Rights Centre (Hakijamii)
Odindo Opiata, a 2002 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from Kenya assesses the importance of HRAP on his work by saying, “Apart from providing me with a wide range of opportunity to create broad networks with other organizations working on human rights, the training helped me to sharpen my understanding of fundraising, advocacy, and economic, social, and cultural rights.” Prior to his participation in HRAP, Opiata was a long-time activist promoting the right to housing for the urban poor in his home country. Like many HRAP participants, he underwent the necessary training HRAP is able to provide for using international mechanisms and networks to advance his work.
Aside from advocacy training, HRAP also encourages participants to follow graduate coursework at Columbia University in subjects related to their interests. Opiata states that for him, “The course on economic, social, and cultural rights that was taught by Roger Normandy in particular has been key in enabling me to create the organization that I currently head and also in providing me with an opportunity to be one of the founding members of the International Network on Economic and Social Rights.” Additionally, participants will meet with and get to know personally other advocates in their field through meetings, lectures, and other HRAP events. Opiata says of his time in HRAP, “the participation enabled me to meet and know the work of individuals from diverse parts of the world that I would obviously not have been able to do had I not gotten the opportunity. Above all, it provided a unique opportunity to learn the wonderful and creative methods used by these groups.”
Since completing HRAP, Opiata has participated in other trainings on economic, social, and cultural rights as well as national and international conferences. In 2005, he founded the Economic and Social Rights Centre (Hakijamii) in Kenya where he continues to work as Executive Director. Because of Opiata’s prestige and expertise, his organization is now well-recognized as the leading institution in Kenya on matters of economic, social, and cultural rights. Opiata, as head of the organization, is regularly called upon to provide assistance to other organizations as well as government agencies in Kenya concerning the placement of economic, social, and cultural rights on the national agenda. His organization was also recognized as the nominee to coordinate and facilitate the hosting of the General Assembly and Strategy Meeting of the International Network on Economic and Social Rights in Nairobi in 2008, the first meeting of its kind to be held in Africa. In addition, HRAP has recognized Opiata’s organization through one of the many possible opportunities it is able to offer for its alumni. In the winter of 2010, HRAP organized a competition for alumni to apply for a Fellow from the Advocacy Project to work with their organizations. Hakijamii was chosen to receive a Fellow in the summer of 2010.
Since 2010, Opiata has spearheaded strategic interest litigation on housing rights that led to a precedent-setting ruling by the Constitutional Court in favor of thousands of slum dwellers. The project demonstrated the power of collaboration as a number of leading international human rights organizations were able to mobilize their economic and social technical expertise by being enjoined as amici curiae. As part of the implementation of the Constitution, Opiata was appointed in the Task Force that is drafting the national legislation on community land and evictions and resettlement.
Last year, Opiata was part of a small team that helped the Special Rapportour on the right to adequate housing in developing on a report on security of tenure. This report has been submitted to the Human Rights Council.
When considering overall the skills, education, opportunities, and training provided by HRAP, Opiata says, “My participation benefitted tremendously from the content and perspectives on advocacy, fundraising strategies, and the unique value that economic, social, and cultural rights can bring to the human rights discourse. All of these have proved to be extremely useful in my new work as Executive Director of my organization.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
Human Rights Program Manager, United States Agency for International Development-Colombia
When asked about the benefits of his experience in the 2002 HRAP, Leonardo Reales of Colombia states, “HRAP gave me key tools to improve my work as a human rights activist and academic.”
Upon entering HRAP, Reales was serving as Coordinator of the Human Rights Committee of the National Movement for the Human Rights of Afro-Colombian Communities (CIMARRON), one of Colombia's most prominent NGOs working to promote Afro-Colombian rights. Having participated in HRAP’s capacity building program of courses, networking and workshops, he says that HRAP “improved my speaking and writing skills and made relevant contacts for me at the international level, which has had an extremely-positive impact on my professional activities.”
Since his departure from HRAP, Reales has earned his Master’s Degree in Economic, Political, and International Affairs from Externado University in Bogota as well as a certificate in Regional Human Rights Systems from the Asser Institute at The Hague and the Catholic University of Leuven. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Louisiana State University and The New School in New York City. He has received prestigious awards for his work and education including a Fulbright Scholarship in 2005 and the Sue Davis Award for Talented Latin American PhD Students in 2007. Reales has been invited to the UN Forum on Minority Issues as an International Expert several times.
Asked how his participation in HRAP, Reales wrote, “I have used the methodological, theoretical, and practical tools that I acquired at the HRAP not only to improve the human rights reports that I write, but also to develop human rights campaigns and training programs and workshops throughout Colombia.”
Reales continued in his role as Coordinator of the Human Rights Committee and Social Development Committee of CIMARRON for almost 10 years and also became the Regional Correspondent of the World Association of School as an Instrument of Peace, where he was responsible for educating community leaders and teachers on human rights and peace issues. In 2012 and 2013 he worked for both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior in Colombia as a Human Rights and Political Advisor and in 2014 he worked as a Citizen Participation Consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank. Since 2015, Reales has been the Human Rights Program Manager at the United States Agency for International Development in Colombia, where he works with government institutions and civil society to promote human rights in the regions most affected by the conflict. Outside of his professional accomplishments, Reales is a professional comedian. Married in 2004, he has two Colombian-American baby girls born in New York, Sahara and Salome.
—Article composed by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
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
Director, Drebezova and Partners
Oksana Drebezova is a 2001 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from Belarus. She is the Director of Drebezova and Partners, a law service and consulting firm based in Belarus. In addition to her work at Drebezova and Partners, Drebezova serves as the Chair of the Association for Anti-Corruption Practices and Leader of a Belarus-based group facilitated by the NGO Transparency International: The Global Coalition Against Corruption.
The Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University provides advocates such as Drebezova with the opportunity to undergo further advocacy training, take graduate courses in the areas of their expertise and develop new skills. After graduating from HRAP, Drebezova returned to her home state of Belarus to continue her work as Director of the Legal Education in Human Rights at the Association of Women Lawyers of Belarus (AWLB). AWLB educates Belarusians about their rights and addresses their legal concerns. Through various projects, AWLB provides information on the country's political processes and local human rights issues as well as raising legal and civic awareness. In 2002, she completed her Bachelors at the Belarusian State Economic University.
Drebezova remains in contact with her fellow participants of the Human Rights Program in 2001.
Palestinian Authority, 2001
General Director, Al-Haq Organization
2001 Advocate Sha’wan Jabarin currently serves as General Director at Al-Haq Organization. This independent human rights organization advocates nationally and internationally to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through legal research, documentation and building capacity to address violations of the individual and collective rights of Palestinians under international law.
When asked about HRAP, Jabarin says, “Even though it has been over 10 years since HRAP, the memories flooded my mind like it was yesterday. At that time, the program was my first opportunity to travel and study abroad in many years before. I had had a travel ban imposed on me and spent many years in detention as a result of Israeli occupation policies. I still remember the faces of the people I met and the classes I attended. I remember walking in the snow from my apartment to the campus. Not only do I remember the lectures, I also remember the fun time such as the trip to Massachusetts and attending discussions at the State Department.”
One of experiences that he highlights is when he gave his speech on behalf of all the students in the program with Mr. Heineken. He recalls, “I still have that speech script today. The course on addressing the media and delivering the message helps me a lot when I give interviews. The video interview practice and discussions from the course helped me to focus on my message.”
He also emphasizes that his coursework on fundraising and proposal writings as well as his writing practice with Professor Martin provided him an opportunity to enhance the relationship with donors for the organization.
After participating HRAP in 2001, he returned to Palestine with a new sense of purpose and direction to promote human rights. As a result, his organization was awarded the Dutch Human Rights Prize. He reflects, “I have always seen myself as a human rights defender and HRAP helped me to shape my understanding of the defense of human rights and gave me directions in that pursuit. It was the experiences from HRAP that opened the door to help me to reach the position where I am today.”
In 2005, Jabarin also completed his master’s degree in Law with International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland. He was recently awarded the Distinguished Graduate Award from the institute at its 10th anniversary ceremony.
He concludes, “There are many milestones in a person’s life that make them into the person they become. The experience from HRAP at Columbia University is one of those experiences for me. The certificate I received after completing the program still sits on my desk where everyone who visits my office can see it. I am very proud of my experience and thankful for the opportunity.”
April 2017 Update: In addition to continuing to serve as General Director at Al-Haq, Jabarin is currrently involved in advocacy missions in Europe. He was also elected Secretary General for the FIDH during its 39th Congress in August 2016.