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 .
Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy, Treatment Action Group
Before participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Kaplan had worked for nearly ten years in Bangkok as the co-founder and Policy and Development Director at the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG). When asked about her experience at HRAP, Kaplan writes, “I gained practical knowledge and skills that built upon my human rights work in Thailand and globally, and I made contacts with extraordinary advocates who continue to inspire and motivate me to continue my work.”
The Human Rights Advocates Program is a four-month program at Columbia University that provides participants with the resources to learn and grow as human rights advocates. Advocates are required to audit at least two graduate level courses at Columbia University. Kaplan writes, “The opportunity to engage and study with prestigious human rights and law professors expanded my knowledgebase and shaped my perspective on human rights.” In addition to graduate coursework in law and human rights, HRAP supplemented her human rights work in Thailand through advocacy trainings, valuable workshops and networking opportunities. In reflecting on her time at HRAP, she concludes, “I gained insights, connections, new ideas and exposure to extraordinary people and useful resources through the Human Rights Advocates program. “
Since her participation in HRAP, Kaplan started a new chapter in her career. She is the Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy at the Treatment Action Group. In this role, she develops and implements rights-based advocacy campaigns to promote access to Hepatitis C treatment in low and middle-income countries. Through her work, she influences government leaders and policymakers as well as funding agencies to promote and ensure the right to health and life for marginalized populations such as people living with HIV/AIDS.
She has co-authored numerous publications in collaboration with the University of British Columbia Urban Health Research Institute on barriers to healthcare access and problems of police abuse for people who inject drugs in Thailand. She has given numerous presentations, including a plenary at the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 2011. She was recently selected to serve on the Human Rights Reference Group for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM).
She is based in New York City and volunteers her time as an advisor to the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group. She remains in touch with many of her fellow advocates such as Mary Akrami, Nazibrola Janezashvili, Akinyi Ocholla, Florencia Rui and Anna Kirey.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
November 2016 Update: Kaplan has worked on health and human rights issues in Asia since 1988. She spent 20 years working with grassroots HIV activists in Thailand on access to treatment for highly marginalized populations, namely people who use drugs, migrant sex workers, and people in prison. As the co-founder of Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, Kaplan helped bring attention to the human rights of people who use drugs and supported the founding of Thai Drug Users’ Network, which received a groundbreaking grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria for peer-led harm reduction services in Thailand. Kaplan also worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Treatment Action Group, where she helped mobilize a global movement for access to affordable hepatitis C virus treatment in low- and middle-income countries.nKaplan is a recipient of the 2009 John M. Lloyd Foundation HIV/AIDS Leadership Award, and the Health GAP Founders Award.
—Written by Karyn Kaplan
Chairlady, Minority Women in Action
Coming to the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009 from Kenya as a volunteer with Minority Women in Action (MWA), Akinyi Ocholla says of her time in HRAP: “My participation in HRAP boosted my networks, my insights into human rights work, my knowledge of working with people, and increased my resolve to continue working for the LGBTI community in Kenya.” Ocholla began volunteering with Minority Women in Action in 2006 and in 2009 became the chair lady of the organization where her work focused on promoting the issues of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women in Kenya.
In 2011 Akinyi stepped down as chair lady of the MWA's Steering Committee and took on the role as director. Over the next two years, she managed a staff of four and demonstrated her acquired skills by spearheading an intense proposal writing exercise and expanding MWA’s annual strategic plan. She raised public awareness through conversations with members of the Kenyan public on sexuality and gender norms; discussing sexuality in Kiswahili on public radio; speaking with the police; and presenting research papers at the annual conference of Kenya Counselling and Psychological Association to the attention of professional psychologists and counselors. Together with members of Women Who Love Women in Kisumu, Akinyi spearheaded a research project which involved interviewing medical personnel about their views on sexuality and lesbian and bisexual health at public hospitals and clinics in Nairobi and Kisumu. The research resulted in a publication in an international journal. A second research project conducted in a joint effort with the staff of the National Museum of Kenya sought to investigate the ethnological and historical presence of LGBTI persons in traditional Kenyan communities. These publications have been shared widely with the LGBTI community in Kenya.
Akinyi furthermore encouraged and supported MWA members to further their personal growth through participation in HRAP and International LGBTI Association (ILGA) conference events.
The effects of Ocholla’s success have spread to her fellow staff. In 2011-2014, Ocholla and MWA were officially elected as representatives of the Women’s Secretariat of ILGA. This gave MWA a new international role as a networking agency for the international lesbian community. It was a role that placed MWA in the spotlight and offered many opportunities for MWA members to step up and contribute to international lobbying efforts. For instance, MWA supported the 2013 Pan African ILGA Conference held in Nairobi.
On top of her work at MWA, Akinyi also served as a principal research officer at the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. Her duties included promoting, disseminating, and managing research activities and findings from various institutions as well as collecting information from ethnic communities in Kenya and educating citizens on their intellectual property rights. Ocholla also confirmed that her position at the Ministry benefitted from her participation in HRAP because of the recognition as a human rights advocate that HRAP bestowed.
In 2012 Ocholla stepped down from MWA leadership in the wake of an election of a new MWA steering committee. Ocholla earned a master’s degree in intersectional gender studies at Linköping University, Sweden in 2014. This, however, meant that she had to leave Kenya and relocate to Sweden where she currently resides. Since 2015, Akinyi specializes in new technologies and works as a java programmer, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation specialist.
- Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010; Updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
Graduate Student, New School
Florencia Ruiz Mendoza, a 2009 HRAP graduate, is Director of Capacity Building for the Social Movements Historical Research Center, an NGO based in Mexico. Trained as a researcher, Ruiz Mendoza shares that her experience at HRAP has taught her how to manage an NGO and how to better understand and meet donor expectations of NGOs and their personnel. Reflecting on the benefits of the program, she states, “Thanks to the professional staff at ISHR, I was able to do a lot of networking in New York City and Washington and I realized how much I can [raise awareness of] our work both in Mexico and internationally.”
Ruiz Mendoza has expressed that the courses she chose to audit significantly contributed to her academic development. The connections she made through Columbia faculty paved the way for opportunities even after her completion of the program. Three months after her participation in HRAP, Ruiz Mendoza was awarded a scholarship from the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University to fund her participation in the Oral History Summer Institute Program. The program themed, “Oral History from the Ground Up: Space, Place and Memory,” focused on analyzing the meaning that space, place and memory have in the production of individual, social, cultural and political narratives.
Ruiz Mendoza shares that the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP has been, “All the knowledge I [received, and continue to receive] and all the wonderful people I met since then.” To HRAP, she attributes an increased confidence regarding her future professional career and her increased support of her colleagues and the communities they serve. About HRAP’s contribution to her work while in the US, she states, “I had the great opportunity to speak out about the stories of people whose voices have been silenced by the Mexican government.”
Reflecting on her overall experience, she fondly notes, “I will never have enough words to express how grateful I am with HRAP and its staff, it has been so far one of the most important experiences in my life and I will treasure [that] for the rest of my life.”
Since returning to Mexico, Ruiz Mendoza has resumed her duties as a researcher and has been appointed Director of Capacity Building. She was recently invited by both Instituto Mora and Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero to speak on a panel of experts about human rights issues.
—Article composed by Tiffany Wheatland, Program Coordinator, July 2010
January 2014 update: Ruiz Mendoza is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.
National Level Coordinator, Positive Women Network (PWN+)
Anbu Sengo Arasi is a 2008 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Reflecting on her experience while in HRAP, Anbu lists the benefits by saying I “developed my writing skills, developed my skills in fundraising, gained an international network, gained self-confidence, and had very good exposure with human rights organizations at the international level.” HRAP serves as a comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills building, and academic coursework with the goal of providing human rights advocates the many benefits Anbu lists.
Anbu worked as a Program Officer with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) at the time of her arrival in HRAP. In this role, she acted to defend the rights of Dalit women laborers and to achieve gender justice. For Anbu, the development of writing, fundraising, and networking skills has greatly assisted her work in human rights advocacy. In addition, HRAP also serves as a meeting ground for human rights advocates to learn from one another and become more familiar with the activities and programs of international human rights organizations. Many graduates leave HRAP with a better awareness of human rights advocacy and a stronger sense of their own potential. In Anbu’s words, “The program helped me to gain more courage to perform my work and to provide advocacy in all issues of human rights.”
Graduates of HRAP also routinely use their participation to bolster their own profiles and expand their operations, possibly even leading to honors and awards for their accomplishments. Although a very recent graduate of HRAP, Anbu replies to the topic of being specially recognized for her work by saying, “Not yet.”
Since October 2009, Anbu has served as National Level Coordinator with the Positive Women Network (PWN+), an all-India network of HIV-positive women, focused on improving the quality of life of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. In her role as National Level Coordinator, Anbu coordinates trainings and facilitates programs at the district level and for state/national advocacy. Presently, she is advocating issues pertaining to pregnant HIV positive women and towards preventing HIV transmission from parent to child.
- Article composted by Andrew Richardson, June 2010
Executive Director, Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas
Alejandro is the executive director of the Office for HIV/AIDS and STIs (or STDs) at the Ministry of Health of Chiapas, Mexico. He is a medical doctor and holds a master’s in public health sciences specializing in HIV/AIDS, human rights, gender, and public health management.
Alejandro reports: “I worked at the Collective for Family Health (Cifam) when I attended HRAP. It is a non-profit organization that worked with the Chiapas community to address the needs of the HIV/AIDs-affected persons. Thanks to HRAP, I was able to strengthen the capacity of Cifam to better advocate for human rights, especially for the rights of people living with HIV, transgender persons, and persons belonging to sexual minorities, including youth and women. Our goal was to increase their political participation and to remove barriers to healthcare and social programs. The skill set I developed at HRAP was instrumental for my promotion when I was appointed as the executive director of my organization in 2009. I relied on the networking, strategic planning, capacity building, and advocacy skills I earned with HRAP in my everyday work. I am now happy to see the practical results we achieved in Chiapas where a large number of community members and leaders became involved in grassroots organizations and there is improved access to health services. These achievements were possible sharing the vision, commitment, and lessons learned through the experience in HRAP.”
For Alejandro, attending HRAP’s class on fundraising with Sara Kriksciun was a gateway to reach for new donor organizations and to secure continued funding for Cifam. “Since 2010, we received funding from international donors, such as the Fund for Global Human Rights, United Nation’s Democracy Fund, Oxfam International. Thanks to Columbia University alumni, I was able to get a project financed by the Human Rights Small Grant Scheme of the Australia Agency for International Development,” says Alejandro.
Since 2013, Alejandro Rivera Marroquín joined the government service at the Ministry of Health in Chiapas where he manages the state’s healthcare services for persons affected with HIV/AIDS and STIs.
- Article composed by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, June 2019
Executive Director, Skills and Agricultural Development Services
When asked about the contributions of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Peter Mulbah says, “Let me start by extending my many thanks and appreciation to HRAP and all those who gave me guidance throughout the program in 2008.” Mulbah is an HRAP graduate from Liberia and serves as the director of Skills and Agricultural Development Services. The organization is currently working on a community forestry program in Liberia with the goal of empowering forest-dependent communities to freely participate and equally benefit from Liberia’s natural resources.
SinceMulbah's very recent graduation from HRAP, his prominence as an environmental advocate has risen significantly. In his words, “Since I came from the HRAP program, everybody in Liberia sees me as a brand new person. In fact, they say ‘the new Peter has come.’ This has helped to increase my credibility and transparency; people call me every day for consultancy work.” Peter reports he has accordingly gained recognition locally, nationally, and internationally among civil society groups for his work. He is serving as the civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee and is leading the National Stakeholders Consultation and Participation processes leading to the formulation of the Liberia Readiness Plan Proposal to be submitted in August to the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund at the World Bank. This requires him to travel extensively on behalf of Liberia, including to several international meetings and workshops on climate change. He received a sponsorship to participate in the Equitas Human Rights Program in Canada. He also participated in the Environmental Leadership Program at the University of Berkeley, California.
HRAP acts as a multi-disciplinary training program to provide human rights advocates with the training and expertise not only to advance the projects of their home organizations and individual pursuits, but also to improve their character and presentation as model leaders. For Peter, “HRAP increased my level of self-confidence. As a result, I am a regular guest on TV/Radio talk shows with regards to community rights to environmental sustainability and natural resources governance. I have grown overnight as a national expert, and thousands of people look up to me for guidance and direction on human rights advocacy.”
In addition to his already notable achievements and environmental advocacy work, Mulbah was invited to join the 2010 Kinship Conservation Leadership Fellows Program in June and July 2010 which will take place in the United States. He will also continue traveling extensively in his position as civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee to participate in climate change negotiations prior to the 16th Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010. Reflecting overall on his participation in HRAP, Mulbah states, “I cannot imagine where I would be without HRAP. What could be the future of my advocacy in Liberia? I shall forever be grateful to HRAP in all of my career and works that I do.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
Sierra Leone, 2007
Executive Director, Fambul Tok
John Caulker participated in HRAP in 2007 when he was the Executive Director of the Sierra Leonean human rights NGO “Forum of Conscience” (FOC) which drew attention to the role of diamond mining in Sierra Leone’s past war and pushing for recognition of the environmental degradation associated with mining. As former national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, Caulker pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefited Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, Caulker also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
In 2007, HRAP provided Caulker with the rare opportunity of reflection. Away from the frontline, he decided it is time to confront and work on remaining weaknesses. “Am I on the right track?” was just one of the many questions that John sought to address. The intensive discussions with scholars, practitioners and fellow advocates provided many new insights, proved others wrong and helped him refine his communication strategies. The program also raised his attention to how essential consultation and local ownership is in process of reconciliation. In particular, Caulker built on his friendship with Libby Hoffmann, founder of the “Catalyst for Peace” foundation. Inspired by his dedication, leadership and vision, Libby, who has been active for more than 20 years in peace building, decided to partner with Caulker and establish Fambul Tok (Krio for “Family Talk”). Asked how HRAP benefited him the most, Caulker responds: “It made Fambul Tok possible”.
Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-owned program that builds upon Sierra Leone’s “family talk” tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle. It works at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies—practices that many communities have not employed since before the war. Through drawing on age-old traditions of confession, apology and forgiveness, this distinctly Sierra Leonean initiative has provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to come to terms with what happened during the war, to talk, to heal, and to chart a new path forward, together.
Caulker, Sara and Libby have released the book and movie “Fambul Tok” which relates the amazing story of an African journey in forgiveness. For more, see www.fambultok.org.
—Article composed by Timo Mueller, ISHR Intern, April 2011
United States, 2007
Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He also co-founded and co-directed Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic and served as the former director of the Books Not Bars campaign. During his seven years with this campaign, Norris built California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth, led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones, and defeated Prop 6—a destructive and ineffective criminal justice ballot measure.
In addition to his degrees from Harvard and NYU, Norris is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles. He was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow. He is a former board member at Witness for Peace and Just Cause Oakland and is currently serving on the board of Justice for Families. Norris was a recipient of the American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award in 2015, and is a member of the 2016 class of the Levi Strauss Foundation's Pioneers of Justice. He is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland.
—Updated by Claire Kozik, Program Assistant, Summer 2018
Program Coordinator, National Center for Advocacy Studies
“In the changing socio-economic, political, and cultural context, there is an increasing realization of the need to bridge the gap between grassroots activism and macro-level policy initiatives.”
Constantly seeking new ways to better effect change, Sandeep Pattnaik joined HRAP in 2007 after having served as a member of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) in India seven years. In his role at NCAS, Sandeep focused on promoting a “people-centered policy environment” in which people could feel comfortable advocating for themselves against violations of human rights and social justice. During HRAP, he found that his understanding of human rights activism in a global economy deepened, and he developed contacts with various other organizations who have continued to extend their support and solidarity to the movement that Sandeep is a part of.
Since HRAP, Sandeep has been engaged in an NCAS project called Adivasi Resource Center (ARC), a center dedicated to Indigenous people. His efforts are directed towards closing the information gap between the Adivasi people and governmental issues by building a space for dialogue between them and legislators. He writes: “As an advocate of human rights, I have founded [my] campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian constitution: the right to life and the right to livelihood.” Sandeep’s struggle for the rights of local populations have also led him into a battle against POSCO, a South Korean company trying to establish a steel plant in the Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha that puts local indigenous peoples at risk of industrial pollution. In order to combat these environmental violations, Sandeep provides strategic support to local organizations, conducts environmental impact assessments and prepares and files petitions to take legal action against the company.
Sandeep leaves human rights advocates at the beginning of their careers with the following advice:
“The process of policy-making… has changed in a paradigm shift due to the techno-economic revolution, the process of globalization and further marginalization of subaltern sections… The changing power equations at all levels of governance require a holistic approach and multiple strategies that can integrate the power of people with the power of information… and alliances to challenge unjust policies and exploitative politics.”
Written by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2016.
Coordinator, Rainbow Community Kampuchea
Ly Pisey is a 2007 graduate of the HRAP from Cambodia. She currently serves as the coordinator of Rainbow Community Kampuchea, the LGBTIQ-led organization that she co-founded and where she served as the director of board in 2009-2017.
Ly has been actively involved in grassroots and social activism for poverty reduction, human rights, women’s development and LGBTIQ rights. In 2004, she joined Women’s Agenda for Change. In 2009, she became a program facilitator with the Social Action for Change and a member of the United Sisterhood Alliance based in Cambodia. Ly has assisted a number of organizations including Women's Network for Unity and the Cambodian Cross-Sector Network for Economic and Development System Analysis. In 2012, she was a core organizing member of Grassroots People's Assembly (AGPA) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a four-day event that brought together over 2000 Cambodian local activists during the ASEAN Summit.
Ly believes in collective voice and power that thrives for social justice and equality. She co-founded the Cambodian Women’s Movement for Social Justice (CWMSJ) among other women activists, which raises concerns about the status of women’s rights. As the core organizer members of CWMSJ, Ly was responsible for developing CWMSJ’s advocacy strategies and community mobilization efforts. This movement was sparked by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s defamatory comments to Mu Sochua, a female Member of Parliament. In response to his comments, Sochua sued the Prime Minister only to be faced with possible imprisonment. Due to CWMSJ’s advocacy campaign, Sochua was only required to pay the civil compensation to the Prime Minister.
In describing CWMSJ’s landmark campaign, Ly explains: “We embarked on this campaign not because she's a Member of Parliament but she is one of the few female political leaders who took a risk to advocate for women's rights and gender equality. We decided to take action on her behalf despite the risks we faced for speaking out about the equal and fair treatment of women in all sectors, including judicial and political sectors.”
When asked about the greatest benefit of HRAP, she writes that the program helped her to develop various competencies: fundraising skills, human rights principles, and advocacy strategies, as well as support her dream of making the equal and just society.
- Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013, updated by Chiora Taktakishvili, Fulbright Exchange Visitor, July 2019
In 2011, 2007 Advocate Priscila C. Rodriguez Bribiesca co-founded Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE) a Mexican-US NGO with offices in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez Bribiesca reports: “SAKBE´s mission is achieving social change through the promotion of human and environmental rights by using litigation and communication strategies. Sakbe works both nationally and internationally towards improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the promotion of development agendas for local communities and indigenous groups in public policies, development projects and conflicts.”
SAKBE’s first grant came from the Bank of Information Center to promote transparency policies and practices in the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in Mexico. Rodriguez Bribiesca reports that SAKBE is also working with the Siemenpuu Foundation, based in Finland, on obtaining a grant to continue with the legal defense work for the Triqui indigenous community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Rodriguez Bribiesca elaborates: “I am responsible for the documentation process of the REDD projects in Mexico--getting the relevant information from the World Bank and Mexico´s governmental authorities to give communities the possibility to participate in this process which will be implemented in indigenous and rural communities. One goal is bringing their concerns to the World Bank.”
Rodriguez Bribiesca recognizes HRAP’s impact on her work. “Before this program,” she says, “I was not aware of the importance of making strategies at the international level. All the site visits 9to the different foundations and organizations) gave me the big picture of the role of advocacy. Furthermore, HRAP gave me a more general comprehension of the different tools and strategies that I can use to be more effective.” She said some of the contacts she made through HRAP are now her allies. They include the Indian Law Resource Center, Amazon Watch, the Center of International and Environmental Law and the Center for Justice and Inter-American Law. SAKBE’s fundraising successes to date are also linked the fundraising classes that are part of HRAP. Rodriguez Bribiesca explains: “The fundraising workshops greatly strengthened my knowledge of the many steps of this process, from writing a letter of inquiry to cultivating a profesional relationship with foundation staff. After HRAP, I got a generous grant from Hewlett Foundation.”
She adds, “The experience from my internship at the Center for Justice and International Law and my contacts and studies [through HRAP] allowed me to start representing the Precautionary Measure Process in favor of the Community of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are getting support from international organizations, including the Washington Office of Latin America and Amnesty International, on this case--particularly to make the Mexican government accountable for protecting the Triqui Community and safely returning them to their territory and bringing justice to the victims of the massacre.”
She has also been instrumental in having public hearings at IACHR on issues affecting different indigenous communities and the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America.
She has been recognized with many honors and awards including an award to participate in “Woman in Management” at CEDPA in 2008 and a full scholarship from American University to attend the International Environmental Law Summer Program and the Seminar on Trade and Environment. She received a full scholarship to attend the LLM Program in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2012. From July to December 2012, she will intern at IACHR.
She concludes. “I can surely say without exaggeration, HRAP changed my life. Before my participation in the Program, my work as an advocate was limited to the local systems of justice. I did not know anything about the international bodies of justice and accountability mechanisms. I also did not have the contacts and knowledge needed to start working on at the international level, such as the processes before the IACHR and the World Bank. Moreover even if I had some idea about these processes, I could hardly contact member of these bodies directly because of the geographic and language obstacles, which now no longer exist thanks to HRAP.”
National Director, Center for Applied Studies of Economical and Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC)
When asked about his experience at the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Jorge Cortés Fajardo of Bolivia points out how it provided him with the opportunity to “get to know other advocates from around the world and the important work they do for the defense of human rights victims and for policy change.” One of the many benefits of the HRAP is the unique environment in which advocates are able to share theirs valuable grassroots experiences, exchange ideas, and share best practices and resources for advocacy.
Cortés Fajardo is currently the National Director and legal representative of the Center for Applied Studies of Economical Social and Cultural Rights (CEADESC). The organization’s work is focused on the strengthening of indigenous people and social movements to monitor and advocate for human rights and environmental justice. According to Cortés Fajardo, “HRAP was an excellent opportunity to reach out to US-based NGOs and to support our networking for human rights advocacy.” He underscores the value of the meetings with the NGO communities of New York and Washington DC. Jorge said that the meetings led to joint actions between CEADESC and several organizations such as the Indian Law Resource Center and the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Since he left HRAP, Cortés Fajardo has gone on to notable achievements both at the national and international levels. In 2009, CEADESC contributed to the recognition of indigenous peoples human rights in the new Bolivian Constitution. CEADESC then published two human rights assessment studies related to transnational extractive industries companies in Bolivia. Their case studies were recently presented in the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples Issues in New York. Due to CEADESC’s contribution to the defense of human rights, the organization has recently been honored as an outstanding partner by the American Jewish World Service at its 25th anniversary celebration in New York in October 2010.
—Article composed by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
Executive Director/Health Program Associate, Physicians for Social Justice
2006 Advocate Chukwumuanya Igboekwu currently works as Executive Director and Health Program Associate of Physicians for Social Justice (PSJ) which he co-founded in 2004. PSJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community health, human rights and broader social justice for marginalized rural communities in northern Nigeria. He coordinates PSJ’s advocacy efforts and also manages PSJ’s service delivery programs that provide access to basic social services including health, education and community development.
He reflects that his participation in HRAP provided a “unique networking opportunity of a lifetime”. When he participated in 2006 as Health Program Associate of PSJ, he wrote two articles: ‘Why Pharmaceutical Companies Must Not Deny People with HIV/AIDS Access to Life-Saving Antiretroviral Medicines Using the Excuse of Patent Protection’ and ‘The World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement’. These articles were published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. He states, “The Washington D.C. networking trip afforded me the opportunity to speak with State Department officers to support the importance of continuous funding to the Global AIDS program through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).”
Igboekwu says that his participation in HRAP led to funding from American Jewish World Service and the Global Fund for Children for approximately $ 180,000 dollars in total to date. He highlights, “PSJ has grown from a small community-based organization into a national level NGO that plays active role in shaping HIV/AIDS policy in Nigeria.” As a result of his dedication in collaborating with other stakeholders for the protection of people living with HIV/AIDS, thousands of people with HIV/AIDS from rural areas in Nigeria have more access to life saving antiretroviral drugs and live in integration within their communities. Also, he and his staff at PSJ developed a project, supported by the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called “Community AIDS Program”. PSJ’s Community AIDS Program was a winner of the 2010 joint UNAIDS/UNDP Red Ribbon Awards in Vienna, Austria.
Igboekwu enthusiastically expresses his strong gratitude toward the staff of the Institute (then Center) for the Study of Human Rights, “They inspired me and gave me all the exposure that helped shape my understanding of human rights and the global economy. They were every ready to assist me make that connection with potential partners or resources that I need for my work. Even when I returned to Nigeria, they continued supporting me and PSJ.” After the program, he received his master’s degree in Public Health from University of Lagos, Nigeria, in 2008.
He concludes, “HRAP was an extraordinary program that gave me insight with the intersection between health and human rights. The program was very intensive and exciting by providing opportunities to explore new partners, academic topics in the field of human rights and engagement with U.S. policy makers along with CEOs of big US pharmaceutical companies whose business have a strong impact on poop people’s access to medicines in developing countries.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, August 2011
Executive Director, Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU)
2006 Advocate James Makor the Executive Director of the Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), which is dedicated to facilitating and promoting community-based sustainable nature and human resource management and development in Liberia. He officially represents the institution, coordinates three core programs with project officers, and serves as secretary to the Board of Directors.
Makor says that dynamic networking he did through HRAP is “paying off”. He reflects, “The networks I established at Columbia Law School continue to interact with my organization on issues surrounding concessions in Liberia. Through HRAP, SAMFU started collaborating with United Steel and Allied Worker Union on labor reform at Firestone.” He adds that American Jewish World Services, whose staff he met through HRAP, is currently one of SAMFU’s donors.
After HRAP, he attended a financial training for NGO staff from the Management and Accountability of Non-Governmental Organizations (MANGO). He cites as one of his more recent accomplishments the partnership between SAMFU and Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) on a project called Sustainable Forest Management. During the project, he has been involved in the formulation and signing of Cooperate Social Agreements between multinational and local forest communities. Also, his organization addressed issues of benefit sharing from forest resources and provided trainings to enable the communities to track their local development budget.
When asked about his memories of HRAP in 2006, he states, “I feel that the greatest benefit to me was the establishment of new networks.”
—Article composed by Junghwa Lee, Program Coordinator, June 2011
Up to date as of April 2017.
M.A. Candidate, Mora University
When asked about her experience participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program, 2006 Advocate Andrea de la Barrera Montppellier- states “HRAP was a very important turning point in my career. I transcended activism and became a human rights advocate. With the perspective that HRAP provided, I have been able to conduct strategic actions that led to concrete results regarding women’s rights and public policy evaluation.”
As Andrea and other Advocates have asserted, HRAP provides a unique environment for sharing their experiences, their strategies and best practices with other human rights professionals and organizations. In this respect, Andrea says “HRAP also gave me a broader perspective regarding human rights. I used to believe that human rights work depended only on volunteers and philanthropy and I realized it depends also on many professionals working to strengthen democratic change all over the world. “During the time they spend at Columbia University, Advocates are able not only to build long-lasting relationships with other activists, but also to meet with a range of human rights organizations, international institutions, foundations, donors, and policymakers that are based in New York City. In this regard, Andrea states “Another great feature of the program was the forum it provided. Exposing our political stands to global decision-makers such as Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz or Valclav Havel was a very empowering experience”. Furthermore, these meetings often lead to joint projects and funding opportunities. In Andrea’s case, she was able to engage in an internship at Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in early 2007. According to Andrea “It was a great opportunity, since it opened opportunities to advocate at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the case Gonzalez et alt. (“Campo Algodonero vs Mexico which at that time was at the Inter-American Human Rights Court) and to disseminate femicide reports at the Inter-American Human Rights Protection System. Eventually, the networks from both HRAP and CEJIL led to specific collaborations between organizations in the strengthening of Campo Algodonero case. The Inter-American Court ruled against Mexico regarding violence against women (femicide), in a historic sentence both for Mexico as well as for the Regional Systems of Human Rights Protection.”
Since she left the program, Andrea became an independent consultant on gender and human rights. Through her work, she assists organizations that want to impact public policy in bringing both human rights and gender perspectives to its mainstream values. In the past year, she collaborated as an independent consultant with International Planned Parenthood and PRODESC. From 2003 to 2010, she was part of the team of Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, a think tank devoted to social change, public-budget analysis, and transparency. At Fundar, she coordinated research on gender and justice and also served as the institutional liaison for the Civilian Monitor of Policy and Security Corps in the Mountain of Guerrero. Currently, she works with EPADEQ on a project that analyzes the gender expressions of the organization of 15 Supreme Tribunals of Federal States in Mexico, in order to make specific recommendations regarding gender equality. When reflecting on the influence HRAP had on her career, Andrea affirms “ The global benefit of my participation was the incorporation of a comprehensive perspective of the work that relates to human rights and that is not delimited to activism. I realized the importance to maintain a healthy life and a balanced life in order to make sustainable advocacy projects. And to always assume that our great innovative ideas have already occurred to someone else and that they may have already an evaluation which could be shared to strengthen our strategies”.
Article written by Marta Garnelo Caamano, ISHR Intern, June 2011
April 2017 Update: Andrea completed her Master's in Political Sociology in 2014 at Instituto Mora. She will be pursuing a PhD in Sociology starting in 2017 under the COMEXUS Fulbright García Robles Scholarship.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.