Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi speaks out against Iran sanctions
Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to win a Nobel Peace Prize, also spoke with the Monitor about her fight for human rights in Iran and challenged the supreme leader's role.
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Ebadi is seeking to leverage her international credibility to increase American awareness of human rights violations in Iran during a tour of US cities she launched last week in Minneapolis.Skip to next paragraph
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Ebadi became Iran's first female judge in 1969, during the tenure of former monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After's Iran's 1979 revolution, the institution of the Islamic Republic brought with it the demotion of all female judges, including Ebadi. Rather than work in a lower position in a court she once presided over, she chose to retire early from the Iranian judiciary and did not practice law again until 1992, when she received a permit to open her own legal practice.
In 2003, she became both the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her legal work in advancing the rights of women, children, and refugees in Iran.
Women have limited rights in personal matters such as marriage and inheritance. A woman needs the permission of a male guardian to marry, and once married needs her husband's written permission to travel outside the country. She also has limited child custody rights.
Call for constitutional change
Today, the Iranian lawyer and activist says that for Iran to become truly democratic, both the Iranian Constitution and the country's judiciary system, which is heavily controlled by the clergy, must change.
Speaking by phone Sunday from Minneapolis, where she kick-started an eight-city lecture tour, Ms. Ebadi said the Islamic Republic's unique system of clerical rule, in which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acts as “Guardian Jurist” with final say in all matters of state, must also be amended.
In a democratic, secular Iran, a Supreme Leader, would have no role in governance, says Ebadi. “The Constitution and the legal structure of the judicial system must be changed. When I speak about a secular democracy, naturally I am speaking of the separation of church and state and religion from government,” she says.
But she is quick to add that the decision to amend Iran's laws must be made by the people themselves in a free and fair vote, and expressed hope that Iran's transition towards democracy and free political participation can be achieved peacefully.
How Ebadi differs from Green Movement leaders
Ebadi's call for change in Iran's Constitution differs from the views of prominent affiliates of Iran's so-called Green Movement, such as former president Mohammad Khatami and opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have all called for the Islamic Republic to “return” to Iran's post-Revolutionary Constitution, which they claim the current regime has violated.
But differences of opinion such as these is exactly the point of a democracy, says the Nobel laureate. “That is the way it is. People have different views,” she says.
“The Green movement isn't an ideological movement. It's a civil movement. And all of those who are unhappy with the present government can be part of it, even if they have different political views. They just want to improve the situation,” she says.
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