Claremont McKenna’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum hosted Shirin Ebadi, a life-long advocate for democracy and human rights and the first Iranian and first Muslim female to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, for a talk entitled “Human Rights and the Role of Faith in World Peace” on Oct. 3rd. As a lawyer, judge, and human rights activist, Ebadi has taken on cases regarding child abuse, minority rights, and anti-censorship while also founding two non-governmental organizations: the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child and the Defenders of Human Rights Center.
“My purpose of this talk is to tell you that the people of Iran do not agree with the policies of their government,” Ebadi said by way of introduction. “And I hope that the civil society of the United States does not judge the people of Iran on the basis of the policies of our government.”
Ebadi started off the talk with a discussion of the status of individual rights in Iran before and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which was when the Iranian Shah was overthrown and Ruhollah Khomeini came to power.
“The Shah was a political dictator, but at least he observed individual rights for his people. The person that replaced him, Khomeini, was a religious dictator and limited individual freedoms,” Ebadi said. “During the Shah’s reign, people were free in their private life, but it was taken away in the Islamic republic.”
She discussed the historically rocky political relationship between the United States and Iran, from the increased tensions during the 444-day Iranian Hostage Crisis to present day, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his first amicable phone call to U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I personally hope that the relationship between Iran and America resumes because I think the termination of the relationship has not been good for Iran,” Ebadi said.
Ebadi then discussed the issue of nuclear energy in Iran, which has been a polemical topic in the U.S. She affirmed that nuclear energy is coming to an end across the globe; yet even as countries across the world scale back on their nuclear energy projects, Iran continues to build two new nuclear plants.
“Iran is not doing the conventional nuclear safety and security inspections, and it does not permit international agencies to inspect and tell us whether we are safe or not,” said Ebadi.
Ebadi then spoke of the proliferation of human rights violations in Iran. Offering examples from her experiences as an Iranian citizen and lawyer, Ebadi discussed the range and gravity of such violations, from religious persecution to strict censorship laws to unfair imprisonment. She cited a specific example of discrimination concerning a religious minority called the Baha’i.
“It is a religion that was formed by an Iranian approximately 400 years ago,” she said. “About 350,000 Baha’i people live in Iran now. However, they are deprived of all economic, political, social, and educational rights.”
According to Ebadi, a group of Baha’i people decided to create a makeshift university for themselves, but when the Iranian government found out, the leaders and students were arrested and imprisoned.
“That story was particularly sad,” said Chihiro Tamefusa PO ’16. “I can’t imagine being unable to study and learn because of my religion.”
“We do not agree with the policies of our government,” Ebadi added after the story of the Baha’i.
She drove her point home: “The people of Iran are acting for democracy, specifically the young generation. There have always been good cultural relations between the people of Iran and the United States, and I hope that those political relations do not get in the way of our friendship. Long live the friendship of the people of Iran and the United States.”