From mid-August to mid-December 2012, nine human rights activists will be in residence at Columbia University for the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP). Started in 1989, the Program provides opportunities for proven grassroots leaders to strengthen their skills and to participate in dialogues on human rights issues with members of the academic, NGO, policymaking, and corporate communities. The Advocates bring a wealth of practical knowledge and a diversity of experiences, and are available as speakers, experts, and collaborators.
Co-founder and director
Kemal Pervanić was born in Prijedor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the regions most severely affected by ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War. A survivor of the notoriously brutal Omarska concentration camp, Kemal witnessed first-hand horrific acts of genocide, some of which were perpetrated by individuals whom he knew personally. Kemal has since dedicated his work to reconciliation and peace-building.
Kemal co-founded the organization Most Mira (Bridge of Peace) in 2005 in Prijedor, to promote, as Kemal puts it, “a message of peace and reconciliation…by encouraging people of all age groups, especially school age children, to learn how to develop a better understanding and tolerance towards the ‘other’.” The organization uses the arts to guide this message, bringing together children who normally have few opportunities to meet students from other ethno-religious backgrounds, and educating them about human rights, social inclusion and reconciliation. Most Mira seeks to provide an alternative to the discourses of hate promoted through history education in schools, the local media and at home, advocating that change begins with the youth. Kemal sets an example for reconciliation: he maintains connections with individuals who worked as guards in the concentration camp in which he was detained, several of whom bring their children to the events Most Mira organizes.
Kemal has been involved in human rights work for more than a decade, participating as key-note speaker for a number of conferences addressing issues such as reconciliation, genocide, peace-building, memorialization, and forgiveness. He has participated in Responsibility to Protect, Action for Darfur, All Party Parliamentary Group for Bosnia, and All Party Parliamentary Group for Genocide Prevention. He regularly gives talks at schools, universities, prisons, and community centers, and has been invited to speak on TV and radio programs (BBC, ITN, Channel 4, CNN, ABC, etc.). He wrote about his experience in the Omarska concentration camp in The Killing Days: My Journey through the Bosnian War (Blake Publishing, London, 1999). Kemal holds an MSc in Management Studies from the University of London and an MA in Conflict Resolution from Bradford University.
Rachel Wambui Mburu
Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Culture (4C-TRUST)
Since 2004, Rachel Wambui Mburu has been leading the Citizens Education and Peace Program with 4C-Trust. Most recently, she has raised awareness about Kenya’s new constitution and its new devolution structures by organizing community forums, maximizing 4C-Trust’s impact by working through community-based organizations and organizing issue-based campaigns and advocacy.
Rachel has volunteered at Mwamko Trust where she organized women and youth. She has been a consultant with Amnesty International-Kenya where she led workshops on gender-based violence.
Rachel holds a BA in Development Studies from Kimmage Manor-DSC. She also earned a diploma in Community Development from the Kenya Institute of Social Work and Community Development. She has attended courses at American University (Peacebuilding), the MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation-Arusha (post-conflict development course), and Action Aid Kenya (youth visioning workshop).
Marayah Louisa Wychen-Munah Fyneah
Coalition of Political Parties Women
Marayah Louisa Wychen-Munah Fyneah is the National Director for the Coalition of Political Parties Women in Liberia (COPPWIL), an organization she founded in 2003. With a membership of over 20,000 across the country, the organization promotes increased political participation for women. COPPWIL advocates for women’s participation at all levels of decision-making in all spheres of Liberian society. Marayah organizes town hall meetings, community outreach, conferences and other public fora for women to exchange views on policies that directly affect their lives and communities, and to motivate women to join political parties. Her organization is currently working with the Women’s Legislative Caucus, Angie Brooks International Centre, the Ministry of Gender and International IDEA for the passage of the Quota Bill in the Liberian National Legislature.
Having served in numerous capacities including National Chair of the Liberia Unification Party’s women’s wing and Head of the Secretariat of the Liberian Women National Political Forum, Marayah’s experience prior to COPPWIL shows her dedication to the advancement of women’s political participation.
Sulakshana Rana is the Program Coordinator for the women-run organization Saathi, dedicated to “combating injustice and violence against women and children and promoting their human rights through a comprehensive program of psychosocial care and support.” Saathi uses research, advocacy, education and economic and social empowerment to help survivors of gender violence and trafficking and to promote their human rights.
Rana designs and implements the initiatives of Saathi’s anti-trafficking program. One of her primary activities is to try to create a safe and enabling environment for women working in the entertainment sector, such as in dance bars and massage parlors, where the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation is particularly high.
Rana has attended various training sessions in Nepal focused on the welfare of women and children, including Child Labor and Child Rights Protection (UNICEF); Strengthening the Anti-Human Trafficking Enforcement Effort in Nepal (United States Department of Justice); and a month-long course on gender, sustainable development and women’s rights with the South Asian Network of Gender Activists and Training.
Rana holds the BA in English from St. Bede’s College (India) and the BA in International Studies from the University of Mississippi (USA).
Lucy Geries Talgeih
Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority
Women’s Project Coordinator
Wi’am: Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center
Lucy Geries Talgeih has been affiliated with Wi’am: Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem since 1997. She is currently the Women’s Project Coordinator. Her responsibilities include organizing workshops, trainings and advocacy gatherings as well as leading vocational trainings and counseling women in Palestinian villages. She recently led a project titled, “Inheritance Denied: Combating Gender Inequality in Property Rights in Palestine.”
Lucy earned a BA in Religious Studies from Bethlehem University and an MA in Democracy and Human Rights from BirZeit University. Her additional coursework includes Civic Education and Human Rights at the Law Society in Ramallah, Capacity Building and NGO Management in the MENA Region at the American University of Beirut and Income-Generating Initiatives for Women at the International Institute in Israel. She also attended the Summer Peace Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. Most recently, she participated in a leadership program at Syracuse University (2011).
Genocide Survivors Support Network
Eugenie Mukeshimana is the Founder and current Executive Director for the New Jersey-based Genocide Survivors Support Network, an organization serving genocide survivors from the Great Lakes region of Africa (particularly Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo) who have immigrated to the United States. The organization works to help genocide survivors rebuild their lives while encouraging them to use their voices to contribute to genocide prevention efforts through education and advocacy.
GSSN provides comprehensive services to help survivors and their families access critical resources such as immigration services, trauma counseling, language and cultural interpretation, college and scholarships applications, career counseling and becoming familiar with their rights and responsibilities as new U.S. residents. In its genocide prevention work, GSSN collaborates with schools and advocacy organizations to provide a platform for survivors to educate the public about genocide and other injustices they suffered, to counter genocide revisionism and denial, as well as raise community consciousness about individual and collective responsibility to protect human dignity.
Eugenie is an international public speaker, educator and trainer on issues of genocide, prejudice, violence against women and children in war zones, immigration and refugee services. She has conducted cross-cultural workshop sessions on diversity for teachers, law enforcement officers, and social service providers. A genocide survivor herself, she is a frequent panelist on global justice and security for victims of crimes against humanity, post-conflict capacity building, gender equality and women’s empowerment.While in Rwanda, Eugenie founded and managed the first private waste-management company to tackle sanitation and environmental problems in Kigali. Before founding GSSN, Eugenie worked with vulnerable groups in the U.S., including homeless families, individuals with disabilities, families in custody battles, and women living with HIV/AIDS. She holds a BS in Social Work from The College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. Eugenie is the Whitney M. Young Jr. Fellow in the 2012 HRAP.
Sabrina Rajan Mahtani
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Sabrina Rajan Mahtani’s interest in penal reform in Africa was sparked by a personal experience of injustice: her father’s arrest on trumped up treason charges in Zambia when she was 18. While doing research on the death penalty in Sierra Leone, she recognized the deplorable conditions of the prisoners, especially the women and their children, for whom the prisons often fail to provide specific facilities or basic welfare services. Sabrina realized the extent to which women are marginalized in Sierra Leone’s legal system, being imprisoned for such offenses as defending themselves against domestic and sexual violence.
These conditions inspired Sabrina to found AdvocAid, an organization advocating for access to justice, legal aid, education and reintegration for female detainees and their children in Sierra Leone. As Executive Director, she is responsible for project design and implementation, strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, grant writing and donor reporting, designing communications, and leading projects for advocacy, training, research and legal reform.
AdvocAid uses staff lawyers as well as a trained network of women paralegals to provide legal advice and assistance to women living in detention, who oftentimes have no knowledge of their basic rights, and no recourse to justice. The organization’s services for prisoners include welfare and medical services for women and children and literacy classes. AdvocAid also provides immediate support for women after release (such as providing transportation costs and clothes) along with long-term support (such as skills training, startup grants for small businesses, and ex-prisoner support groups). AdvocAid also does monitoring and research of prisons and publishes policy documents and reports. AdvocAid’s publications include Handbook on the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Female Detainees (2011), Justice for Girls? (2011), Fraudulent Conversion and Criminalization for Debt (2011), and After You Are Arrested: What Next? (2007).
Sabrina co-founded ShukuBlai, which promotes the arts in Sierra Leone through workshops and events, and Opin Yu Yi (Open Your Eyes), which organized the first Human Rights Film Festival in Sierra Leone. In 2008, she was recognized as the Trainee Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year and honored with the Law Society Junior Lawyers Award. In 2011, she was nominated for One World Action’s 100 Powerful (Unseen) Women Award. Sabrina earned a Masters in Law (LLM) from NYU, and a BA in Law and History from the University College in London.
Lydia Jacenta Nakiganda
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
Rakai AIDS Information Network (RAIN)
Lydia Jacenta Nakiganda is the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Rakai AIDS Information Network (RAIN) in Uganda. RAIN takes a holistic approach to supporting all individuals infected with, affected by, and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, by deeply involving itself in prevention, response, advocacy and networking efforts.
RAIN’s efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS infection include community-based education about the risks and modes of transmission, condom promotion and distribution, family planning services, couple and individual testing and counseling, and promoting messages among youth for delaying sex and learning life skills that will decrease their vulnerability. Recognizing the role that gender inequality and gender-based violence play in the rate of HIV/AIDS infection, RAIN aims to strengthen screening and care for victims of gender-based violence, referring victims to women’s shelters, support groups, and legal services. RAIN engages men as key partners in promoting gender equality and engages families and communities in discussion about preventing domestic and sexual violence.
RAIN runs 7 HIV/AIDS networks and 25 human rights groups for children. As a network, RAIN maintains connections with human rights programs and organizations supporting orphans and vulnerable children, as well as victims of domestic violence and sexual violence. RAIN has built a support network consisting of media, church, civil society and the private sector to increase the dissemination of information about HIV. RAIN advocates for accountability and collaboration, holding regular training workshops with key stakeholders to share best practices and testimonies, and conducting systematic reviews of intervention efforts on the basis of their respect for human rights and their overall benefit to public health.
In addition to engaging with individuals and communities, Lydia works with the government, media and civil society to address stigma and discrimination at the policy level and to build networks informed about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Efforts include strengthening the health care sector’s response to HIV and integrating HIV into health care. Through mass media and the organization of inter-personal communications, RAIN implements behavioral change communication strategies. The organization also works to equip stigmatized groups to challenge discriminatory practices and advocate for their human rights, along with providing access to legal assistance.
Primah Kwagala Namudiba
Health Policy Officer
Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
Primah Kwagala Namudiba is a Ugandan lawyer who currently works as the Health Policy Officer at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in Kampala, Uganda.She received her Bachelor’s degree in law at the Makerere University, where she took a special interest in international humanitarian law. Her combination of expertise in law and interest in health care facilitates her work in advocacy and policy development, which merges community health, legal redress, and social issues. Primah’s primary areas of expertise are disability rights, HIV/AIDS, health care, and sexual and gender-based violence.
Primah’s work in disability rights is particularly notable, and shows great promise for her career as an advocate for the rights of the disabled. She notes that the challenges of the disabled include the societal stigma against them and the Ugandan government’s failure to incorporate their needs in policies and development plans. She was part of a three-year qualitative research project in Uganda funded by a research grant from the Health Research Board/Irish Aid on disabled persons’ involvement in policy initiatives targeting poverty reduction. Primah and her organization also worked with the National Union for Disabled Persons Uganda (NUDIPU) to write a report to the UN Committee of experts on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding the specific challenges faced by the disabled in Uganda. These projects aimed to promote inclusion of the disabled in policy-making and to facilitate evidence-based advocacy for the rights of the disabled.
Primah’s current projects include the 12-month Participatory Reflection and Action Project, where she documents the current barriers for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) education and services. She also participates in a working group researching HIV/AIDS prevention in medical male circumcision, and has done research for a constitutional case on access to basic maternal health.