Rohingya rights defender Razia Sultana will be honoured with the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards by the United States in recognition of her exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights and gender equality, often at great personal risk.
Sultana is a Rohingya. She works as a lawyer and rights activist in the refugee camps of Bangladesh, where over one million Rohingyas are now staying.
The vast majority of those in the camps are women and children, many of whom were gang-raped and tortured and lost family members in mass slaughters during the military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in late August 2017.
Sultana has been calling for a “safe zone” within Myanmar to allow the women in Cox's Bazar refugee camps to return without fear of further violence. She also advocates for proper education within the refugee camps to allow children an opportunity for a better future.
Sultana was born in Myanmar's Maungdaw in 1973 to Rohingya parents and has devoted her career to advancing human rights for her community and for all in Myanmar, according to the State Department, which identified her as “a citizen of Bangladesh”.
She has been named as one of the 10 winners of 2019 IWOC award.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host the Annual IWOC Awards today at the US Department of State to honour the extraordinary women from around the world. First Lady of the United States Melania Trump will deliver special remarks at the ceremony.
The award recognises women who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women's empowerment.
Since the inception of this award in March 2007, the State Department has recognised more than 120 women from more than 65 countries.
Sultana has been working directly with the Rohingyas, particularly women and girls, since 2014.
She practices law advocating for the Rohingyas and conducts research and educational programmes, specialising in trauma, mass rape, and trafficking of Rohingya women and girls.
Since 2016, she has interviewed hundreds of refugees in Bangladesh and published two reports -- “Witness to Horror” and “Rape by Command” -- documenting systematic sexual violence by Burmese security forces against the Rohingyas.
She contributed to “The Killing Fields of Alethankyaw,” a recent report by the Kaladan press. Sultana is also a coordinator of Free Rohingya Coalition and a director of Arakan Rohingya National Organization's women section. She believes in rights and justice for all in Myanmar as a means to bring peace.
Sultana, who is now in Washington DC to receive the award, told The Daily Star yesterday that her father was a migrant from Myanmar to the then East Pakistan in the 1960s and her mother moved to Bangladesh when she was only six months old.
She became a Bangladeshi citizen, courtesy of her father.
“I am extremely happy for the award. This will inspire me to work more bravely for the Rohingyas,” she said over phone.