US honors 'International Women of Courage'

US Secretary of State John Kerry poses with recipients of the 2016 International Women of Courage Award at the State Department in Washington, DC, March 29, 2016 (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Washington (AFP) - The United States issued awards Tuesday to 14 lawyers, activists, humanitarians and reformers said to represent "International Women of Courage."

"Fourteen leaders, fourteen role models, fourteen women of courage, one crystal clear message," said Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Don't accept the unacceptable or wait for someone else to step up. Act in the name of justice. Act in the name of tolerance. Act on behalf of truth."

All but one of the honorees were able to attend the ceremony in Washington, an annual event that began in 2007 to encourage women's empowerment.

Bangladeshi barrister Sara Hossain helped draft her country's laws on violence against women and has argued landmark rights cases before the supreme court.

Debra Baptist-Estrada is commander of the immigration department at Belize's main airport and has worked with US officials against corruption and trafficking.

Ni Yulan, a disabled Chinese property rights lawyer, was the only honoree not to receive her award in person, having been forbidden from traveling by her government.

France's Latifa Ibn Ziaten became an activist promoting interfaith dialogue in 2012 after her soldier son was slain by Islamist extremist Mohamed Merah.

Attorney General Thelma Aldana of Guatemala began her career as a courtroom janitor and has now brought corruption charges against the highest in the land.

Nagham Nawzat Hasan is an Iraqi gynecologist and a member of the country's persecuted Yazidi minority. She works with girls kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants.

Transgender rights advocate Nisha Ayub continues to work for justice despite being sexually abused after being sentenced to a men's prison for wearing women's clothing.

Mauritania's first female attorney Fatimata M'baye was honored as co-founder and president of the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights and fights slavery.

Russian journalist Zhanna Nemtsova has braved death threats to campaign for justice for her father, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, assassinated last year.

Zuzana Stevulova, director of the Human Rights League of Slovakia, is the foremost champion of the rights of refugees flowing into Europe from war in the Middle East.

Awadeya Mahmoud, founder of the Women's Food and Tea Sellers' Cooperative in Sudan has championed the rights of small businesswomen against authoritarian government

Former BBC journalist Vicky Ntetema exposed the trade in the body parts of murdered albinos used in ritual magic amd now leads an NGO dedicated to ending it.

Thai bookseller Rodjaraeg Wattanapanit has twice been sent to re-education camps by her country's military junta but still provides a space for political free expression.

Nihal Naj Ali Al-Awlaqi, Yemen's minister of legal affairs, helped put women's rights in a draft constitution and is involved in talks to end her country's civil war.

Next month, the honorees will tour US cities to meet American people and discuss their work to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.