Institute for the Study of Human Rights Advocates Program

Each year the Harriman Institute sponsors a participant in the Institute for the Study of Human Rights Advocates. Founded in 1989, the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) is a unique and successful model of human rights capacity building. HRAP capitalizes on its affiliation with Columbia University and its location in New York City to provide grassroots leaders the tools, knowledge, access, and networks to promote the realization of human rights and strengthen their respective organizations. HRAP’s comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills-building, and academic coursework provides advocates the opportunity to hone practical skills, develop a deeper understanding of human rights, and foster mutually beneficial relationships with organizations and individuals in their respective fields.
Maria Abrahamyan
Human Rights Program Coordinator, For Equal Rights Educational Center
Maria is the human rights programs coordinator at For Equal Rights Educational Center, a non-governmental organization based in Yerevan, which promotes civic consciousness and capacity building in human rights as well as democratic accountability. Maria manages the Article 3 Human Rights Club, which provides space, education, and networking opportunities for human rights activists, the media, and civil society organizations. Maria also led the organization of the first Human Rights Festival in Armenia. As a member of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Task Force-Armenia in 2016, Maria co-authored and presented recommendations on the implementation of the CEDAW in Armenia at the United Nations. She recently joined the staff of the Armenian Parliament’s My Step Revolution Faction as a legal researcher working on Armenia’s Euro-integration policies.
Maria received a master’s degree in law from the American University of Armenia and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Armenia State University. She is a member of the European Women Lawyers’ Association.
Olga Semenova
Co-chair, Ukrainian LGBT Association LIGA
Olena is the co-chair of the Ukrainian LGBT organization LIGA, which seeks to promote the interests of LGBTQ individuals, promote healthy lifestyles and diversity, and develop partnerships with state and civil bodies. One of LIGA-Ukraine's biggest achievements has been the creation of the Resource Center, designed to be a hub for young LGBT groups and organizations. Another core focus of LIGA-Ukraine is LGBTQ health, which includes HIV prevention programs for LGB, lesbian health programs, transgender health issues, and a network of friendly doctors. LIGA created the Public Centre on Monitoring of Human Rights Observation in Mykolaiv for monitoring crimes based on LGBTI-phobia. Olena is a specialist in Public Relations from Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts and a general practitioner from National Medical University in Kyiv.
Nvard Margaryan
Chairperson, PINK Armenia
Nvard has been working for more than five years at PINK Armenia, the largest LGBT community-based organization in Armenia. Elected as Chairperson in 2015, Nvard and her colleagues strive to create a safe space for LGBT people by promoting legal, psychological, and social protection and well-being. She also played a major role in the launching of a unique e-magazine, As You, which presents readers with issues related to human rights, sexuality, gender and other issues. Currently, Nvard is involved in the feminist movement in Armenia and is an active member of feminist platforms including the Feminist Platform of Armenia, the Young Women’s Network of South Caucasus, as well as the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women. Nvard earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Yerevan State University.
Elvis Hoxhaj
Project Manager/Art Project Coordinator, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca) 
Sometime during the years of my adolescence, when trying to understand aspects of my life that Albanian society had forgotten to include in its school curricula, I was also trying to find people who were exploring the same issues.
When I met a group of young people who called themselves “The Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination,” I instantly felt that it was only natural for me to work with them since they had the same questions and they were doing something to answer them.
Now six years have passed and we have done a lot, but for some reason I cannot find a way or a strategy to summarize those achievements point by point—it has all flowed naturally. Nonetheless, it has a core set of questions really similar to the ones that we had from the beginning:

• What does it mean to be part of a community?
• What are your duties and the responsibilities when you undertake to speak for people who need to delegate their voice because of violence?
• What are the ways to give power to this voice, day by day, so that it takes shape in a way that in the end can speak for itself?
• How do you stay true to these ideals when you are surrounded by organizations that in the process of “professionalization” have lost contact with the community they are supposed to represent?

I have been criticized time after time for not speaking out about the difficulties of my community in Albania, but the answer is obvious to me: The problems of the LGBT community in Albania are similar, if not the same, as the problems that every LGBT community comes across in every corner of the world. It has a mix of socio-economic status, a backwards history, communism, liberal democracy, corruption, and ignorance.
The solutions, however, are different; they are local and each community has them. That is why these questions are so important and why they should not be taken for granted at the risk of alienating our community. It is not our duty to give voice to the LGBT community—that only opens new problems. Our only duty is to create ways and tools for the LGBT community to come together and speak. They must be able to speak clearly, loudly, freely, and intransigently.


Iuliana Marcinschi
Director, Centrul de Informare în domeniul Drepturilor Omului Republic of Moldova
Since January 2013, Iuliana has been the Director of Centrul de Informare în domeniul Drepturilor Omului (Human Rights Information Center - CIDO) a non-governmental and non-partisan organization for the promotion of human rights and democracy in the Republic of Moldova. CIDO works on a range of human rights issues in Moldova, focusing primarily on the rights of women, LGBT individuals, ethnic and religious minorities, and the right to education for vulnerable groups. Along with the management of CIDO’s projects and activities, Iuliana works to develop and maintain key advocacy relationships with national and international organizations and agencies including United Nations agencies, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission. Iuliana’s current work focuses on the implementation of Moldova’s National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) and analyzing prog- ress made on the NHRAP for an alternative report to be submitted in advance of Moldova’s review before the Universal Periodic Review in 2016. Previously, Iuliana held positions with the National Youth Council (which held the secretariat for an informal Non-Discrimination Coalition) and served in an advisory position with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In 2011, Iuliana presented an alternative report on discrimination in Moldova to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on behalf of the Non-Discrimination Coalition. In addition to her duties at CIDO, Iuliana serves as the Project Coordina- tor for the National Partnership for Equal Rights project with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Ini- tiative in Moldova, focused on strengthening the capacity of LGBT and human rights groups in the country.
Nina Gelashvili
Founder, Youth for Justice
Nina Gelashvili became a human rights advocate after witnessing the injustices taking place in her home country, Georgia. She joined Human Rights Priority, a Tbilisi-based non-governmental organization, in 2009 to advocate for the rights of internally displaced persons as a result of the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. She investigated and documented human rights violations in Georgia and prepared cases heard by the European Court of Human Rights, specifically on the violation of the right to freedom of assembly and expression, prohibition of torture and right to property. In 2011, Nina co-founded Youth for Justice – Georgia, a non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Georgia. Youth for Justice represents victims of human rights violations before domestic courts, and if need be, before the European Court of Human Rights. Through litigation, advocacy and monitoring, Youth for Justice brought about significant changes in national legislation and contributed to the creation of important precedents. Presently, prisoners’ right to health is the main priority of Youth for Justice. It seeks to address overcrowding and lack of medical care in the penitentiary system of Georgia. Youth for Justice recently received funding from the Open Society Foundation-Georgia to identify problems in the penitentiary system and provide recommendations, as well as provide legal assistance to prisoners who suffer from serious or incurable diseases. In 2012, Nina interned at the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) in London. As an intern at ICPS, Nina undertook substantive research and assisted governments and other relevant agencies to develop appropriate policies on prisons and the use of imprisonment. Nina holds an MA in Theory and Practice of Human Rights from Essex University and a BA in Law and Politics from the University College Roosevelt, the Liberal Arts and Science College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She also holds a BA and an MA in Sociology from Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University in Georgia.
Kema Pervanic
Founder, Most Mira
Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was one of nine human rights activists in the 2012 Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) at ISHR. As a part of HRAP, Pervanic engaged in workshops on ethics and compliance, effective organization management, and professional fundraising; audited three courses and two seminars; and gave talks at educational institutions in New York City including Columbia and John Jay College. Pervanic plans to incorporate the skills he acquired through HRAP to further develop Most Mira (Bridge of Peace), an organization that he founded in 2005. Most Mira hosts annual arts festivals for five to 14-year-old youths of diverse backgrounds in Prijedor, Bosnia. These community-wide events have worked to bridge the gap between the Serbian and Muslim communities in Bosnia.

His overarching search for collective reconciliation and forgiveness in Prijedor began with his personal experience as a detainee in the Omarska camp, established by Serbian forces to contain primarily the Bosnian Muslims. A concentration camp often compared with those of the Nazis, Omarska remained in Pervanic’s memory as a place of physical torture and uncertainty of survival. Even more grueling for Pervanic, however, were the challenges to his mental stability. Engraved in his mind was the realization that he would not be returning home, as he witnessed his village on fire and engulfed in smoke. Guards tortured and terrorized prisoners who watched the village burn or even looked around to prevent them from escaping. Perhaps the most striking and grueling experience for Pervanic was the fact that some of these guards were none other than his former classmates and teachers—they were not faceless enemies. “I was released but not free,” Pervanic commented as he recollected his experience of seeking psychosocial support in the face of social risk and stigma. His experience in the Omarska camp and the violence he witnessed shaped the lens through which he perceived the world around him. Although he was physically free from torture, he could not simply dismiss the impact the concentration camp had in shaping his life.

What is needed to alleviate this problem, Pervanic said, is a common experience, a community-wide act rather than mere speech. This philosophy, in fact, serves as the basis of Most Mira, which brings youth of the divided communities together to create and perform works of art and dance, providing the participants and the audience an opportunity to learn about and develop understanding between each other. Perhaps most importantly, Most Mira’s communal festivals not only showcase collective effort and cooperation but also represent acts of reconciliation—the willingness of both communities of divided Bosnia to put aside past conflicts and come together. In Most Mira’s annual events, the children of former guards at the camp—Pervanic’s classmates and teachers—participate alongside Muslim youths. The Most Mira events allow people to face their “enemies” and to reconnect with former friends and family members. To this day, Pervanic personally embodies this mission, as he visits the houses of friends who were previous guards and drinks coffee with them, developing even stronger relationships and breaking down potential fears and discomforts.