On Monday, January 30, 2023, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) hosted a reception, welcoming the 34th cohort of the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP). Since 1989, HRAP has offered frontline human rights advocates from around the world an intensive program consisting of coursework; networking with the human rights community in New York City and Washington, DC,; skill-based workshops led by organizations including Human Rights Watch, WITNESS, and Amnesty International-USA; and faculty mentoring. The advocates contribute to the intellectual life at Columbia through their participation in graduate-level courses, speaking engagements, and interactions with student groups, programs, centers, and institutes.
Columbia faculty, students, staff, and supporters welcomed the group. The cohort is comprised of 10 advocates already working on issues ranging from LGBTQI+ rights in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and South Africa; Indigenous rights in Bolivia and Mexico; women’s rights in Haiti; citizenship in the Dominican Republic; anti-trafficking in Serbia; and the rule of law in the Republic of Georgia.
As Joseph Slaughter, ISHR’s new executive director, welcomed the guests, he remarked: “ISHR is committed to being a place for the critical engagement with and study of human rights. Through its educational work, research efforts, the advocates program, and other projects, ISHR has been global since its founding in 1978. One of the premier global programs at the Institute is (and has been) the Human Rights Advocates Program—the most immediate reason we are here tonight.”
Stephanie V. Grepo, director of capacity building at ISHR, said that alumni of the program refer to HRAP as a family and thanked the many offices, faculty, and staff who contribute to the program, as well as the donors who fund the advocates’ participation in HRAP.
HRAP advocate Jade Jacobs-Wort from South Africa introduced their cohort and stated, “Over the last few months we as the human rights advocates have learned so much about one another and the work we do, and while we are so diverse —work, personal histories, and country contexts—we understand that each of us has committed our lives to affect the change we desire and need because of how personal our work is to us."
Jacobs-Wort added, “Each of us has the lived experience of the work we do daily, and our work is personal as much as it is political. Hence, we are grateful to be hosted in this most wonderful city and welcome the opportunity to hone the skills we already have, as the Human Rights Advocates Program equips us with the relevant tools and resources that we will take back and employ in our advocacy efforts."
Over the last 34 years, more than 350 advocates from 95 countries have attended HRAP and have been acknowledged for their human rights work. In late January 2023, Delphine Djiraibé of Chad was named a Martin Ennals Award winner for her work in "bringing the former dictator Hissène Habré [of Chad] to justice." Another alumnus of HRAP, Alejandra Ancheita of Mexico, won the Martin Ennals Award in 2014. In November 2022, Charbonnel Nodjigoto of Chad was awarded the Rafto Prize.
Magdalena Medley is the communications and outreach coordinator at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights.