Endowment for International Peace
Prize winner Shirin Ebadi stressed that a single international standard of human
rights should apply to all nations and called for dialogue between Iranian and
American citizens even if the Obama administration's anticipated overture to
Iran fails. "There is no difference that cannot be resolved," Ebadi said,
through frank dialogue between the presidents, legislatures, and people of Iran
and the United States.
Noting that the 1979 Islamic Revolution was approved by a majority of
Iranians thirty years ago, Ebadi emphasized that a plurality of votes does not
automatically legitimate a government's mandate. Rather, it is a government's
respect for, and adherence to, the understanding of human rights agreed upon by
the international community that confers legitimacy.
Carnegie associate Karim Sadjadpour and Daniel Brumberg of the United States
Institute of Peace moderated the discussion of human rights and civil society in
- Ebadi rejected the idea of an Islamic standard of human rights. Allowing
multiple interpretations of human rights weakens the overall concept, to the
detriment of society's poorest and least-represented members.
- The idea that human rights and Islam are mutually exclusive is promoted
by non-democratic leaders to perpetuate their own rule.
U.S. Engagement with Iran
- Despite the hostile rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other
regime hardliners, there is real desire for better relations with the United
States in Iran. Ebadi highlighted in particular the case of students and
Iranian expatriates who have difficulty traveling between the two countries.
- Easing restrictions on student visas is one concrete step the United
States could take to foster civil society exchanges.
- Harsh economic sanctions hurt the Iranian people without impacting the
regime, Ebadi argued, and threatening military action strengthens the
Iranian Civil Society
- As Internet access expands, social networking sites are becoming an
important platform for Iranian civil society activists. Ebadi described a
"race" between government censors and Iranian youth, who have become adept
at circumventing government filters to gain access to blocked sites.
- Political issues that complicate presidential-level engagement should
not interfere with civil society dialogue.