'No way except understanding'
Ebadi, December 10, 2003
This year, the Nobel Peace Prize has
been awarded to a woman from Iran, a Muslim country in the Middle
East. My selection will make women in Iran, and much farther afield,
believe in themselves. Women constitute half of the population
of every country. To disregard women and bar them from active
participation in political, social, economic and cultural life
is tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society
of half its capability. The patriarchal culture and the discrimination
against women, particularly in the Islamic countries, cannot continue.
Today coincides with the 55th anniversary of the
adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration
that begins with the recognition of the inherent dignity and the
equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.
Yet disasters distance humankind from the idealistic world of
the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2002,
almost 1.2 billion human beings lived in glaring poverty, earning
less than one dollar a day. More than 50 countries were caught
up in war or natural disasters. AIDS has claimed 22 million lives,
and orphaned 13 million children.
And some states have violated the universal principles
and laws of human rights by using the events of Sept. 11 and the
war on terrorism as a pretext. Several United Nations resolutions
have underlined that all states must ensure that any measures
taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under
international law, in particular international human- rights and
humanitarian law. However, regulations restricting human rights
and basic freedoms have been justified under the cloak of the
war on terrorism.
Worse, these principles are also violated in Western
democracies, in other words countries that were themselves among
the initial codifiers of the United Nations Charter and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Hundreds of individuals who were
arrested in the course of military conflicts have been imprisoned
in Guantanamo, without the benefit of the rights stipulated under
the international Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and
Why is it that some decisions and resolutions of
the UN Security Council are binding, while other council resolutions
have no binding force? Why is it that in the past 35 years, dozens
of UN resolutions concerning the occupation of the Palestinian
territories by the state of Israel have not been implemented --
yet, in the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq were twice
subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and,
ultimately, military occupation?
I am an Iranian, a descendent of Cyrus the Great.
This emperor proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago
that "he would not reign over the people if they did not
wish it." He promised not to force any person to change his
religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter
of Cyrus the Great should be studied in the history of human rights.
I am a Muslim. In the Koran, the Prophet of Islam
has said: "Thou shalt believe in thy faith and I in my religion."
That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that
of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent
of Islam, Iran's civilization and culture have become imbued and
infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and
faith of others, propagation of tolerance and avoidance of violence,
bloodshed and war.
The luminaries of Iranian literature, such as Mowlavi
[known in the West as Rumi], are emissaries of this humanitarian
culture. Their message manifests itself in this poem by Saadi:
"The sons of Adam are limbs of one another/Having been created
of one essence."
The people of Iran have seen consecutive conflicts
between tradition and modernity for more than 100 years. By resorting
to ancient traditions, some are trying to see the world through
the eyes of their predecessors and to deal with the problems and
difficulties of the existing world by virtue of the values of
the ancients. But many others, while respecting their cultural
past and their religion, seek not to lag behind the caravan of
civilization, development and progress. The people of Iran deem
participation in public affairs to be their right; they want to
be masters of their own destiny.
This conflict can be seen in many Muslim states.
Some Muslims, under the pretext that democracy and human rights
are not compatible with the traditional structure of Islamic societies,
have justified despotic governments, and continue to do so. Islam
is a religion whose first sermon begins with the word "Recite!"
Such a sermon and message cannot be in conflict with knowledge,
wisdom, freedom of opinion and expression, and cultural pluralism.
The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states,
whether in the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social,
political and cultural justice, has its roots in the male-dominated
culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam. This patriarchal
culture does not tolerate freedom and democracy or equal rights
of men and women, because it would threaten the traditional position
of the rulers of that culture.
Some have mooted the idea of a clash of civilizations,
or prescribed war and military intervention for this region. One
must say to them, if you consider international human-rights laws,
including a nation's right to determine its own destiny, to be
universal rights -- and if you believe in the superiority of parliamentary
democracy over other political systems -- then you cannot selfishly
think only of your own security and comfort.
The decision by the Nobel peace committee to award
the 2003 prize to me, as the first Iranian and the first woman
from a Muslim country, inspires me and millions of Iranians and
nationals of Islamic states with the hope that our efforts toward
the realization of human rights and the establishment of democracy
in our respective countries will enjoy the support of international
civil society. This prize belongs to the people of Iran, Islamic
states, and the people of the South.
I have spoken of human rights as a guarantor of
freedom, justice and peace. When human rights are not manifested
in codified laws or put into effect by states, then human beings
will be left with no choice but to rebel against oppression. If
the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence,
and avoid repetition of the disasters of the 20th century, there
is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice
every human right, for all mankind -- irrespective of race, gender,
faith, nationality or social status. I anticipate that day.
This article was orginally published in the Globe
and Mail and has been adapted from the speech Shirin Ebadi in
Oslo on formally accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.