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 .
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
Program Coordinator, Broad Initiatives for Negros Development (BIND)
Benedicto Sánchez is a 2005 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from the Philippines. Presently, he is the Program Coordinator of the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development (BIND), a local NGO based in Negros Occidental, Philippines, a court annexed mediator at the Philippine Supreme Court and a columnist of the syndicated community newspaper Sun Star Bacolod.
As Program Coordinator for BIND, Sánchez helps mountain communities advocate for their land and tenurial rights. He works on sustainable mountain development projects that are recommended by the United Nation’s Rio Agenda 21. In addition, he acts as the Southeast geographical representative of the global mountain partnership for sustainable development, a voluntarily alliance of global partners dedicated to improving the well-being, livelihoods and opportunities of mountain people and the protection of mountain environments around the world.
When describing the benefits of HRAP, Sánchez writes, “It opened my eyes to new methodologies and strategies for human rights advocacy. The rights-based approach to development taught me how to apply pressure on State development rights obligations and non-state actors such as multinational corporations to enact better corporate social responsibility practices.” The combination of trainings, workshops, courses and networking opportunities helped him understand how to effectively advocate for economic, social and cultural rights, which are seldom tackled by Philippine’s human rights organizations.
During his time at HRAP, Sánchez formed valuable relationships with professors at Columbia University. Professor J. Paul Martin provided him with an opportunity to share his work. Sánchez co-authored “Collective security: a village-eye view” in United Nations Reform and the New Collective Security with Dr. Joseph Paul Martin. Additionally, Sánchez’s paper, “Does the Food Sovereignty Movement Exist in Negros: The BIND and ONOPRA Experiences on the compendium Food Sovereignty in Southeast Asia” was published in Kasarinlan, the Philippines Journal of Third World Studies.
Sánchez remains in touch with fellow HRAP participants. He writes that the global network of human rights advocates has been an overwhelming source of information and support. He adds, “As I move on to tackle more work along international concerns from the grassroots, I’m confident I can draw on the support of the HRAP community to help out regardless if the arena of action is in the Asia-Pacific, North America, Latin America, Europe and Africa.”
Democratic Republic Of Congo, 2005
General Director, Institut de Recherche en Droits Humains
Hubert Masoka Tshiswaka has served as a human rights defender since 1996. He is the General Director of the Institut de Recherche en Droits Humains (IRDH), a private institution of research and training on human rights founded in 2014. In 2004, Tshiswaka co-founded Action contre l’impunité pour les droits humains, an NGO based in Lubumbashi that works to promote corporate responsibility in the Katanga mining areas. Between 1996 and 2004, he was the President of ASADHO/Katanga, a community-based human rights NGO. Following his participation in HRAP, Tshiswaka served as the DRC Country Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. He holds the LLM from Witwatersrand University.
When asked in 2018 about the greatest benefit of HRAP, he writes: “With a backward look, years after HRAP, I’m convinced that the program impacted me a lot. IRDH is a result of my passage at Columbia where I learned how to give the best of myself to my community. The global network of alumni has been an incredible resource, providing an opportunity to learn and share experiences of working on common global human rights agenda. I still keep contact with friends in Indonesia, China, Philippines, Nigeria, Ghana, Mexico, USA, and Italy.”
Executive Director, Platform for Labour Action (PLA)
Lilian Keene-Mugerwa is a 2004 Graduate from the Human Rights Advocates Program from Uganda. Currently, Keene-Mugerwa is the Executive Director of the Platform for Labour Action (PLA), which promotes and defends labor rights in Uganda, placing emphasis on the rights of marginalized workers in the informal sector. As Executive Director, she is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the PLA’s overall advocacy strategy and the day-to-day management of the organization.
HRAP is a four-month interdisciplinary program that provides Advocates with the opportunity to learn from expert practitioners through a variety of skills-building workshops and training. When asked about how HRAP assisted her work at PLA, Keene-Mugerwa writes, “My participation in HRAP gave me the knowledge and skills to build the Platform for Labour Action as a leading advocate for labor rights.” The human rights advocacy trainings offered through HRAP gave her practical advocacy skills that she applied to PLA’s labour rights campaign. These skills helped her advocate for significant reforms in the social security sector. In addition to the human rights advocacy trainings, the media trainings proved to be incredibly beneficial to her career. She writes that she can confidently draft press releases and hold press conferences with specific demands, furthering the work of her organization.
El Salvador, 2004
Executive Director, Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador
“Compromise, love and dedication.” These words have become Carolina Quinteros’ dogma in her 20 years of incredibly impressive social policy work.
Driven by a deep concern and desire to impart social change in her home country of El Salvador, Carolina Quinteros joined HRAP in 2004 after having served as executive director of Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador (GMIES) for seven years. Since its inception in 1996, Quinteros had been devotedly working at GMIES, an organization dedicated to monitoring and improving labor conditions in the manufacturing industry.
During her time at Columbia University, Quinteros gained valuable skills that would allow her to continue working towards her admirable cause. On a personal level, she was inspired through sharing the experience of lobbying and raising awareness with her fellow advocates, who were just as motivated and as passionate as she was. Even more importantly, she found herself impressed and excited by the visibility that her organization was gaining as she was able to tap into the vast network afforded by the HRAP program.
Today, Quinteros continues in her endeavor to create safer, more just labor conditions for maquila workers in El Salvador. Her years of commendable work have taught her that it is “a job you take with you wherever you go”; in other words, it is her ability to put her heart into her work that has kept her motivated to effect social change.
“Compromiso, amor y dedicación.” Esta frase se ha convertido en inspiración para Carolina Quinteros en sus veinte años de servicio social.
Motivada por una preocupación profunda y un deseo de crear cambio social en su país de origen, El Salvador, Carolina Quinteros participó en HRAP durante el 2004 después de haber servido como directora ejecutiva para el Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador (GMIES) por siete años. Desde su comienzo en 1996, Quinteros había estado trabajando apasionadamente por GMIES, una organización dedicada al monitoreo y el mejoramiento de las condiciones laborales en la industria manufacturera.
En la universidad de Columbia, Quinteros adquirió destrezas valiosas que le ayudarían a seguir su admirable trabajo. Personalmente, se sintió inspirada al compartir la experiencia de cabildeo y levantamiento de conciencia con sus colegas, que eran tan apasionados y estaban tan motivados como ella. Más importante aún fue la impresión que le causó la visibilidad que su organización estaba ganando gracias a la red de contactos profesionales ofrecida por el programa HRAP.
Actualmente, Quinteros continua con su esfuerzo para crear condiciones más seguras y justas para las trabajadoras de la maquila en El Salvador. Sus años de encomiable trabajo le han enseñado que ese es “un empleo que requiere atención afuera de la oficina; te persigue por toda la vida.” En otras palabras, es la habilidad de dedicarse completamente a ese esfuerzo lo que le ha mantenido su nivel de motivación para poder efectuar cambios sociales.
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Founder, Trustee and Director, Centre for Women’s Development and Research
2004 Advocate K.R. Renuka is the founder, trustee and director of Centre for Women’s Development and Research (CWDR). She is responsible for fundraising, staff-training, planning, monitoring and reporting.
Since HRAP, she attended a training in social entrepreneurship conducted by Dasra Mumbai, which bridges the gap between those investing in social change and those spearheading the changes, and She also completed the M.A. in Economics from Madurai Kamaraj University and M.Phil. in Micro-level Planning from Gandhigram Rural University, Dindigul, Tamilnadu.
HRAP provides advocates invaluable opportunity to network with numerous organizations in the field of human rights. As one of accomplishments after the program, she highlights, “After attending HRAP, I registered a trade union called Manushi for women domestic workers and have been involved in advocacy, lobbying and campaign activities. I was able to raise funds from Global Giving because of HRAP.” Renuka’s work through Manushi has prompted the government to initiate a welfare board for domestic workers. She says, “They have also set up a committee to fix minimum wages for domestic workers. In fact, domestic workers gained recognition as workers and they are now included in the informal workers list.”
Renuka highlights that her organization received the Outstanding Organization Award from Anbu Palam, an Adyar-based NGO, for its work with women’s rights. She says of HRAP:
It helped me to understand the human rights approach to women’s development. I have also learned the international human rights conventions and its use. I know how to work with policy makers and use advocacy to change government policies.
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
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.”
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.
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.”