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The Nobel Peace Prize 2003 - Shirin Ebadi, Iran


Presentation Speech by Professor Ole Danbolt Mjs, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, December 10, 2003

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Peace Prize Laureate, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003 to Shirin Ebadi for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the campaign for the rights of women and children." This was the first sentence of the Committee's announcement on 10 October of this year's Peace Prize Laureate. I believe this announcement has already changed your life, Shirin Ebadi. Your name will shine in the history of the Peace Prize. Let us hope that the prize will also inspire changes in your beloved home country, Iran, as well as in many other parts of the world where people need to hear your clear voice. And let me hasten to add - this applies to the western world as well. Fundamental values, such as liberty, justice and respect for human rights will - in all places and at all times - need vigilant and critical champions.

The great Persian poet, Rumi or Mowlavi as Iranians like to call him, lived in the 13th century. Somewhere in his great work "Mathnawi", there is a short poem about a miserable wretch who came under attack by a ferocious dragon. A heroic rescuer rushed in at the last moment, and Rumi's comment is:

"There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save
anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself,
they run towards the screaming.

And they can't be bought off.
If you were to ask one of those, "Why did you come
so quickly?" he or she would say, "Because I heard
your helplessness."

Another of the great Persian poets, Saadi of Shiraz, who also lived in the 13th century, says in the well-known work "The Rose Garden" - Golistan - that he who is indifferent to the suffering of others is a traitor to that which is truly human.

Dear Shirin Ebadi,

You and the Iranian people represent the tradition of Saadi and Rumi. You are both guide and bridge-builder. You strive to bring people together across cultures, races and religions! That is your hallmark!

The Norwegian poet, Arne Paasche Aasen, wrote in 1939 the lovely poem "Your youth" - about being young in spirit - where he says:

"Now cries the world: We need your heart,
your gifts, your flaming spirit!
And were you to be given youth to have and keep
Then use it - use all your energy and powers"

Dear Shirin Ebadi,

You are young in spirit. You possess great gifts. You have a warm heart. You are brave. We admire your efforts. The world needs you!

Congratulations with the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize! The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that the Peace Prize has been awarded to the right person, at the right time and in the right place. When the director of the Nobel Institute telephoned Shirin Ebadi's home in Teheran to tell her the good news, her husband answered that his wife was in Paris and would not be easy to get hold of - she had forgotten her mobile telephone at home. Nevertheless, the news that you had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize reached you very quickly in Paris, and the entire conference broke out in enthusiastic jubilation. Later, we learned that you were not even aware that you had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But then, reactions started pouring in. Not everyone knew your name, but the world understood immediately what the Committee meant: All people are entitled to fundamental rights, and at a time when Islam is being demonized in many quarters of the western world, it was the Norwegian Nobel Committee's wish to underline how important and how valuable it is to foster dialogue between peoples and between civilizations. This is a wish that most people share and that is why the reactions to this year's award have been so positive, even though we understand if you had perhaps hoped for a few more congratulations from the authorities of your own home country and region. And now, of course, you have suddenly become quite a world celebrity!

Today you are here, Shirin Ebadi, in Oslo City Hall to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003. And we rejoice together with you, your closest family and friends, many of whom are present here today.

It is indeed a great pleasure for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award - for the first time in history - the Nobel Peace Prize to a woman from the Muslim world - a woman that the world can be proud of, as can all other champions of human rights around the world.

It is our sincere hope that the people of Iran will feel joy that a citizen of their country - for the first time in history - receives the Nobel Peace Prize. And we hope that the prize will serve as inspiration for all those who are campaigning for human rights and democracy in your country, in the Muslim world and in all countries in the East and West - everywhere where human rights work needs inspiration and support.

Shirin Ebadi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights and, in particular, for her fight for the rights of women and children. She has been very clear in her opposition to patriarchal cultures that deny equal rights to women, who represent half of the population. But mothers must also be aware of their responsibilities. They are the ones who bring up young boys to be men and who raise daughters to become strong women. Shirin Ebadi is the founder and leader of the Association for Support of Children's Rights in Iran, which has some 5000 members. The centre is located in Teheran and it produces information material for use in schools and operates an emergency hot line for children. The Nobel Committee hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize award to Shirin Ebadi will contribute to an increased focus on the rights of children the world over.

In an interview Shirin Ebadi was asked: "Do you have a message to send to Muslim women?" "Yes", she answered, "Keep on fighting". "Don't believe that you are meant to occupy a lower position in society. Get yourself an education! Do your best and compete in all areas of life. God created us all as equals. By fighting for equal status, we are doing what God wants us to do", argues Shirin Ebadi. In this respect, it is worth noting that some 60 percent of the students at the University of Teheran are, in fact, women. At the same time, we must not forget women's legitimate claim for equality before the law. In law and order, we must all be equal, and women must enjoy exactly the same rights as men. On this issue, Shirin Ebadi stands in the front ranks and we can but admire her for her efforts.

Many are those who have drawn benefit from Shirin Ebadi's commitment and capacity for work. She has pleaded the cause of refugees in a region where they are in such great numbers and so desperately need help. Furthermore, she has called attention to the rights of all citizens - also their right to freedom of expression - irrespective of religion, ethnic origin or political opinion.

As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, author and activist, her voice has sounded clearly and powerfully in her native country Iran, and also far beyond its national borders. She has come forward with professional force and unflagging courage, and she has defied any danger to her own safety. She is truly a woman of the people!

The campaign for fundamental human rights is her most important arena and no society can be called civilized if the rights of women and children fail to be respected. At a time of violence, she has staunchly upheld the principle of non-violence. For her, it is fundamental that the supreme political power of a society is founded on democratic elections. She emphasizes that information and dialogue constitute the best avenue toward a change of attitudes and a settling of conflicts. After years of reflection, she has come to the conclusion that revolution never leads to the changes promised by the revolutionaries. The road forward must move in the direction of non-violence and dialogue, law and order.

Again and again, this year's Laureate has stressed that she is an Iranian. "I am proud to be an Iranian. I shall live in Iran for as long as I possibly can," she says. For Shirin Ebadi, this has meant a life in fear, but she has learned to live with her fear and she is optimistic about the future. People insist on ruling themselves. The time when ruling powers could threaten their way to dominion is gone forever. Rulers "will realize that the time for governing through fear is drawing to a close the world over. Why should Iran be an exception?" she says.

The 110 persons and organizations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize over the years are extremely diverse. But the majority of them have one thing in common - they are optimists, unshakable optimists. It is their optimism that gives them the inspiration they need in their struggles. Furthermore, many of the laureates are filled with a courage that we can scarcely understand. Even under the most challenging of circumstances, they keep going - day after day, year after year.

Shirin Ebadi has run great risks. As a lawyer, she brings cases to court that few others would venture to get involved in. Her ideas are spreading in ever-widening circles, and, to quote the Norwegian poet Paasche Aasen: You must be true to your own youth, "so that the field you plough can grow when your work is done."

There are several long lines running through the 102 years of Nobel Peace Prize history. In the last few decades, the most distinct of these has perhaps been the increasing emphasis that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has placed on democracy and human rights. Who was the first to receive the Peace Prize according to this tradition is open for debate. Was it the prize awarded to Woodrow Wilson in 1919 or to Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, or even the 1951 prize to the French union leader, Lon Jouhaux? Although human rights represent one dimension of all these three awards, there were also other dimensions involved. Hence, the first indisputable human rights prize was perhaps, after all, the one awarded to Albert Lutuli of South Africa in 1960.

In the more than four decades since, many such prizes have followed. Some names shine brighter than others: Martin Luther King (1964), Andrei Sakharov (1975), Amnesty International (1977), Lech Walesa (1983), Desmond Tutu (1984), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) - and she is especially in our thoughts today - Rigoberta Mench (1992) and Nelson Mandela (1993) and then this year, Shirin Ebadi. It is against this backdrop that we can more easily understand what this year's Laureate has achieved and what the consequences of such a prize can be, when it works at its best.

The idea of human rights and democracy is gaining ground - albeit slowly. Practising human rights is always a challenge; high demands will always be placed on those who wish to live up to their ideals. It is with great satisfaction that we see that the idea of people's right to govern themselves through free elections is gradually prevailing in many parts of the world. By comparison to only 10-15 years ago, all of eastern Europe, Russia and several other countries of the former Soviet Union, many states in eastern Asia and not least in Latin America, as well as a few in Africa have now adopted democratic forms of government. Perhaps the Norwegian Nobel Committee is able to stimulate a development that still has mainly local roots and explanations. Every nation must fight its own battle. But we who stand on the outside looking in can express our sympathy and make our contribution.

Shirin Ebadi is a conscious Muslim. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. Islam is a diverse religion. How the message of justice is to be realized in practice and how human integrity is to be preserved is an essential issue for Muslims of today. We shall listen to all positive, novel interpretations, all proposals of reform. Here too, women have an important role to play; no longer is it for elderly men to interpret the message, argue many Muslim women. "Those who kill in the name of Islam, they violate Islam", says Shirin Ebadi. We know that human rights are being violated not only in Muslim countries. It happens whether regimes our religious or secular, nationalistic or Marxist.

For Shirin Ebadi, therefore, it is not religion that is the deepest root cause of the problem. But, no matter what, state and religion should be separate, is her view, since the political arena should be open to so many diverse interests and views. Shirin Ebadi underlines that the dialogue between different cultures in the world must be founded on the values they have in common. There need be no fundamental conflict between Islam and Christianity. That is why she was pleased that the Pope was among the first to congratulate her on the Peace Prize.

It is possible that the Peace Prize may, in the short-term, have led to more hostilities than peace in the homeland of some Peace Prize laureates. But the Nobel Committee's acknowledgement of democracy and human rights rests on the belief that repression cannot persist in the long run. In the last few decades in particular, we have seen how large parts of the world have abruptly thrown off the yoke of dictatorship. Repression leads to conflict. Most people will simply not put up with the "peace of the graveyard", and one of the most certain findings of modern political science is precisely that democracies do not go to war against each other.

I appeal to all individuals, all peoples and to all nations of the world:

Let us work together for a better world.
Let build peace and prevent war.
Let us make the world a better place to live in for young and for old.
Let us focus on human integrity and human rights.
Let us fight against poverty and disease in the world.
Let justice, respect and cooperation prevail among peoples and nations of the world.
Let us TOGETHER realize the dream of world peace.

As the university man that I am, I challenge all universities the world over to be even more distinct in underscoring the world's need for peace, democracy and social and economic justice.

Dear Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi,

We admire your efforts for human rights in general and your struggle for the rights of women and children in particular.
We admire your work for peace without resorting to violence.
We admire your work for dialogue between religions of the world.

We hope that the Nobel Peace Prize may contribute to the realization of your dream.

Allow me finally to revert to the great poet Rumi who wanted to expose everything that prevents us from seeing the world as it is - and who also tells us that the vision or dream leads to clear-sightedness. In a poem, whose Norwegian title is "Draumen som m tolkast" - The dream that must be interpreted, Rumi says:

"and although we seem to sleep, there is an inner vigilant voice that steers the dream, that will finally awake us to the truth about who we are."

The great Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge also had a dream. He has written the beautiful poem "It's the Dream", that I would like to conclude with:

"It's the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen
that must happen
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that mountains will open
that springs will gush -
that the dream will open
that one morning we will glide into
some harbour we didn't know was there."

Congratulations, Shirin Ebadi, and all the best of luck in your future endeavours!


Shirin Ebadi - Nobel Lecture
Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 2003

In the name of the God of Creation and Wisdom

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Honourable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel extremely honoured that today my voice is reaching the people of the world from this distinguished venue. This great honour has been bestowed upon me by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. I salute the spirit of Alfred Nobel and hail all true followers of his path.

This year, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to a woman from Iran, a Muslim country in the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, my selection will be an inspiration to the masses of women who are striving to realize their rights, not only in Iran but throughout the region - rights taken away from them through the passage of history. This selection will make women in Iran, and much further 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 would in fact be 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 for ever.

Honourable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee!

As you are aware, the honour and blessing of this prize will have a positive and far-reaching impact on the humanitarian and genuine endeavours of the people of Iran and the region. The magnitude of this blessing will embrace every freedom-loving and peace-seeking individual, whether they are women or men.

I thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee for this honour that has been bestowed upon me and for the blessing of this honour for the peace-loving people of my country.

Today coincides with the 55th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a declaration which begins with the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, as the guarantor of freedom, justice and peace. And it promises a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of expression and opinion, and be safeguarded and protected against fear and poverty.

Unfortunately, however, this year's report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as in the previous years, spells out the rise of a disaster which distances mankind 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. Over 50 countries were caught up in war or natural disasters. AIDS has so far claimed the lives of 22 million individuals, and turned 13 million children into orphans.

At the same time, in the past two years, some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of 11 September and the war on international terrorism as a pretext. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 57/219, of 18 December 2002, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1456, of 20 January 2003, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2003/68, of 25 April 2003, set out and underline that all states must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism must comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights and humanitarian law. However, regulations restricting human rights and basic freedoms, special bodies and extraordinary courts, which make fair adjudication difficult and at times impossible, have been justified and given legitimacy under the cloak of the war on terrorism.

The concerns of human rights' advocates increase when they observe that international human rights laws are breached not only by their recognized opponents under the pretext of cultural relativity, but that these principles are also violated in Western democracies, in other words countries which were themselves among the initial codifiers of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is in this framework that, for months, 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 [United Nations] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Moreover, a question which millions of citizens in the international civil society have been asking themselves for the past few years, particularly in recent months, and continue to ask, is this: why is it that some decisions and resolutions of the UN Security Council are binding, while some other resolutions of the council 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 promptly, yet, in the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq, once on the recommendation of the Security Council, and the second time, in spite of UN Security Council opposition, were subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and, ultimately, military occupation?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to say a little about my country, region, culture and faith.

I am an Iranian. A descendent of Cyrus The Great. The very emperor who proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2500 years ago that "... he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it." And [he] promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus The Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights.

I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: "Thou shalt believe in thine 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, too, Iran's civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the West as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, 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".

"When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest".

The people of Iran have been battling against consecutive conflicts between tradition and modernity for over 100 years. By resorting to ancient traditions, some have tried and 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 historical and cultural past and their religion and faith, seek to go forth in step with world developments and not lag behind the caravan of civilization, development and progress. The people of Iran, particularly in the recent years, have shown that they deem participation in public affairs to be their right, and that they want to be masters of their own destiny.

This conflict is observed not merely in Iran, but also in many Muslim states. Some Muslims, under the pretext that democracy and human rights are not compatible with Islamic teachings and the traditional structure of Islamic societies, have justified despotic governments, and continue to do so. In fact, it is not so easy to rule over a people who are aware of their rights, using traditional, patriarchal and paternalistic methods.

Islam is a religion whose first sermon to the Prophet begins with the word "Recite!" The Koran swears by the pen and what it writes. Such a sermon and message cannot be in conflict with awareness, knowledge, wisdom, freedom of opinion and expression and cultural pluralism.

The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states, too, whether in the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social, political and cultural justice, has its roots in the patriarchal and male-dominated culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam. This culture does not tolerate freedom and democracy, just as it does not believe in the equal rights of men and women, and the liberation of women from male domination (fathers, husbands, brothers ...), because it would threaten the historical and traditional position of the rulers and guardians of that culture.

One has to say to those who have mooted the idea of a clash of civilizations, or prescribed war and military intervention for this region, and resorted to social, cultural, economic and political sluggishness of the South in a bid to justify their actions and opinions, that if you consider international human rights laws, including the nations' right to determine their own destinies, to be universal, and if you believe in the priority and superiority of parliamentary democracy over other political systems, then you cannot think only of your own security and comfort, selfishly and contemptuously. A quest for new means and ideas to enable the countries of the South, too, to enjoy human rights and democracy, while maintaining their political independence and territorial integrity of their respective countries, must be given top priority by the United Nations in respect of future developments and international relations.

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, endeavours and struggles toward the realization of human rights and the establishment of democracy in our respective countries enjoy the support, backing and solidarity of international civil society. This prize belongs to the people of Iran. It belongs to the people of the Islamic states, and the people of the South for establishing human rights and democracy.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In the introduction to my speech, I spoke of human rights as a guarantor of freedom, justice and peace. If human rights fail to be manifested in codified laws or put into effect by states, then, as rendered in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human beings will be left with no choice other than staging a "rebellion against tyranny and oppression". A human being divested of all dignity, a human being deprived of human rights, a human being gripped by starvation, a human being beaten by famine, war and illness, a humiliated human being and a plundered human being is not in any position or state to recover the rights he or she has lost.

If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the experience of the 20th century - that most disaster-ridden century of humankind, 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.

In anticipation of that day.

With much gratitude
Shirin Ebadi



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