Monday, March 4, 2024

The White House

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: It has always taken bravery and stubbornness to stand up for human rights. But today the threats that human rights activists and defenders face – from threats to their families to legal retribution to imprisonment and outright violence at the hands of those who would prefer to see them silenced – those threats are grave, and sadly they are growing. In 2022, more than 400 human rights defenders were murdered, the highest number ever recorded in a single year. I am in awe of the women we are honoring today for their courage. 

They refuse to back down because of a shared conviction captured by Fatima Corazon, one of the women we are recognizing today. As she puts it, courage, even in the face of danger and fear is the driving force to achieve positive change. The women we are honoring live this conviction every minute of every day. They have been unjustly imprisoned, they have been driven from their homes or trapped inside their homes, they have seen their families and their colleagues attacked, or they have received death threats and been assaulted themselves. 

But they do not relent. They go on fighting, they fight for the rights of political prisoners, they organize movements to bring services to marginalized communities, they publish articles, they host rallies, and they call out injustice wherever they can. Even in the most dangerous places against all odds, they are continuing their work demonstrating incredible, inspiring courage and putting their lives on the line to defend human rights. 

Now, Dr. [Jill] Biden, and Secretary [Antony] Blinken will present the awards. 

Benafsha Yaqoobi has dedicated her life to defending the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. A former attorney and member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, she has helped women escape violence and visually impaired children attend school. Today, she continues to fight for the future of Afghanistan – one that respects human rights and human dignity.

Born in Isla Luis Vargas Torres, one of the most violent enclaves within Esmeraldas, Ecuador, Fátima Corozo has put her life on the line to draw hundreds of young people away from rising gang violence and help them get the education and job opportunities they need to build the futures they want for themselves.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello was the only woman amongst 75 people imprisoned during the black spring, Cuba's crackdown on dissidents two decades ago, Martha was jailed for her activism. After her release, she continued to fight for the rights of political prisoners documenting fraudulent court hearings and supporting activists and their families. Unfortunately, as the Secretary relayed, the Cuban government is preventing Ms. Roque Cabello from leaving the country. So she is not here to accept the award, but let us give her a heartfelt round of applause.

As a result of Fariba Balouch’s outspoken activism for the rights of women and systematically oppressed ethnic minorities in Iran’s poorest province of Sistan and Baluchestan, Iranian authorities have threatened her life. And after she escaped to London, they detained her son and brother in a further attempt to intimidate her. Yet, Ms. Balouch believes the only way forward is resistance, and she continues to advocate for marginalized communities in Iran refusing to be silenced.

Congratulations to all of our awardees. Thank you so much.

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