Middle East

Follow the Path of Negotiation and Peace—An Interview With Shirin Ebadi

Iranian lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. (Photo: Michal Cizek / AFP-Getty Images)

"Is America going to bomb us after all?" That has been the word on the streets in Iran for quite some months now. It is an issue too big to be ignored in day-to-day life, a fear more real than what an even rare optimistic United States National Intelligence Estimate could not completely ease.

The Iranian people have generally learned to compromise with any given condition and even make a gay life out of the hard times. On this issue they seem to have felt the heat to their bones. And their fear has found expression in the formation of an anti-war movement.

The "seriousness" of the situation has convinced some of Iran's most prominent civil activists to initiate an unprecedented nation-wide campaign to minimize the threat of a United States attack against Iran.

"No to war; yes to peace and human rights" is the motto of the recently launched campaign, dubbed the National Peace Council, according to its principal initiator, Iranian human rights lawyer and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. The campaign asks Iranian officials to soothe their approach toward international issues and advocates direct talks between Tehran and Washington, among its other goals.

And for its part, the National Peace Council has plans to establish a series of direct interactions among the elite of the two countries, Ebadi says. The movement has so far found support within a vast circle of Iranian cultural, social, and political activists.

Ebadi, who among other activities, founded the Iranian Center of Human Rights Defenders, which documents cases of human rights abuses and defends its victims, elaborates on the goal and message of the newly established civil movement:

Ebadi: What we seek, and warn, to both sides (United States and Iran) is simply respect for international law. America doesn't not have the right and authority to act out of the accepted framework of international law in regards to its policies toward Iran; and Iran cannot build a wall around itself and say, "I have nothing to do with the international law" and pay no attention to [United Nations] Security Council resolutions.

Boghrati: Now what is your specific primary request in this regard?

We urge the Iranian authorities to halt uranium enrichment according to what the international community has required.

What makes you ask this?

Unfortunately, the United States is looking for an excuse to lay its hands on the oil and the natural resources of Iran. We must not provide America with such an opportunity. The way to do this is simple: We have to respect the international law; if we do not obey the international law and what the United Nations requires of us, then we will create an atmosphere in which the United States can much more easily pave the way for an invasion.

You talk about a possible United States attack against Iran, and this is while American authorities have constantly stated that they are on a diplomatic track in dealing with Iran. What signs have you seen that suggests the existence of the possibility of an attack?

Unfortunately, the political tone between Iran and America is getting harsher and harsher every day. Although the American authorities say they are on a diplomatic track, [President] George W. Bush and [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice have repeatedly warned that "all options including military action against Iran remain on the table." Let me be clear here. Acquiring [peaceful] atomic energy is our undisputed right; but the point is that we have other rights as well—rights such as peace, living at ease and in security, and insisting on acquiring one right must not lead to the loss of other rights.

But a recently published National Intelligence Estimate on Iran indicates that Tehran has ceased what the report calls its "nuclear weapon program" in 2003. Many observers posit that the report has been a relief to those worried about an imminent United States attack against Iran. What do you think about the impact of the report? Does it affect your activities in your peace campaign?

We embrace any new development that reduces the friction between the two countries. I hope that the report has really reduced the threat of war; but according to what I have seen, still relations have remained in a very fragile phase, which still poses the danger of a major conflict. We can see that after the publication of the estimate, Mr. Bush has repeated his previous stance, and insists that all options remain on the table. We simply want any possibility of occurrence of that "last" option to be completely eradicated. We support anything in this regard, including direct dialogue [between Tehran and Washington]; and in order to make that actually work, I think we have to hold direct talks on three distinct levels: between leaders of the countries, between the U.S. congress and Iran's parliaments, and also among the civil societies of the two countries.

You mention the necessity of direct contact and interaction between Iran and American civil societies. What have you personally done in this regard as one of the prominent activists of Iran's civil society?

We have been discussing such plans during our meetings in the peace committee. But so far, and before the formation of this committee, I have personally carried out similar plans. For instance, in 2006 I held a round of shared summits and conferences with [American Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Jody Williams and discussed the Iran-U.S. clash, followed by a meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. We plan to schedule similar events in 2008 in the National Peace Council in order to boost the interaction between the civil societies of the two countries.

Mrs. Ebadi, you have publicly invited all of the citizens to join your recent anti-war campaign. Can you elaborate on the actions you have so far taken in order to form the National Peace Council?

The Center of Human Rights Defenders has so far formed an Interim Peace Committee. This committee has decided to elevate the matter to nationwide levels, and to do so we are planning to hold a national peace summit in the near future in which everybody both inside and outside Iran is invited and urged to join this movement. This would be the curtain raiser of the formation of the National Peace council. The core of this council will consist of renowned and reliable figures from different groups and political tendencies that people can trust.

And what will this council do?

It will study and campaign for various ways of reducing the political and [possible] military tension between Iran and Western countries, and in particular the United States. I have to clarify that the Center of Human Rights Defenders is not a political faction or party; and since the National Peace Council will be formed through this center, it will not include issuing political statements. This campaign will provide a suitable platform for people to develop ideas regarding maintaining peace. Our motto in seeking the formation of the National Peace Council is this: "No to war. Yes to peace and human rights."

When do you think the council will begin its activities?

It is for around one month that the Interim Peace Committee has already begun its activity. It is paving the way to hold the national peace summit. We are trying to hold it as soon as possible and again I invite everyone around the globe free from his or her political tendencies to join us—all of the people who simply say "no" to war and a war against Iran.

How successful do you think this council can appear given Iran's insistence to pursue its nuclear program on one side, and the insistence of Western countries on the necessity of suspending its nuclear activities as a precondition on the other side?

A lot! Public opinion does matter. I have to say that the peace movement [in this case] is not limited only to Iran. It is for a while that such movements have begun in the United States too. Neither American citizens nor Iranians would like to see such a war. We hope that these movements and the public opinions of the Iranian and American people will be effective on their governments in order to convince them to take the path of negotiation and peace, instead of war.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Niusha Boghrati.