Shirin Ebadi, Geneva. 9 June
11 June 08 – Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has criticised Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey over her recent controversial trip to Iran. The lawyer and human rights campaigner was in Geneva on Monday [9 June] taking part in a panel discussion on human rights abuses in Iran.
Interview by Carole Vann/Human Rights Tribune – The lawyer and human rights campaigner was in Geneva on Monday (June 9) to take part in a panel discussion on human rights abuses in Iran outside the 8th session of the Human Rights Council meeting. Ebadi’s NGO, the Circle of Defenders of Human Right which is affiliated with the International Federation of Human Rights, FIDH [http://www.fidh.org/] is banned in Iran. Last month FIDH published a report on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and the restrictions imposed on the media.
Micheline Calmy-Rey and Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour, both wore headscarves during their recent visits to Iran, something that dismayed the international press. What is your position?
I really don’t care if they cover their hair or not. What disappointed me was Calmy-Rey’s attitude during her visit. She knew about the human rights situation in Iran; I even had the chance to speak to her about it beforehand. But once there she never mentioned the human rights situation in Iran, nor met any human rights defenders, not even myself. The only thing of interest to her was the business deal.
Louise Arbour had quite a different attitude. On the first day she met members of civil society and visited women’s prisons and showed that these people were also important.
In your last report you talk about human rights abuses in Iran. What are they specifically?
In Iran all criticism is considered “acts against national security”. More and more journalists, students and women are arrested using this reason. Such is the case if a woman disagrees with her husband taking a second wife. More Newspapers are being closed. Recently a very progressive women’s rights monthly newspaper was closed down. Followers of the Bahá’í faith (founded by Baha’u’llah in Iran in the 19th century) are arrested for “acts against national security” and are unable to speak to lawyers.
In 1975 Iran ratified the pact on social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights, which forbids corporal or degrading punishment, like torture. But the government continues to practice flogging, amputation and stoning. Although the number of death sentences fell by 70 per cent in China, it rose by 60 per cent in Iran, compared with previous years. Even blasphemy is punishable by the death penalty. In Iran it is legal to execute minors. Under the law, the age of criminal responsibility is nine for a girl and 15 for a boy. Today, more than one hundred youngsters under 18 are waiting to be executed.
Around 65 per cent of Iranian university students are now women. Is this leading to changes in society?
First of all, it means that in Iran women are becoming better educated than men. There have been reforms to laws relating to the family, but on the whole they have been insufficient. The law concerning child maintenance has been modified in favour of the mother, and wives who are mistreated can seek divorce. But laws ratified after the 1979 Revolution, which are contrary to women’s freedoms, are still in place. For example, when drawing up compensation after an accident, women have half the value of men, or during a trial, a declaration by a man is worth that of two women.
In Muslim countries, there is a movement calling for a return to the roots of the Koran to ensure women’s liberation. What’s your opinion ?
Like all religions, Islam is subject to several interpretations. In Europe some churches marry homosexuals, while others condemn this practice; but all of them are Christian. The same goes for Islam. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive or be involved in politics, while in Indonesia for the past 15 years women have been able to accede to the presidency. Tunisia bans polygamy, while Iran authorises it.
Do you think Iran will continue to be governed by Sharia law?
The Iranian people should be the ones who decide. But if the Iranians call for Sharia, the law should be compatible with the respect of freedoms. A correct reading of Sharia law should allow us to end discrimination between men and women, while respecting our Muslim identity. At the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, the Mullahs cited Islamic law to refuse according the guardianship of children to women. After 20 years struggle, the authorities ended up reforming the law. Another example, the authorities withdrew my status as a judge in 1980, for the simple fact that I am a woman. There also, thanks to our fight and with the support of male jurists, we have made some progress. Today more than 40 women are judges in Iran.
At the end of 2007 arab countries published a charter of arab human rights. What do you think of such regional charter?
When it comes to human rights, what is good for Europeans is also good for the Japanese and for Muslims. I think there is no need for regional +charters for human rights.