ABC promotional image of Nazanin Boniadi as Leyla Mir on General Hospital
Washington - "Knowledge is power," says Nazanin Boniadi, "and the more people who know their rights, the more people who can defend those rights."
To this end, the Iranian-born actress is educating people worldwide about their human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948.
Boniadi acknowledged during an interview with America.gov that studies show more people can name cartoon characters from the television series The Simpsons than can name just three of their human rights as described in the 30 articles of the UDHR. But that does not stop her from using every opportunity to raise public awareness of a U.N. document that sets a "framework for civilized and respectful interaction between people and countries around the world, putting aside their political, religious or cultural beliefs," she said.
FROM SCIENCE TO PERFORMING ARTS TO ACTIVISM
Boniadi was a baby when her parents fled their home in Tehran, Iran, to escape the turmoil of the Iranian revolution. Raised in London, Boniadi excelled in the arts, mastering the violin as well as ballet. But she put aside her artistic dreams to study science, moving to the United States to attend the University of California, Irvine, where she earned a degree in biological sciences and won an award for molecular research.
Her success in science gave her the confidence to pursue her true passion: the performing arts.
As an actress, she has had roles in Iron Man (2008) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). Currently she is a regular on the ABC television network's Emmy Award-winning series General Hospital. Boniadi is the first contract actor on American daytime television to portray an Iranian character as well as the first Iranian-born regular actor on U.S. daytime television.
Boniadi says her television role promotes a positive view of Iranians. "It's important for us [Iranians] to have some kind of normalcy and be able to see ourselves on TV in a good light," she said. "It's always been very important for me that people don't come across Iranians and think, 'Oh, 9/11.'"
Boniadi never lost her emotional connection to the country of her birth: She speaks the Persian language and maintains a desire to help people suffering from war and political unrest.
"I got involved with a lot of charities," she said, "but eventually I realized there has to be an underlying solution to all these different problems like poverty and hunger and war and famine. Then I found this document [the UDHR], and I was amazed that over 190 nations had ratified this declaration. ... There was the solution right in front of me - if people would actually carry those [commitments] out."
MERGING THE PROFESSIONAL AND THE PERSONAL
Despite her busy professional life, Boniadi says she works on many "little projects that work hand in hand with what I do for a living."
"Because I'm an artist and I have a platform, I decided to use that platform to reach people globally and increase public awareness on human rights because I think that's where change begins," she told America.gov.
Boniadi serves as an advisory board member for Artists for Human Rights, joining with other activists in the entertainment industry to educate the world about the UDHR.
She has traveled to the Middle East to promote human rights. Although some in the region considered Boniadi, a British citizen, "too Westernized," most have responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner to her message.
"This is something people widely agreed with me when I visited the Middle East: There needs to be a code of human conduct - with the emphasis on the 'human' - and it supersedes any other law of the land, and it needs to be agreed upon by every single country in the world," she said.
"The first step I think we need to take is basically to teach people that the roots of human rights are actually in the Middle East and it's not strictly a Western notion," Boniadi said, citing what is believed to be the first charter for human rights authored more than 2,500 years ago by Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire.
The second step, she said, is holding countries that have signed the UDHR to their commitments.
In addition to doing television and radio interviews promoting human rights, Boniadi maintains a personal e-mail account - email@example.com - as well as a blog - www.Myspace.com/Nazbon - to discuss human rights issues with interested readers in the Middle East. Both are useful in encouraging debates among the young people who will be tomorrow's leaders, she said.
Boniadi knows she has no power to make changes in the land of her birth. "It's something that needs to happen within Iran and the Iranian people." Nonetheless, she hopes to touch people through education.
"It's really important that people know their rights, because I feel that if I reach one person within Iran who can be the next Martin Luther King of Iran, I feel that I've done my job," she said.
About America.gov: U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.
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