Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was presented with the third-annual UC Irvine Citizen Peacebuilding Award on Saturday, at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel.
She is the only Iranian ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 2003 for her human rights activism in Iran.
Ebadi also visited UCI on May 20 for a tree dedication ceremony in Aldrich Park, commemorating the anniversary of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama’s visit last spring.
After graduating with a doctorate in private law with honors and holding a six-month apprenticeship in ajudication, Ebadi became the first female in Iranian justice to have served as a judge.
A turning point in Ebadi’s career came after the Iranian Revolution in 1969, which led to females being denied the right to practice law.
As a result, Ebadi and other female judges left their posts and were given clerical duties.
Ebadi later opened her own law practice, representing high-profile cases involving various human rights violations.
The title of Saturday’s talk, translated from Farsi to English by an interpreter, was ‘The Challenges of Women, Children and Human Rights Today’ which centered around what Ebadi considers the two fundamental factors that have led to chaos in the Middle East: the lack of democracy and oil.
Ebadi believes that the current government has fallen behind the path of democracy, a crucial element she admits is ‘the most fundamental [reason for] chaos in the region.’
According to Ebadi, the justification of why the Iranian government does not support democracy is the belief that Islam and democracy are clashing ideals.
‘There is a belief that democracy grew from the West, that it is completely incompatible with the Middle East and thus, Islam,’ Ebadi said.
According to Ebadi, the repercussions of citizens who attempt to criticize the government, are dire. Any action of the sort is considered ‘blasphemy’ and that those who commit it, according to the government, ‘deserve to die.’
The second point Ebadi discussed was the reason behind the wars and chaos in the Middle East.
‘The Middle East is a target of greed because of its wealth,’ Ebadi said. ‘The people of the region don’t resist. This poses the greatest danger of our time.’
The topic of resistance to the current regime allowed Ebadi to segue into the human rights portion of her talk, especially women’s rights.
She addressed gender discrimination in Iran, bringing to light the law which clearly defines women as being worth half of a man. As such, men are allowed to marry and divorce freely while a woman would have a hard time getting a divorce.
According to Islamic law, it takes two female witnesses to substitute for a male witness in court cases.
The importance of women participating in a feminist movement comes at a time where 63 percent of university students in Iran are women.
The inequality of women is just another form of division in the country. Religious discrimination is also rampant in the region where certain religions are not nationally recognized.
For example, in Tehran, there is no government permission required to build a mosque for Sunnis, a sect of Islam.
Ebadi also addressed concerns related to the poverty level, claiming that one out of seven Iranians are living on less than $1 a day, a situation which she claims is the result of ‘wrong economic policies.’
The event concluded with the presentation of the Citizen Peacebuilding Award.
Ebadi also received a proclamation from Irvine Mayor Beth Krom, in recognition for her humanitarian work.
Students like fourth-year international studies major Nahid Dashtaki were pleased with Ebadi’s presentation, but were disappointed by Ebadi’s focus on politics.
‘She didn’t cover as much human rights as she should have,’ Dashtaki said. ‘She definitely pointed to some issues that need to be looked at.’