Shirin Ebadi's Nobel speech
December 10, 2003
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's
speech after receiving her award in Oslo on December 10, 2003.
the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the
Peace Prize. Read Persian
text of the speech.
In the name of the God of Creation and Wisdom
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Honourable
Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies
I feel extremely honoured that today my voice is
reaching the people of the world from this distinguished venue.
This great honour has
bestowed upon me by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. I salute the
of Alfred Nobel and hail all true followers of his path.
This year, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to a woman
from Iran, a Muslim country in the Middle East.
Undoubtedly, my selection will be an inspiration
to the masses of
women who are striving to realize their rights, not only in Iran
throughout the region - rights taken away from them through the
passage of history. This selection will make women in Iran, and
further afield, believe in themselves. Women constitute half
population of every country. To disregard women and bar them
from active participation in political, social, economic and cultural
would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population
every society of half its capability. The patriarchal culture
discrimination against women, particularly in the Islamic countries,
cannot continue for ever.
Honourable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee!
As you are aware, the honour and blessing of this
prize will have a
positive and far-reaching impact on the humanitarian and genuine
endeavours of the people of Iran and the region. The magnitude
blessing will embrace every freedom-loving and peace-seeking
individual, whether they are women or men.
I thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee for this honour
that has been
bestowed upon me and for the blessing of this honour for the
peace-loving people of my country.
Today coincides with the 55th anniversary of the
adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a declaration
the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human family, as the guarantor of
freedom, justice and peace. And it promises a world in which
human beings shall enjoy freedom of expression and opinion, and
safeguarded and protected against fear and poverty.
Unfortunately, however, this year's report by the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as in the previous
rise of a disaster which distances mankind from the idealistic
of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
almost 1.2 billion human beings lived in glaring poverty, earning
than one dollar a day. Over 50 countries were caught up in war
natural disasters. AIDS has so far claimed the lives of 22 million
individuals, and turned 13 million children into orphans.
At the same time, in the past two years, some states
have violated the
universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events
11 September and the war on international terrorism as a pretext.
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 57/219, of 18 December
2002, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1456, of
20 January 2003, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Resolution 2003/68, of 25 April 2003, set out and underline that
states must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism
comply with all their obligations under international law, in
particular international human rights and humanitarian law. However,
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 the war on terrorism.
The concerns of human rights' advocates increase
when they observe that international human rights laws are breached
not only by their
recognized opponents under the pretext of cultural relativity,
that these principles are also violated in Western democracies,
other words countries which were themselves among the initial
codifiers of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. It is in this framework that, for months, hundreds
individuals who were arrested in the course of military conflicts
been imprisoned in Guantanamo, without the benefit of the rights
stipulated under the international Geneva conventions, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the [United Nations] International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Moreover, a question which millions of citizens
in the international civil society have been asking themselves
for the past few years,
particularly in recent months, and continue to ask, is this:
why is it
that some decisions and resolutions of the UN Security Council
binding, while some other resolutions of the council have no
binding force? Why is it that in the past 35 years, dozens of UN
concerning the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the
of Israel have not been implemented promptly, yet, in the past
years, the state and people of Iraq, once on the recommendation
Security Council, and the second time, in spite of UN Security
opposition, were subjected to attack, military assault, economic
sanctions, and, ultimately, military occupation?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to say a little about my country, region,
culture and faith.
I am an Iranian. A descendent of Cyrus The Great. The very emperor
proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2500 years ago that "...
not reign over the people if they did not wish it." And [he]
not to force any person to change his religion and faith and
guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus The Great is one
the most important documents that should be studied in the history
I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam
has been cited as
saying: "Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion".
same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting
all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam,
Iran's civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with
humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others,
propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence,
bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular
our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the
as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami,
emissaries of this humanitarian culture. Their message manifests
itself in this poem by Saadi:
The sons of Adam are limbs of one another
Having been created of
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest
The people of Iran have been battling against consecutive
conflicts between tradition and modernity for over 100 years. By
ancient traditions, some have tried and are trying to see the
world through the eyes of their predecessors and to deal with the
and difficulties of the existing world by virtue of the values
ancients. But, many others, while respecting their historical
and cultural past and their religion and faith, seek to go forth
with world developments and not lag behind the caravan of
civilization, development and progress. The people of Iran,
particularly in the recent years, have shown that they deem
participation in public affairs to be their right, and that they
to be masters of their own destiny.
This conflict is observed not merely in Iran, but
also in many Muslim
states. 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,
and continue to do so. In fact, it is not so easy to rule over
people who are aware of their rights, using traditional, patriarchal
and paternalistic methods.
Islam is a religion whose first sermon to the Prophet
begins with the
word "Recite!" The Koran swears by the pen and what it
writes. Such a
sermon and message cannot be in conflict with awareness, knowledge,
wisdom, freedom of opinion and expression and cultural pluralism.
The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states, too, whether
the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social, political and
cultural justice, has its roots in the patriarchal and male-dominated
culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam. This culture
not tolerate freedom and democracy, just as it does not believe
equal rights of men and women, and the liberation of women from
domination (fathers, husbands, brothers ...), because it would
threaten the historical and traditional position of the rulers
guardians of that culture.
One has to say to those who have mooted the idea
of a clash of civilizations, or prescribed war and military intervention
region, and resorted to social, cultural, economic and political
sluggishness of the South in a bid to justify their actions and
opinions, that if you consider international human rights laws,
including the nations' right to determine their own destinies,
universal, and if you believe in the priority and superiority
of parliamentary democracy over other political systems, then you
think only of your own security and comfort, selfishly and
contemptuously. A quest for new means and ideas to enable the
countries of the South, too, to enjoy human rights and democracy,
while maintaining their political independence and territorial
integrity of their respective countries, must be given top priority
the United Nations in respect of future developments and international
The decision by the Nobel Peace Committee to award
the 2003 prize to
me, as the first Iranian and the first woman from a Muslim country,
inspires me and millions of Iranians and nationals of Islamic
states with the hope that our efforts, endeavours and struggles
realization of human rights and the establishment of democracy
respective countries enjoy the support, backing and solidarity
international civil society. This prize belongs to the people
It belongs to the people of the Islamic states, and the people
South for establishing human rights and democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the introduction to my speech, I spoke of human
rights as a guarantor of freedom, justice and peace. If human rights
manifested in codified laws or put into effect by states, then,
rendered in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human
human beings will be left with no choice other than staging a "
rebellion against tyranny and oppression". A human being divested
all dignity, a human being deprived of human rights, a human being
gripped by starvation, a human being beaten by famine, war and
illness, a humiliated human being and a plundered human being is
in any position or state to recover the rights he or she has lost.
If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the
cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition
of the experience
20th century - that most disaster-ridden century of humankind,
is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice
every human right for all mankind, irrespective of race, gender,
faith, nationality or social status.
In anticipation of that day.
With much gratitude
© THE NOBEL FOUNDATION 2003
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