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 .
Associated Lawyer, Supreme Court of Bangladesh
U M Habibun Nessa is a 1995 graduate of HRAP from Bangladesh. She is an associated lawyer at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. She is also an active member of Naripokkho, a women's membership-based organization working on the women's advancement and entertainment, elimination of discrimination against women and establishing justice for all. She pro-bono handles the Naripokkho lawsuits and assists the organization’s activities.
In UM Habibun’s words, “participation in HRAP was an amazing beginning of understanding the theory of human rights, its history and practice. Later, I became a known human rights lawyer and created work opportunities for others.” She says that she greatly benefited from the fundraising skills training offered by HRAP and enjoyed the internship experience that the program provided.
UM Habibun continues to work on women’s rights focusing on the issues of gender discrimination, violence against women, child protection, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the Rohingya refugees.
- Article compiled by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019.
Program Coordinator of the Marriage Enrichment Program, Cambodian Association of America
In the words of Chanthol Oung, a 1995 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, the greatest benefits of HRAP included “the knowledge on human rights tools to support me in advocating for human rights, learning many practical programs/initiatives from the visits, fundraising skill, and power of networking.” HRAP impresses these skills on participants during a four month stay in New York City with a short visit to Washington, D.C. Many advocates who take part in the program find that they have adopted a whole new set of professional qualifications.
Oung returned to her home country, Cambodia, after participating in HRAP and became Executive Director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, which she founded. She led the organization for ten years, and the Center now has more than a hundred full-time staff and thousands of community volunteers who provide legal services, counseling, skills training, and community organizing as well as rescue victims of trafficking and provide loans and scholarships to girls from landless families. When asked about the assistance HRAP may have provided to her to complete her work, Oung says, “I always work for the promotion of human rights by using what I learned (International Human Rights Instruments) from Columbia to guide my direct service, to raise awareness for public attitude change toward the respect of human dignity and fundamental rights, and to challenge policy and legal reform for equality between men and women and non-violence.”
The quality and strength of Oung as a Human Rights Advocate also shined forth in other areas during her time at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. She was elected Chairwoman of the NGOs CEDAW Committee, composed of 67 NGOs. In this role, she spearheaded programs to lobby governments to pass laws on domestic violence as well as advocated for many other governmental policies and programs to advance women and children. This role required her to regularly sit with the Board of Directors of many prominent legal, human rights, adhoc-Committees, and donor agencies.
The achievements Oung has made since her participation in HRAP have been recognized from a wide array of prestigious national and international organizations. She received the award for International Women of Courage from the State Department of the United States, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership from the Philippine President, the Japanese Parliament Award for Human Rights, and was nominated for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When reflecting on her experience in HRAP and its effect on her current work, Oung concludes, “HRAP has been very instrumental to my human rights work at anywhere I live and work.” Today, Oung is living in the United States and pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Administration, having completed a Master’s Degree in Law in Hong Kong in 2003 with a specialization in International Human Rights Law as well as having completed a MBA in Cambodia. She is also currently working as Program Coordinator of the Marriage Enrichment Program for the Cambodian Association of America where her duties include supervising multi-cultural staff, doing case management, developing training curriculum, increasing public awareness of the program, and reporting to both the Executive Director and grantor, the United States federal government.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Oung is currently working towards a PhD.
Secretary and General Counsel, Media Development Investment Fund, Inc.
1995 Advocate Elena Popovic is currently serving as Secretary and General Counsel at Media Development Investment Fund, Inc. (MDIF) in New York, which is formerly known as the Media Development Loan Fund. MDIF is an investment fund that provides affordable financing and business management training to professional and independent news media companies in emerging democracies. She is responsible for the legal oversight of operations as well as program coordination, evaluation, and analysis of financial and management needs.
When asked about how HRAP assisted in her work of human rights advocacy, she highlights that HRAP provides opportunities to explore academic topics on human rights issues as well as practical skills for human rights advocates. She states, “HRAP helped systemize my knowledge of human rights and international human rights protections. The program also improved my fundraising and report-writing skills.”
After HRAP, she was nominated for the 1995 Reebok Human Rights Award and completed her master’s degree in International Law from New York University School of Law, prior to being admitted to the New York State Bar. When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she replies, “My classmates! Although my classmates lived and worked in very different environments, the pattern of human rights violations proved similar to what I saw in my country, the former Yugoslavia. So we could share experiences and learn from each other.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Senior Lecturer, Yarsi University Law School, Jakarta, Indonesia
Ridarson Galingging participated in HRAP in 1994 while he worked at Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. He is a practicing lawyer and teaches international law and human rights at Yarsi University Law School in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the same time Ridarson is the chairman of the Indonesian Scholarship and Research Support Foundation.
When reflecting about his time at HRAP, Ridarson reports: “HRAP has broadened my knowledge on international human rights and international advocacy. The best part of the program was attending classes at Columbia University Law School, and especially meeting the late noted professor Louis Henkin. One of the greatest benefits of this program is the privilege of becoming an alumnus of the HRAP at Columbia University and meeting human rights activists from many different countries.”
Participation in HRAP influenced Ridarson’s future work as an international and human rights lawyer. He recalls: “My semester-long experience at Columbia University contributed to my acceptance to the LL.M. program at the University of Sheffield (UK) and to winning the UK government’s Chevening Scholarship.”
- Compiled by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 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.
South Africa, 1993
Advocate / Senior International Consultant, Greg Moran and Associates
A member of the 1993 class, Greg Moran still looks back on HRAP fondly. Not only did he gain exposure to various human rights organizations at the international level, but he also “gained a greater understanding of human rights in a global context.” He states: “In addition to the prestige that comes with having participated in HRAP, the exposure to various aspects of human rights advocacy has helped [my career] immensely.” In fact, the experience helped him to realize a different career path than the one he had originally been pursuing. Moran writes: “In 1995, I was approached by the South African Constitutional Assembly to assist in the management of the extensive public participation process that was an integral part of the process to develop the new South African Constitution. [The role] required me to design and implement mass national education and awareness campaigns on human rights and constitutionalism.”
After working with the South African Constitutional Assembly, Moran became the first Head of the Education, Training and Information Department of the then nascent South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), again designing and overseeing national human rights awareness and education campaigns as well as assisting key role players – including prisons, police and the military – to develop and implement their own human rights programmes. After four and a half years, Moran left the SAHRC at the end of 2000 to embark on a career as a senior international consultant to various international development partners (including the United Nations and European Union). In this role, he has designed, implemented and evaluated a range of human rights and good governance programs (including those focused on access to justice, rule of law, gender equality, democracy and social justice) in various African and Asian countries.
Currently, Moran is involved in a number of projects, including leading the evaluation of the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, and as a lead technical advisor to the Danish International Development Agency’s ‘Right to Services and Good Governance Programme” in Ghana, focusing on issues such as the Judiciary’s anti-corruption strategy and the establishment of Gender-Based Violence Courts. Moran also recently designed a human rights program in Pakistan on behalf of the European Union.
With extensive experience as a human rights advocate and senior international development consultant, Moran leaves those at the beginning of their careers with the following advice: “…learn as much as you can about human rights at the global level–who are the actors and what are their agendas - and focus on particularly on ‘new’, emerging and evolving issues such as climate change and its effect on human rights and democracy; safety and security concerns and what these mean for human rights and democracy (including how they contribute to the shrinking space for civil society); conflict resolution and transitional justice; and forced migration and the rights of migrants. These are areas that not only include significant human rights challenges in themselves, but also allow for the increasing erosion of human rights in the name of internal security.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
CEO, Polo Consultoria
Luis Felipe Polo is a 1993 Advocate. When asked about his experience in HRAP, Polo wrote: “My participation in HRAP benefited me greatly because I was able to apply the knowledge I gained from the program to my work in defending human rights. It also helped my professional growth and empowered me to influence others to advocate for human rights.
Since leaving HRAP, Polo has been involved in international development, human rights, public policy, and education. Polo has several publications, including "Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights" (2000, 2010, and 2013). In 2001, Polo was appointed as Rector at the Universidad Rafael Landívar-Quetzaltenango Campus. He managed the university’s 11 undergraduate and graduate programs, which included 5,000 students and 350 faculty and personnel staff. Polo introduced human rights courses to the university. In 2005, he left academia to serve as the Principal Advisor to Dr. Eduardo Stein Barillas, the Vice-President of the Republic of Guatemala.
Polo has also worked for institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and UNICEF. He served as the Executive Director at the Latin American Office for Human Rights of Journalists. As Executive Director, he defended journalists accused of political crimes in Latin America and helped free several journalists from prison. He was a candidate for the Reebook Prize for Human Rights in 2004. Polo was the Chief of the Tax and Customs Development Institute, which is part of SUNAT, the tax and customs body in Peru. In 2015, he served as adviser to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in Peru.
Over the years, Polo has strengthened his knowledge base and professional skill set through his management coursework at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. He also enrolled in post-graduate studies at both the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and the University of Havana. The French Government and the Congress of the Republic of Ecuador have recognized him for his academic and professional achievements. He was awarded a Doctor Honoris Causa by the Continental University in Peru for his social and human rights work.
He has taught courses including Constitutional and Human Rights Law, Techniques of Negotiation, International Public Law, and Conflict Resolution at the UPC University, Catholic University, Pacific University, and Continental University in Peru.
—Submitted by Luis Felipe Polo, January 2016.
Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya to the United Nations
Dean, Professor of Law, Fundação Getulio Vargas School of Law
Oscar Vilhena Vieira is a 1991 graduate of HRAP. He has worked at the Center for the Studies of Violence of the University of São Paulo and the Teotonio Vilela Human Rights Commission, Brazil.
He is now the dean and a professor of law of the School of Law of the Getulio Vargas Foundation where he teaches constitutional law and human rights. He is also a member of the board of several organizations, such as Conectas Human Rights, Pro Bono Institute, Open Society Foundations (Human Rights Initiative) and Arns Human Rights Commission – a recently founded organization that aims to cope with human rights violations in Brazil. He is a columnist at Folha de S. Paulo where he writes on human rights and democracy. Oscar Vilhena Vieira is also a practicing pro-bono lawyer in human rights cases.
Vieira says: “Participation in HRAP was essential to define my carrier as a human rights lawyer and scholar. First, it opened a broader perspective about the human rights movement around the word and the challenges to promote human rights globally. It also contributed to my education as a human rights lawyer about the intricacies of international machinery and allowed me to have a better comparative perspective on the use of domestic law to promote human rights.”
Vieira was able to use the networking opportunities provided by HRAP for forging partnerships and accomplishing his human rights initiatives: “In the last decades, as director of Conectas Human Rights and Pro Bono Institute – and later member of the board of both institutions - I kept in contact and made partnerships with several organizations that I had an initial contact during my period in HRAP. To cite some: Human Rights Watch, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Vera Institute, and funders as Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations. I would like to highlight that the creation of Conectas Human Rights and SUR Journal counted with the contribution of [former ISHR director] Professor J. Paul Martin and HRAP.”
When asked what the greatest benefit was of his participation in HRAP, Oscar Vilhena Vieira responds: “Sense of belonging to a larger, global community of human rights advocates, inspiring tutorial experience with Paul Martin, access to academic resources at Columbia University.”
Oscar Vilhena Vieira holds a B.A. in law from the Catholic University of Sao Paulo, an LL.M. from Columbia University, an M.A. and a Ph.D in political science from the University of Sao Paulo.
Former Executive Director, Media Foundation for West Africa
Professor Kwame Karikari is the former Executive Director of the MFWA. He has been for several years, a professor in journalism and mass communication at the School of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana. He has also been involved in training journalists in several countries in Africa over the years.
Prior to that and during all those years, he practiced as a journalist, including serving as director general of the public Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in the early 1980s. He has also been an activist pursuing social justice and human rights causes, in Africa, including democratic reforms in Ghana. He serves on the boards of a number of African and international rights organisations and on the editorial boards of academic publications.
He was educated at the City College of New York and Columbia University in New York.
Member of the House of Representatives, Uruguayan Parliament
1990 Advocate Felipe Michelini Delle Piane, Esq., visited ISHR during a trip to NYC in the spring of 2011. He informed us of his activities: “I am a member of the House of Representatives in the Uruguayan Parliament for Nuevo Espacio, one of the political parties that comprise the governmental left-wing coalition of the Frente Amplio. I have a seat at the key Legal and Constitutional Committee and at the Special Committee on Human Rights and Violence, among others. I also serve as a member of the Uruguayan delegation to the MERCOSUR Parliament. In addition to my political duties I teach International Human Rights Law at the University of the Republic of Uruguay.” Between 2005 and 2009, he was the Deputy Minister of Education and Culture and I chaired Uruguay's delegation to UNESCO.
We asked him how HRAP affected him both professionally and personally. He replied: “My participation in HRAP gave me a broad and full overview of human rights issues and a basic approach to international law. It was an opportunity to meet the society of New York and America as a whole . To experience the Columbia campus life was also a key ingredient of the program. Finally I was able to build an international network in the area, that has lasted since those times until these very days.” After HRAP, he earned the LL.M. at Columbia Law School.
When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of his participation in HRAP, he replied: “The greatest benefit of having attended the Columbia HRAP is to be part of a worldwide community of human rights advocates who share the same experiences and the same commitment.”
—Article composed by Stephanie V. Grepo, Director, Capacity Building, April 2011
Palestinian Authority, 1990
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Raji Sourani, a 1990 graduate of the HRAP, writes, “My life would have been very different without my experience at HRAP.”
Since he finished the program, Sourani, a human rights lawyer, has gone on to achieve notable professional accomplishments. In 1995, Sourani co-founded the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), a non-profit organization based in Gaza dedicated to protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law, and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Since then, PCHR has become the leading human rights organization in the Gaza Strip, serving as an independent legal body in Gaza that documents and investigates human rights abuses and provides legal aid and counseling to victims.
HRAP provides advocates with unique access to a range of human rights organizations, institutions and policymakers that are based in New York City. Sourani says that these networking opportunities greatly enhanced his work at PCHR: “The professional and personal relationships that I developed during my time at HRAP have lasted until today, remain ever present, and are of invaluable importance in the work of PCHR.”
When reflecting on his experience in HRAP and its impact on his current work, Sourani concludes: “My participation in HRAP has significantly helped my work in human rights advocacy and litigation. My time at Columbia University was an eye-opening experience and provided me with access to an international legal network, and especially within the New York human rights community. It has expanded the reach of my work and that of PCHR immensely.”
Sourani has held prominent executive decision-making positions at various international human rights organizations. He served as the president for 2 terms, and as a member of Board for 3 terms, of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Cairo, Egypt (2011–2016); as a vice-president of the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme for 3 terms, Paris, France (2001–2013); and as a board member at International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, Switzerland (2006–2012). Currently, he is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Legal Assistance Consortium (since 2015) and a member of the International Executive Committee of the International Human Rights Commission (since 2003).
He has received several awards for his work in Gaza, including the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights in 2002, the International Service Human Rights Award in 2002, the Human Rights Prize awarded by the Republic of France in 1996, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award with Israeli lawyer, Avigdor Feldman in 1991. Sourani received the 2013 Right Livelihood Award for his work defending and promoting human rights for all in Palestine and the Arab World for 35 years.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013, updated in January 2014, and in July 2019 by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor.