An interview with Nobel Peace prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi with the Iranian online journal Rooz Online
Rooz (R): You have consistently criticized the prospect of a U.S. military strike against Iran, and at the same time you are one of the most outspoken critics of the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations. Some conservatives say that these two issues are contradictory, because your criticism may be used as an excuse by warmongers to launch attacks against Iran. What is your opinion?
Shirin Ebadi (SE): I have to say that, in all speeches that I have delivered about human rights violations in Iran, I have immediately emphasized that, despite all the criticism directed at the Islamic Republic regime for human rights violations, improving present conditions is the duty of every single Iranian and has nothing to do with foreign troops. The Iranian people oppose military strikes and even military threats against Iran, because that situation further deteriorates the condition of human rights and democracy in Iran. Every government that finds itself in danger attempts to exert more control over domestic environment and curtail personal liberties. Therefore, just as Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran led to a hike in human rights violations, arrests and execution of political figures, any kind of future military strike against Iran will further endanger the condition of those fighting for freedom. When war breaks out, issues such as the right to free expression, education, and religious practice are overshadowed by security policies and measures to preserve life.
R: Do you think the possibility of a military strike has increased compared to before?
SE: Yes. Unfortunately, it has been a while since the tone of two countries’ officials have become harsher. You witnessed that one of the presidential candidates in the U.S., Hillary Clinton, even threatened to obliterate Iran if it poses a danger toward Israel. Another candidate, John McCain, has made clear his extremist position on this issue and even sang “Bomb Iran” at a gathering. Evidence of this sort is not indicative of improving relations.
R: When you talk to American academics, what kind of issues are they interested in the most?
SE: What gets discussed is what is my expertise, meaning human rights. Naturally, they are interested to see what human rights conditions in Iran are like and, most importantly, how strong is civil society and how does it react to human rights violations, and if civil society’s pressure can improve the present situation or not. In addition, they usually ask me if I agree with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks about the Holocaust and wiping Israel of the map. I answer generally that during elections I did not vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad and therefore I do not share his views.
R: Do you think that in the remaining year running up to Iran’s next presidential elections, the atmosphere will open up for human rights improvements and political activism, or do you foresee even more pressure mounting on civil society activists given the post-eight Majlis election atmosphere?
SE: I hope that the Iranian government comes to realize that strengthening civil society will result in reducing the gap between the regime and its people, so that people can defend their country if it becomes necessary. When a nation is fearful of a foreign attack the government must reduce the gap between itself and the people as much as possible.