INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 43
(Senate - March 11, 2019)

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From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                       INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

  Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, on International Women's Day, we reflect 
on the enormous contributions women make worldwide to their communities 
and their countries across every aspect of society including justice, 
politics, culture, peacebuilding, the economy, and national security. 
On this day, we also recognize and recommit to fighting on behalf of 
the many women whose voices governments seek to silence. Around the 
world, women take enormous risks to advance the rights of their fellow 
citizens and to promote the principles of freedom of expression, 
religion, and assembly. They fight for rights to access education and 
healthcare, and they fight discrimination, corruption, and violence. 
For their words and for their actions, all too often, governments turn 
these women into political prisoners.
  Today, I want to highlight just a tiny fraction of the countless 
number of women and girls held behind bars unjustly. Similarly, 
unfortunately, the repressive governments detaining these women are 
just a small fraction of the governments around the world that lock up 
women for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
  Just last week, the government of Saudi Arabia announced that it 
would put on trial its country's leading women's rights activists who 
have been in prison without charges since May 2018. The crackdown on 
these activists began just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting 
of the ban on women driving, one of the very causes for which many of 
the detained activists had campaigned. While some were quickly 
released, others remain imprisoned. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, 
Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, 
Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saada, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, and 
Amal al-Harbi. Credible reports indicate that Saudi interrogators 
tortured at least four of the women, including with electric shocks and 
whippings and sexual harassment and assault.
  In the Philippines, Senator Leila de Lima, a brave champion of human 
rights, launched an investigation into extrajudicial executions that 
began shortly after President Duterte took office in 2016. As one of 
the only leaders bold enough to oppose President Duterte's ``war on 
drugs,'' she has faced prolonged arbitrary detention, according to 
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. President Duterte has 
sought to silence her courageous voice as she spoke out against 
widespread human rights violations, including thousands of 
extrajudicial executions of mostly poor and marginalized people.
  In Egypt, Hanan Badr el-Din, a human rights defender and cofounder of 
the Families of the Forcibly Disappeared Association, was detained on 
May 6, 2017, at Qanatar prison while visiting an individual who had 
been forcibly disappeared. She started her activism following the 
forced disappearance of her husband in 2013. She suffers from a serious 
genetic disorder, and her health is rapidly deteriorating.
  China is responsible for some of the most grave human rights abuses, 
including of women. China has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of 
Uighur women in detention camps across its northwest region. These 
women are forced to renounce their Muslim religion and Uighur language 
and memorize Chinese propaganda. Forced labor, torture, and death are 
common. Thousands of children have been separated from their mothers 
and fathers and placed in a separate network of orphanages. One husband 
of a Uighur woman told Human Rights Watch: ``My wife was about to go 
back overseas but they took her passport. And when she went to ask to 
get her passport back, they told her she needs to be subjected to 
political education for 10 days, and then they would let her go. That 
was on July 20, 2017. Since then, she's been in a political education 
camp.'' The family of Guligeina Tashimaimaiti, a Uighur PhD student who 
was last seen in December 2017 when she returned from studying in 
Malaysia, for example, fears she is in detention and at risk of torture 
and other ill treatment.
  China has also targeted Tibetan Buddhist nuns. The government 
expelled hundreds of nuns in 2017 from Larung Gar in Sichuan, the 
world's largest Tibetan Buddhist center. Their homes were demolished; 
they were barred from entering other monasteries, and faced detention, 
harassment, and abuse.
  In Eritrea, Aster Fissehatsion has been held incommunicado without 
charge or trial since September 2001. Her whereabouts, 17 years later, 
are still not known. Aster Fissehatsion was arrested together with 10 
other members of a group of political dissidents known as the Group of 
15, or G-15, including her former husband, former Vice President and 
foreign minister of Eritrea, Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo.
  Perhaps, most tragically, this is just a snapshot of some of the 
brave women who dare to speak up for fundamental rights and values.
  So on this International Women's Day, as we reflect on the 
achievements of women and reflect on the work that remains to be done, 
I call on all of us to redouble our efforts to free women political 
prisoners. Governments have the responsibility to promote the safety, 
well-being, and fundamental rights of their citizens. I call on 
governments who are unjustly detaining, harassing, and torturing women 
for exercising their fundamental rights to immediately release these 
politically motivated detentions. As they continue to struggle, let us 
all take up the mantle of their cause.

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