Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi on Nuclear Deal, Islamic State, Women's Rights

April 28, 2015


Shirin Ebadi

Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In 2003, she became first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the award for her human rights advocacy, in particular for the rights of Iranian women, children and political prisoners. She was the first female judge in Iran, but she has lived in exile since 2009.

We are broadcasting from The Hague, where we are speaking with the women Nobel Peace Prize laureates who have gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In an extended interview, we speak with 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the award for her human rights advocacy, in particular for the rights of Iranian women, children and political prisoners. She was the first female judge in Iran, but she has lived in exile since 2009. Ebadi discusses the threat posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and the significance of the framework deal agreed to by Iran and world powers including the United States and Israel to curb its nuclear program for at least a decade. "I do not agree with any of the nuclear energy programs," Ebadi says. "Therefore, it has to stop as soon as possible. But at the same time, a country that does have an atomic bomb cannot judge in this manner about other countries."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re continuing our broadcast from The Hague in the Netherlands, where we turn to Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. In 2003, she became the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the award for her human rights advocacy, in particular for the rights of Iranian women, children and political prisoners. She was the first female judge in Iran, but she has lived in exile since 2009.

Shirin Ebadi is in The Hague this week for a conference marking the hundredth anniversary of the International Congress of Women, when over a thousand women traveled here to call for an end to World War I. The event marked the formation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, known as WILPF. Well, this week, WILPF has brought together a new generation of feminist peace activists at The Hague in the centennial celebration of their organization for a conference called Women Stop War. On Monday, Shirin Ebadi spoke at the opening session about the threat posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] We have to remember that ISIS is not simply a terrorist group. It’s an ideology. And an ideology cannot be fought with bombs. This wrong ideology can only be fought with a correct interpretation of religion. Had books been thrown at people, at the Taliban, instead of bombs, and had schools been built in Afghanistan—4,000 schools could have been built in memory of the 4,000 people who died on 9/11—at this time, we wouldn’t have had ISIS. Let’s not forget that the roots of the ISIS rest in the Taliban, so let’s not repeat the experience that was a loss.

I only have a very short time to speak, so I have a specific suggestion for the United Nations. I demand that the United Nations, through a convention, encourage all countries to reduce their military budgets by 10 percent and use it for the education and welfare of the people. And I want to ask the United States and the Western world to throw books at people. You will see that we will have a better world in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: The 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, speaking at the opening of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Women Stop War centennial conference here at The Hague. On Sunday, I interviewed Shirin Ebadi at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners, the women winners, at the Nobel Women’s Initiative. I began by asking Dr. Ebadi to talk about the significance of the framework deal agreed to by Iran and world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program for at least a decade.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I hope that the negotiations come to a conclusion, because the sanctions have made the people poorer, and there is a lot of economical pressure in Iran. Of course, the extremists on both sides, both Iran and America, do not agree with the agreement. Me, personally, do not approve of the nuclear program of the government, because it’s very expensive and also economically doesn’t respond to what we need. We could have spent much less money and invest in solar energy. In general, nuclear energy powers are not good for the environment of Iran. Iran is located on earthquake faults. And we are scared that something like Fukushima could happen in Iran. Therefore, our national interest is for this agreement to come to a conclusion, and we can benefit from the results.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says that this is a dream for Iran, but the deal is a nightmare for the rest of the world. Your reaction?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] As I said earlier, in general, I do not agree with any of the nuclear energy programs. Therefore, it has to stop as soon as possible. But at the same time, a country that does have an atomic bomb cannot judge in this manner about other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu says this will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] It can and it may result in a nuclear race. But who started it in the Middle East? Which country in the Middle East had the first bomb in the region? I think the answer to this question is easy.

AMY GOODMAN: Because of the pressure that’s being put on President Obama around the nuclear deal, he says that part of the deal will be a phased lifting of sanctions.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Laws in America, also the type of the sanctions, do not provide that the sanctions be lifted at one time. It’s very natural that it has to be done in phases. However, it shouldn’t take a long time. Sanctions have resulted in people becoming poorer, of course. The economic policy of the government and the corruption that exists, and also the fact that the government is not transparent, hurts people as much as the sanctions. In reality, it’s not only sanctions that hurt the people, but also lack of transparency, corruption and the wrong economic programs of the government have made the people poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ebadi, you can hardly be called an apologist for the Iranian government. You’re living in exile, for one thing. Your husband has been arrested by the government, your sister has been arrested—all this since you won the Nobel Peace Prize. What do you say to those who criticize the deal, saying that it will strengthen the Iranian government?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I do criticize the government of Iran, but it is on the basis of violations of human rights and also the corruption that exists in the country, whereas when the United States criticizes the government of Iran, it is due to the fact that they are scared that the government of Iran becomes atomic and becomes closer. And there is a difference between my criticism of the government and the criticism of the United States. This means that those who criticize the government of Iran in America do not bring up the violations of human rights. It doesn’t look like it’s important for them. We see that they’re close friends of Saudi Arabia, which has the most violation of human rights in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your criticism of the Rouhani government? How does Rouhani compare to, well, his predecessor, Ahmadinejad?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Rouhani smiles more than Ahmadinejad. That’s it. Because pursuant to the constitution, all the power belongs to the leader, and the president’s power is limited. This is why after Rouhani came to power, we haven’t seen any change. The situation of human rights has not gotten any better. If they’re talking to America now, it is because the leader has had to permit such negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the number of arrests, women’s rights in Iran, how women are able to express themselves under the Rouhani government?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Unfortunately, the situation of women has not improved under Rouhani. At universities, have come to the solution of separating girls and boys. Musical concerts, women cannot play instruments any longer, something they could do in the past. Political prisoners are still in prison. Mr. Rouhani had promised that Mousavi and Karroubi, who have not been tried but who are under house arrest, would be released, but up to now he hasn’t been able to do that and doesn’t even speak about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mousavi, Karroubi, both influential Iranian politicians, they ran against Ahmadinejad for president.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Mousavi was a nominee in 2009. However, since he had disagreements with Khamenei, the leader, he’s been under house arrest. Rouhani promised that he would release him. But not only he has not released him, since the date that he has come to power, he hasn’t even talked about it publicly, and he hasn’t said anything about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ebadi, I wanted to ask your opinion of Marzieh Afkham, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson. It’s believed she will become Iran’s first female ambassador since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] There is a proverb which says, with one flower, you don’t get spring. Comparing her to all of the women who have been made to sit at home, having a woman who is politically very close to the government does not change much. You know very well that pursuant to the statistics of the government, unemployment in Iran is three times as much among women than it is among men, whereas the number of the university students, if we look at it, proves that 60 percent are female. This means that women in Iran are better educated, but they’re unemployed. And in order to prove to the world that we respect women, they use one woman, for example, as an ambassador—which is a good thing to do, but it shouldn’t be limited to one person. It should be expanded.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our interview with the 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re on the road in The Hague in the Netherlands, as we return to my interview with 2003 Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and its growth in power?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] ISIS is not only a terrorist group, it’s a wrong ideology. Using a wrong interpretation of Islam, they kill people, they rape women, they sell women. And in order to fight ISIS, a coalition of 40 countries, under the leadership of the U.S., has formed, which bombs these people a few times per day. But this is not going to work, because we cannot put an end to ideology using a bomb. It’s a wrong ideology, which can be fought with a correct ideology. Instead of bombs, books should be thrown at them.

AMY GOODMAN: Has President Obama asked your opinion on what should be done? And what would you advise him?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I would tell him, instead of bombs, try to build schools, throw books at people, try to fight the corruption that exists in the region where they’re at. Then you will see that ISIS will gradually go away.

AMY GOODMAN: When were you last in Iran, Dr. Ebadi?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Exactly on June 21st, 2009, I left Iran. I left a few hours prior to the presidential elections in Iran, the elections that resulted in the killing of people on the streets. And as a result, Mousavi and Karroubi were put under house arrest. And I couldn’t go back to Iran. And since I was not in Iran to be arrested, my husband and my sister were arrested. They were hoping that by keeping them as hostages, I would be silenced. But I wasn’t. Then the government decided to expropriate all of my property and auction them off. Unfortunately, a number of my colleagues are still in prison. But I’m glad to say that I did not even close down for an hour. And my friends in Iran continue their work.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say not close down even for an hour, your organization works for women and girls?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes. Of course, prior to that, I used to do it publicly, but now I have gone underground, because I don’t want my colleagues to get into trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: And your husband and sister, where are they now?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Of course, they were set free after a while, because the government found out that I would not become silenced anyway. Under the pressure of public opinion and international organizations, set them free, because they were really innocent. And they were not my colleagues at all. They each have their own business.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen them since 2009?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I have seen my husband once and my sister once.

AMY GOODMAN: Could they leave the country if they wanted to?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Each of them have been able to leave once.

AMY GOODMAN: So how does that affect you personally? You’ve seen your husband, what, only once in six years?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Naturally, the life that I’m living is not a very comfortable life. But this is the price that we have to pay for freedom in Iran. I’m not the only one paying this price. My colleagues who are in prison are paying a higher price.

AMY GOODMAN: So, just to be clear, Dr. Ebadi, you’re a target of the Iranian government, yet when it comes to sanctions and the nuclear deal, you’re for lifting those sanctions, right?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, because if the negotiations do not come to a conclusion, then the sanctions will continue. And they may even get worse. And it may result in hurting the people more and more. All of my endeavors in life is for my people to live a better life.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you trust the Iranian government?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Never.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s exactly the reason opponents give for not supporting a deal with Iran.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] In the agreement, it has been provided that if the government of Iran breaches the agreement, they can return the embargoes and the sanctions easily.

AMY GOODMAN: So I’ve asked you to share your advice you’d give to President Obama, what you’d say to opponents of a nuclear deal with Iran. What about what you say to peace activists around the world?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Peace activists should, in reality, work for justice. And also, they should work on holding governments responsible. For example, when we look at like the Middle East region, we see that it is on fire. Why? Because a bunch of dictators have been there for numerous years. They violate human rights. They were corrupt. They didn’t let the civil society grow. And people became poorer every day. And unfortunately, the world closed its eyes on them. One day, people became tired and threw or deposed the dictators. But the civil society has not been formed. There is anarchy, and resulted in the whole region being on fire now. And unfortunately, people have two bad options. They either have to put up with a dictator or anarchy and insecurity. They’re both bad. We shouldn’t let it get to this point. The people have two bad options. Look at Syria. The Assad family has ruled there over 40 years. The situation is such that some people think that if Assad leaves, ISIS will take over. And so, people don’t know whether to choose between ISIS or Assad, who has killed all these people. Therefore, when I talk to peace activists, what I say is, don’t let countries get to this stage where they’re on fire and then try to put the fire out. We shouldn’t let fire to grow. We have to come to a conclusion to provide for the infrastructure. In medicine, we say it’s better to prevent than to treat. The same thing is true about peace. Let’s stop it. Let’s prevent it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re living in very violent times. The U.S. is involved in the longest war in its history, in Afghanistan. Then you’ve got the wars in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, in Libya. Can you share your advice to the world, as a Nobel Peace laureate, as a woman?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] My advice is to want what they want for their own people for the people of these countries, as well. These countries have been destructed, obliterated, because big corporations want to become wealthier, so that they can sell arms. Therefore, my advice is: Treat the people of Afghanistan the same as you treat your own people. Look at Iraqi children the same as you look at your own children. Then you will see that the solution is there.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Shirin Ebadi, thank you very much for joining us.

SHIRIN EBADI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Iranian human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, becoming the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Shirin Ebadi is in The Hague this week at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom centennial conference and the Nobel Women’s Initiative. You can visit our website to see yesterday’s interview with three other Nobel Peace laureates, Leymah Gbowee, Jody Williams and Mairead Maguire.

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