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Carroll School of Management

Clough Colloquium: Dr. Shirin Ebadi, The Loudspeaker for Iran

by Kayla Authelet, MCAS '16, Winston Center Ambassador

In November, students, faculty members, and friends crowded into Gasson Hall to listen to famed lawyer and human rights activist, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, talk about constitutional democracy. As an activist, Dr. Ebadi focuses primarily on rights of refugees, women, and children in oppressive cultures. This humanitarian work won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and she is the first Iranian to receive this distinguished recognition.

The government of Iran responded to her efforts to expose discontent in that country by seizing her property, imprisoning her sister and husband, and threatening her with death. She fled Iran and has not returned to her homeland since 2009. However, these tribulations have not deterred her. In explaining her apparent fearlessness, she said, “There is no one in this world that will not die someday.”

Ebadi interwove her story with the larger, complex story of her country. She explained that the structure of Iran’s constitution and its delegation of power to the supreme leader and the president pose an issue in creating a representative government. When President Hassan Rouhani was elected, many Iranians predicted progress in human rights. According to Ebadi, nothing has changed. To support her claim, she explained that their Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is selected by “upper clergy” and given much more power than the president. The supreme religious leader can implement any law, judgment, or right to his people. These rulers are there for life. “He is chosen much like the way the pope is,” Ebadi explained.

Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, Ebadi said many assumed that there would be change in Iran because of the lifting of economic sanctions and the stringent guidelines it imposes upon the country. “Khamenei has made it clear that nothing will change, and nothing has changed in domestic and international policies,” Ebadi remarked. The human rights violations have persisted. “Someone is executed every seven minutes in Iran.” Ebadi also spoke of the government’s continued chokehold on dissenting opinions, and stated, “There are more journalists in prisons in Iran than anywhere else in the world.” Even after the lifting of the economic sanctions, there is still a general discontent among the people about government spending. Money flows out of Iran to support extremist terror organizations that identify as Shi’a and with the autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad. “[The Iranian people] think that the wealth should be used for the people, not the terror groups.”           

During the Q&A, a student asked what stance countries like the United States should take in policymaking and trading with the Iranian government. Dr. Ebadi paused, and answered: “The best thing other countries can do is nothing.” She discussed the changes that a country needs to undergo prior to the formation of a constitutional democracy. “Iran has already begun the process,” she remarked. “I don’t believe democracy is merchandise to be shipped from one country to another.” Ebadi also mentioned the recent U.S. trade of four multi-mission warships to Saudi Arabia, claiming that this adds more wood to the already burning fire. She reminded the audience of the overarching conflict between the Saudis and Iran. “Everything else is proxy war.”

Dr. Ebadi ended her talk with this key message: “In this globalizing world, the destiny of all human beings is intertwined. When the United States trades warships with Saudi Arabia, this will ultimately hurt the country. And when the United States rejects refugees, the fate of these refugees will affect the United States,” she explained.