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Feminist Attorney Shadi Sadr: Put Human Rights Defense on Par with Nuclear Safety Concerns

Report and photos by Dutch Foreign Ministry


On November 9, 2009, Shadi Sadr, a young feminist attorney and journalist, received the Dutch Tulip Award for her defense of human rights in Iran. In her acceptance speech she wrote: "As long as the issue of human rights is not raised at least in a parallel way to the nuclear issue at all levels of political and economic negotiations with the Iranian government, and sanctions and other possible guarantees of action do not include both areas, one cannot accept that some real effort has been made to stop the violation of the rights of Iranian citizens." The English translation of her speech is reprinted below. For more information on Shadi Sadr and for a translation of her article on the rapes of young women protesters imprisoned after the forged June 2009 election, see: Feminist Attorney Speaks Out Against Rape As a Weapon of Torture in Iran - (summary by Iranian Progressives in Translation)


Shadi Sadr received her award from Dutch Foreign Minister Verhagen


Acceptance speech by Ms Shadi Sadr, winner of the 2009 Human Rights Defenders Tulip


Jury of the Human Rights Tulip Award,

Your Excellency Foreign Minister of Holland

Ladies and Gentlemen


I am greatly honoured that the jury of the Human Rights Tulip Award has found me worth of receiving this year's award and given me the opportunity to speak about the situation of women's rights in Iran, the dire needs of people in Iran and also their expectations from the international community. You have all seen pictures and videos of people's protests in the aftermath of this year's presidential elections. You have seen how women, particularly young girls, have been at the forefront of all protests. They challenged the stereotype image of Iranian woman which was often imagined in veil or passive around the world. Neda, the young girl who was shot and murdered in demonstrations, quickly became a symbol for the struggles of Iranian people for freedom and democracy. To me, however, the active and determining role of women was not shaped only through images and videos. I had seen the leadership of women on the streets and the most lasting images I have in mind go back to the 9 th of July this year.


On this day, large crowds of people took to the streets of Tehran on the 10 th anniversary of the suppression of student protests of 1989. Demonstrations were about to end and as usual, violence and attacks were increasing by the minute. Along with a number of the demonstrators, to get away from pepper gas which was thrown into the crowd by security forces, I had to run into a city bus, while I was badly coughing from the effects of tear gas. A few stops away from there, when coughs were less disturbing, a political debate began among the people on the bus. Young women, who had broken the gender segregation rule on public buses and had found seats in the male area of the bus, were leading the debate. I asked loudly and with suprise, "Anyone from the gentlemen? They are all quiet!" Instead of someone from among men, a young girl who was dressed in black said, "Men had better be quiet now. Thirty years ago, they made this revolution and we have now seen its result. They had better be quiet now and let us do our job! This revolution is our revolution, women's revolution!"




Here, I would like to pose this question: who are these women, who simply speak about a revolution of women, those whose images you have seen and I hope you have not forgotten? Who are they? And why do they fight so bravely for freedom and democracy?


Many of these young women have been born after the 1979 revolution or they have been young kids in the early days of the revolutions; they are completely products of an ideological system, which has had the monopoly of power in Iran for thirty years. Apart from having to suffer the lack of political freedoms and democracy like men, they also have to accept rules of compulsory veil, live with family laws which put them under the guardianship of men, seek the consent of their fathers for marriage, the right of getting a divorce and they are often deprived of the guardianship of their children. These are the same women who will be flogged in they have relationships other than in a marriage and if they are married women, an extra-marital relationship may lead to being stoned. These are the same women that Ahmadinejad's government wants to minimise their role in universities and the labour market and make them stay at home and be isolated with fundamentalist policies which is now even more restrictive than the past 30 years.


In the past thirty years, Iranian women have gone through the highest level of suppression and pressure in their personal and social lives and have sustained the most damage of all from the ruling system. Under such circumstances, it is obvious that they are the unhappiest and the angriest citizens who do not have much to lose. If they are arrested today because of attending demonstrations for democracy, they have been arrested before for attending gatherings in defence of women's rights and they have gone to prison for it. If they are raped today by security forces, they have felt this rape on their body and their soul for thirty years in the violation of their rights and their human dignity. Given all these facts, do we still have to ask why, today, women are at the forefront of the struggles of Iranian people?


At the beginning of my talk, I said I hope you have not forgotten the images of the protests of Iranian people against the violation of human rights and the absence of freedom and democracy.


However, let me be honest and tell you that I concerned. I am concerned that these images and these struggles may be forgotten. Yes, if violation of human rights in Iran does not face any resistance or repercussions and if these struggles are not defended in a concrete way, the Iranian people have the right to tell us you have forgotten us. My concern becomes even much deeper when I see that the western media is becoming less and less concerned about the violation of human rights in Iran and even politicians are not better than the media.


Unfortunately, forgetting the thousands who were arrested and tortured in prisons, the hundreds who were killed and the unknown number of prisoners who were raped are killed in detention is a real concern. The fact is that in Iran, while on the one hand people's struggles and protests are still powerful and living and on the other hand , violation of human rights continues in a systematic way in all spheres, from women's rights to freedom of gatherings, from rights of prisoners to freedom of speech, it appears that European nations and states are beginning to forget what they witnesses in Iran this summer. It is my conviction that by forgetting these realities, western governments not only forget their own responsibility which has been defined as countries who uphold human rights, but they are also putting in jeopardy the interests of their own state and their own citizens by forgetting these events.


They sit at the same table of negotiations with Ahmadinejad in the capacity of a legitimate president and the only item on the agenda of these negotiations is the issue of nuclear energy, as if none of these events had happened in Iran and as if none of the disasters which we see today keep occurring in Iran. On the level of international politics, everything is business as usual with the Islamic Republic like before the events of this summer. Even when there is talk of sanctions against Iran, sanctions are considered in the face of Iran's advancements in the area of nuclear technology, as if no one sees the day to day violation of the basic rights of Iranian citizens by the Iranian government. Human rights is a universal issue and if one state claims to be supporting human rights, this claim brings about responsibilities with it . Ignoring these responsibilities, not only subjects Iranian people to further and wider suppression, but it also has long term repercussion for the citizens of countries who consider themselves defenders of human rights, because just in the same way that human rights is universal, fundamentalism as one of the greatest enemies of human rights has also become universal and global. Silence, toleration and recognition of a fundamentalist government that violates the rights of women, dissidents and minorities result in the enhancement and the export of global fundamentalism. We can already see symptoms of it even on this side of the borders: Holland is one of the societies which is now dealing with the issue of religious fundamentalism as a social and political problem..


In the latest demonstration of the Iranian people against the government which was held last week, a large number of people and this time, women more than before, were attacked, beaten up and abused by security guards. Women were wounded, arrested and among them were a large number of political activists such as Vahideh Mowlavi, a women's rights activist , were violently arrested. In these demonstrations, people were chanting the slogan: "Obama! Obama! You are either with us or with them!" The slogan clearly implies that right before the eyes of the people who are now fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights in Iran, one cannot sit at a negotiation table with a dictatorial government to speak about nuclear energy or economic contracts and talk about concrete conditions and at the same time, criticise the state of human rights in Iran through political statements which have no actual guarantee to be put into action. Demonstrators are overtly challenging Obama to clarify his position towards the struggles of the Iranian people and they have the same expectation from European governments.


As a women's rights activist who comes from the heart of the struggles of the people, I am here in The Hague, in Holland - the city which is the seat of the International Criminal Court for addressing crimes against humanity - to speak of two dire needs of the movement of the Iranian people. These needs and necessities will not be realised unless western governments take responsibility. First, it is necessary that the issue of human rights in Iran remains on the table of negotiations alongside the issue of nuclear energy with equal significance. As long as the issue of human rights is not raised at least in a parallel way to the nuclear issue at all levels of political and economic negotiations with the Iranian government and sanctions and other possible guarantees of action do not include both areas, one cannot accept that some real effort has been made to stop the violation of the rights of Iranian citizens.


The second necessity is that all those involved and all those who have ordered the widespread and systematic violation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran should be prosecuted and tried. It is true that Iran, like many other violators of human rights, has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but western governments, including the Dutch government, as the host of the International Criminal Court, can ask the UN Security Council to pursue the issue of crimes against humanity through setting up an international court for Iran. Let us not forget that a global issue can only be dealt with through a global action.


Thank you.




Speech by foreign minister Verhagen presenting the Human Rights Defenders Tulip


"Ordinary people, extraordinary deeds"


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to the Ridderzaal - the Knights' Hall - to this award ceremony for the 2009 Human Rights Defenders Tulip. The awarding of the Tulip is just one way in which the Dutch government hopes to draw attention to the situation of human rights defenders. It is one way of placing the spotlight on their work and, we hope, making their task easier. In the film about the previous winner, we saw the impact the award has had on Justine Masika's life and work. Thanks to the Tulip, she says, her organisation is now taken more seriously. And she enjoys more protection and support in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she continues working tirelessly to improve the position of women. I'm delighted to hear it. That is precisely the effect we hoped the award would have.


This year the Human Rights Defenders Tulip again goes to a woman - a lawyer and journalist - working to improve the lives of women in her country: Iran. This offers a powerful reminder of how far we still need to go before equality between men and women is the worldwide norm. As long as women and girls are subjected to rape, as is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo; as long as women are stoned to death for extramarital sex, as is the case in Iran; as long as family law consistently privileges men and leaves women without any legal recourse; as long as women are expected to be submissive and servile and any other type of behaviour is punished severely; and as long as women's talents and potential remain so woefully neglected, there will still be a long way to go. How apt, then, that the jury this year has again chosen someone dedicated to promoting woman's rights. You might think that this has something to do with the chair of the jury, Ms Dresselhuys! But let's be clear: no one can be blind to the injustice that is done to women in places all over the world.


Ladies and gentlemen,


I t can't have escaped your notice that today, as well as awarding the Tulip to a human rights defender who has shown extraordinary moral courage, we are also commemorating 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A wall which was more than 45 kilometres long and divided East and West Berlin for almost 30 years. On 9 November 1989, just before midnight, the border crossings opened and great crowds of East Berliners surged into the part of the city where they had been strangers for so long. They were greeted with loud applause. It was a historic and emotional moment.


I still remember the events of that night clearly. I had just entered the European Parliament and together with a couple of other MEPs I jumped in a car and drove to Berlin. There we stood, filled with enthusiasm, hacking chunks out of the wall. We felt euphoric. Finally there was an end to Communist dictatorship. Finally an end to the largest open-air prison in the world.


Today all that remains of the wall are a few small sections. The East Side Gallery is one of them. It is 1.3 kilometres long and is covered with paintings and slogans, in honour of freedom. Berlin has gone from open-air prison to open-air museum.


One of the maxims printed on the wall illustrates perfectly why we have come together here today. It says:


Many small people who in many small places do many small things can alter the face of the world.


Mikhail Gorbachev said the same thing last week. He was in Berlin with George Bush Sr and Helmut Kohl. Three leaders who had watched the wall come down, reunited after 20 years. It was just one of many events organised in the last few days to commemorate the fall of the Wall. And Gorbachev said, 'The people were the heroes.'


And so you see, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the awarding of the Human Rights Defenders Tulip have more in common than you might first think. Time and again, in the course of world history, ordinary people have shown they are capable of extraordinary deeds. Ordinary people can achieve positive change. And through their efforts, their idealism, their sacrifices, they make the world a bit brighter. A bit more beautiful. That is why we are here today. To honour people who want to set change in motion. We are here to express our admiration for those who dare to stand up for the rights of their fellow human beings, sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances. We are gathering to show that we appreciate the heavy burden that human rights defenders around the world carry on their shoulders. The ongoing struggles and dangers they face. We are here to cheer them on and to stand at their side. To offer our support.


But it must be more than merely moral support. The Dutch government does a great deal to support human rights defenders. Politically, we stand up for them and press for adequate protection in our dealings with the authorities in countries where they work. And practically, we offer support through concrete projects on the ground. Since I launched the Human Rights Fund, more than 400 projects have been initiated in more than 60 countries. In most cases, local human rights defenders and organisations benefit directly from them. Amnesty International recently suggested that the contact between Dutch Embassies and human rights defenders could still be improved. I would say that progress has already been made in this respect, we invested a lot in developing relations with local human rights defenders, amongst others through the Human Rights Fund. But where there is room for improvemnet, we will go the extra mile. The doors of our embassies should always be open to human rights defenders. That is very important to me. I have asked all our Embassies worldwide to pay extra attention to the fate of human rights defenders on December 10th this year, in addition to their regular activities.


Next spring we are hosting a conference in The Hague for human rights defenders from around the world. We want to talk with them about new media: how they can make use of it, and how new media can be used both to increase and to restrict freedom of expression. Take the way some regimes exercise control over social networking sites and the internet in general. This is a highly topical theme: the recent demonstrations in Iran were organised largely by using Twitter and Facebook. At the same time, we saw a large amount of disinformation being spread - also through Twitter. It was impossible to know for certain who was who and whether the information out there was reliable or not. So this conference will be held next spring, and as a fervent Tweeter myself I look forward to being there.


Of course, the Dutch government is not alone in actively supporting human rights defenders. Civil society and human rights organisations are doing a great deal to help activists all over the world. I'm keen to work with these partners, so I'm delighted to see NGO representatives here today. I'm also glad that they've agreed to contribute to the programme this afternoon by taking part in a Q&A session shortly.


Ladies and gentlemen,


This year's winner, Shadi Sadr, is an ordinary woman who has extraordinary deeds to her credit. She is someone who is altering the face of the world by doing many small things. As it is written on the remaining Berlin Wall. Her courage, her struggle, her work, have made her truly extraordinary. She deserves this award. Cisca Dresselhuys and I will say something more about her work in a moment.


I sincerely hope that Ms Sadr will experience the same benefits of winning the Human Rights Defenders Tulip as Ms Masika did. More attention. More credibility. More support. And more protection. A human rights defender can never be sure of a happy ending. Two of the 116 people shortlisted for this award have died since they were nominated. Finardo Cabilao from the Philippines, who stood up for victims of human trafficking in Malaysia. And Natalya Estemirova from Russia, who was investigating human rights violations in Chechnya. Both were killed while standing up for the values that we in our society consider self-evident. Yet they are not self-evident. Our thoughts go out to those human rights defenders today as well. We will not forget them. We will do our best to continue their struggle. Here, there and everywhere. Because everyone has the right to human dignity.


Thank you.

... Payvand News - 11/01/09 ... --

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