Iran: Shirin Ebadi declares a military attack would worsen the situation

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's interview with Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Shirin Ebadi.
Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist, says rights abuses have worsened in Iran in the past year, but that military action is not the solution to Iran's domestic problems. Nobel laureate Ebadi was in Prague this week for the Forum 2000 conference, an annual gathering of figures from politics, academia, and business, where Toumaj Tahbaz of Radio Farda caught up with her.
RFE/RL: How has the situation changed for human rights and democracy activists since Ahmadinejad came to power? Can they still do their work despite government pressure?

Shirin Ebadi: Unfortunately, over the past year, reports of human-rights violations in Iran have increased. The number of executions has increased and even minors have been executed. Censorship has been extended to Internet sites. Therefore, in such a closed environment, the question arises whether human rights activists can continue carrying out their work. I have to say, "Yes, they can."

Human rights activists have to start their work at a time when the human-rights situation in the country is not good. When human rights are not violated in a country, then defenders of human rights have nothing to do. Unfortunately, our work starts when human-rights abuses are widespread. So now is the time for human-rights defenders to be active in Iran.

RFE/RL: Some people say a major change has occurred in human-rights activism since [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad came to power. While human-rights activists had previously hoped for help from the government, now the support comes from within Iranian society. Do you agree with this view?

Ebadi: Human-rights activists and defenders of social causes have always relied on the people. It's not as if previously we relied on the government's backing and now we're seeking people's support. Our supporters have always been the people, and we've always relied on their backing. The same applies today.

During the past year, human-rights abuses have increased. There are more people whose rights have been violated and they show solidarity with each other. It's normal that when [the government] expel[s] one student from university, others commiserate. But there are limits. When they expel one hundred students, their futures are tied together. Naturally, they unify.

RFE/RL: There are increasing reports about a possible U.S. military strike against Iran, although U.S. officials say they are committed to diplomacy, What impact would a U.S. military attack against Iran have on Iranian society?

Ebadi: As I said, breaches of human rights are widespread in Iran. But that doesn't mean that I believe the solution to Iran's problems is a military attack. A military attack will under any circumstances worsen our situation. It'll give the government the opportunity to use defense of national security as a pretext to increase its suppression of defenders of freedom. This is what we're currently witnessing. Whoever speaks of democracy and human rights in Iran is accused of receiving funds from the United States' $75 million budget [for Iranian civil-society and human rights programs] and of trying to launch a velvet revolution in Iran. Therefore, a military attack, and even the threat of a military attack, against Iran won't improve the human-rights situation in the country.

RFE/RL: What advice would you give to U.S. policy makers?

Ebadi: Policy makers in the United States have their own advisers. So instead of giving them advice, I will recommend to Iranian policy makers to help solve people's problems, to listen to people's demands and to reduce the gap between the government and the people. In sensitive situations, the government has to strengthen its popular support.

10 October 2007