On March 8, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made mention of the situation in Belarus and called for the release during the 15th International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards Ceremony in Washington.
The State Department gives the IWOC awards to women around the world who have shown ‘exceptional strength and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, and gender equality – often at great risk to themselves’, Blinken noted.
Announcing the 2021 awardees, he named Maryia Kalesnikava, a ‘democracy activist in Belarus’ first.
“Ahead of last year’s presidential election, she mobilised women across the country to protest the rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Europe’s last dictator. She is absent from the screen today, because she is sitting in a Belarussian prison. The United States will continue to call for her unconditional release, and for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus,” the top US official stressed.
Fair elections in Belarus would also strengthen their own democracy, US First Lady Jill Biden, who also made a speech at the ceremony, said.
Since the inception of the IWOC Award in March 2007 to today, the Department of State has recognised more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials. According to the зкуыы ыукмшсу, after the Belarusian authorities jailed or exiled the three most popular male opposition candidates, Maryia Kalesnikava and her partners mounted a historic and sustained challenge to the 26-year rule of Lukashenka.