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Vol.25, No. 16 Mar. 03, 2000

Human Rights Leaders Arrive at SIPA for Training to Help Advance Their Cause at Home

By Suzanne Trimel

Fourteen human rights leaders from developing countries around the globe are participating this semester in an intensive training program through Columbia's Center for the Study of Human Rights.

The Human Rights Advocates Training Program, now in its 12th year, provides four months of academic study in human rights through courses and seminars at the School of International and Public Affairs and practical training in fundraising, report writing and data analysis.

The program, according to Holly Bartling, director of Training at the center, trains professionals who have demonstrated a commitment to human rights advocacy in their native countries.

In addition to sharing their experiences with students and faculty at Columbia and in the New York area, the advocates share their experiences and learn from each other, Bartling said.

This year's activists include lawyers, journalists, social workers, researchers, educators, community organizers and other professionals from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

The advocates are:

Moynul Alam of Bangladesh, a social worker with Moitree Parishad, an organization devoted to protecting the rights of children, has been active in arranging the release of child prisoners and in campaigning for legal reform regarding child prisoners.

Vincent Azumah of Ghana, the public relations officer with International Needs Ghana, an organization that promotes women's and children's rights and exposes human rights abuses related to the practice of Trokosi, in which young girls are sent to shrines as slaves. His articles led to a ban on the practice. He has been negotiating the release of cult slaves and hopes to build a strong group of young advocates from among victims of the practice.

Adrian Coman of Romania is executive director of ACCEPT, a gay and lesbian rights organization in Romania. Coman has been key in the group's development from a small grassroots organization into one of the most effective advocacy groups in Romania. At the international level, Coman promotes gay and lesbian rights with European institutions through his work as a board member of The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

Marìa Victoria Fallon of Colombia is a lawyer with the Human Rights Committee Hector Abad Gumezi in Medellin. She is currently working on a number of high profile cases, which involve massacres carried out by military and paramilitary forces. Fallon has taken several cases to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights.

Mihaela Gheorghe of Romania is an advocate for Roma rights at the Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies and a student at Bucharest University. Her work as a representative of the Roma minority in Romania before the UN Working Group on Minorities led to permanent participation by the Roma people in its session each year. She plans to continue to promote increased tolerance of the Roma minority and the reconstruction of civil society in Romania.

Aloys Habimana of Rwanda is a trial monitor at the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. He established a Documentation and Information Center on Genocide Trials, and is one of very few individuals in Rwanda promoting the rights of prisoners accused of genocide.

Musue Haddad of Liberia, a journalist, has exposed human rights violations by the government in her reporting and works directly with human rights organizations to publicize their work. Her goal is to promote greater attention to human rights among colleagues in the media.

Balazs Jarabik of Slovakia, a journalist and program coordinator at the Sandor Marai Foundation, an organization devoted to the protection of minority rights (Hungarian and Roma), worked as an advisor for the chairman of the Slovak Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights and Minority Issues and served as an election observer in Ukraine, Hungary and Cambodia.

Edouard Kabazimya Mukilwa of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a trainer and activist with Collective Action for Human Rights Development. He interviews victims of torture and investigates their cases and is a member of the North Kivu Provisional Council for Children, where he hosts a weekly radio program on children's rights. Upon his return, he will develop a training program for human rights activists.

Tolulope Lewis of Nigeria, a lawyer, is a program officer at Baobab for Women's Human Rights, which focuses on women's legal rights issues. In 1998, she coordinated a coalition of six NGOs that wrote and presented an alternative report on the status of women in Nigeria. Lewis conducts workshops in local languages on divorce, child custody and violence against women.

Shazia Mehmood of Pakistan is coordinator of the Civic Rights program at SUNGI Development Foundation where she promotes human rights for marginalized and disadvantaged groups, particularly among women. Mehmood has organized and conducted training workshops on gender, social mobilization and civil rights.

Martin Misiedjan of Suriname is a lawyer focusing on the rights of indigenous peoples and Maroons. He currently coordinates a land rights education project in eight Maroon communities and hopes to achieve the incorporation of Maroon participation in future negotiations regarding their rights. As the only Maroon lawyer in Suriname, he plans to establish a legal services bureau for Maroons and indigenous people upon his return.

Rojbin Tugan of Turkey, a Kurdish lawyer who defends the rights of civilians in the conflict between the Turkish State and Kurdish people, is the first and only female lawyer in Hakkari province. She and other lawyers in her province hope to establish a human rights bureau within the Van Bar Asociation and train other lawyers to fight human rights violations.

Nan Htay Win of Thailand is a migrant of Shan ethnicity from Burma currently living in Thailand. She is a university teacher and co-founder of the Migrant Assistance Programme, devoted to the empowerment of migrant workers from Burma and to the recognition of their rights in Thailand. She is the author of the handbook, "Guidelines on Strategies & Responses to the Needs of Burmese Migrant Women in Thailand," and facilitates workshops with migrant and refugee women to promote their participation in social and political development and decision-making.

The advocates are joined by the Belldegrun Research Fellow from Sweden. The fellowship was established three years ago to promote working relationships between human rights activists in developing countries and Sweden. Lisa Fredriksson, the 2000 Belldegrun Research Fellow, is the information officer at the Swedish Development Forum and president of Food First Info-Action Network International (FIAN), an organization dedicated to promoting food security in developing countries.