Iranian accepts 2003 Nobel Peace Prize

Woman lawyer criticizes her Islamic government mildly, U.S. more harshly

December 11, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OSLO, Norway - Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, accepted the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize here yesterday, declaring that the award would inspire women across the Muslim world to fight for equality in oppressive, patriarchal societies.

But Ebadi, who has represented political prisoners and the victims of political violence in Iran, avoided sharp criticism of the Islamic government there and delivered her most pointed rebuke to the United States for what she called human rights abuses carried out in the name of the war on terrorism.

Many Iranian exiles have complained that by awarding the prize to a woman working within the legal system in Iran, the Nobel Foundation is supporting political Islam over a secular alternative in that country.

The Iranian government has taken the opportunity of Ebadi's prize to showcase recent reforms and to put the best possible light on the position of women there.

Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the prize, which has been awarded annually for 102 years. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the winners, made it clear that this year's award was meant to send the message that Islam is not necessarily incompatible with democracy and human rights.

But Ebadi has come under attack by Iranian opposition figures abroad who see her as an apologist for political Islam.

"If you live under an Islamic regime in a region where political Islam is terrorizing women and you defend Islam, then you are defending political Islam," said Azar Majedi, founder and chairman of the London-based Organization of Women's Liberation in Iran, who helped organize the protests in Oslo. "You cannot stop this kind of regime with these kind of niceties."

In her acceptance speech, Ebadi offered oblique criticism of Iran's conservative Islamic government, saying that "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."

But she delivered a much sharper rebuke to the United States, declaring "some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of Sept. 11 and the war on international terrorism as a pretext."

"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 terrorism," she said, making a specific reference to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of people suspected of being al-Qaida members have been held for nearly two years.

She warned the governments of the United States and other Western nations that have "prescribed war and military intervention for this region" against meddling in Iran's affairs.

"If you consider international human rights laws, including a nation's right to determine its own destiny, 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," Ebadi said.

She also questioned why U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories have not be put into effect while those on Iraq have led to "attack, military assault, economic sanctions and, ultimately, military occupation."

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