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Iranian Lawyer to Give Talk on Human Rights
Ebadi addressed a UCLA audience of 1,400 in May 2004. (Scott Quintard / UCLA Photo)

Iranian Lawyer to Give Talk on Human Rights

Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, was given the award for her dedication to human rights and a nonviolent, evolutionary process for change in the Iranian government.

You can't find any books on human rights that don't quote from Ebadi.


This article was first published in the Daily Bruin.

By Helen Yim, Daily Bruin contributor

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, is scheduled to speak on campus today, two years after a similar event elicited protests and a minor incident of violence.

Addressing a crowd that Judy Lin, senior media relations officer at UCLA, estimates will be around 1,000 to 1,200 people, Ebadi will speak about her recently published memoir on her experiences in Iran over the past several decades.

Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, was given the award for her dedication to human rights and a nonviolent, evolutionary process for change in the Iranian government.

Nareyeh Tohidi, a professor of women's studies who is coordinating the event, said Ebadi works to promote the rights of Iranian women and children, and advocates democracy and equality between men and women.

"Media tends to ... portray only the extremist side of Muslim society" Tohidi said. "Ebadi is trying to counter that."

But Ebadi's ideas and methods of reform have drawn critics both within Iran and in the international community.

Religious extremists in Iran do not support her because Ebadi represents the rights of everyone, regardless of religion. Those who oppose Ebadi also criticize her support of a peaceful transition to democracy in Iran, saying the current government should be overthrown immediately, a move that would require military action.

Some of those opponents were present the last time Ebadi spoke at UCLA, in May 2004, when about a dozen protestors were present in front of Royce Hall, Tohidi said.

On that occasion, Ebadi was interrupted by an outburst that resulted in police action when one protestor slapped an audience member who supported Ebadi and another voiced his objections to Ebadi's method during the question-and-answer portion of the event, according to Daily Bruin archives.

Ebadi is a problematic figure for extremist groups in Iran because she does not support military action against the government, believing that a more effective approach would be to "work inside Iran to reform (and) change the system gradually," Tohidi said, adding that Ebadi believes a military attack would "only create problems."

Since opening her law firm in Tehran in 1992, Ebadi has taken "cases with national or international implications," Tohidi said.

Ebadi is most famous for a case in which she persuaded the Iranian government's intelligence service to admit to its involvement in serial murders, Tohidi said. Ebadi also represented the murder victim of a government attack on a university dormitory.

Ebadi currently teaches human rights training courses at Tehran University.

"You can't find any books on human rights that don't quote from Ebadi," Tohidi said.

According to Random House publicist Karen Fink, Ebadi has been reaching out to students, visiting third graders in a New York elementary school. Her plans also include visiting numerous other college campuses.

Ebadi is the author of twelve books, two of which have been published by UNICEF, the United Nations' children's fund. Ebadi will be speaking Monday about what she hopes to achieve with her newest book and "what she wants people to get out of it," Fink said.

The event, sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies, is part of the Persian Lecture Series, which has invited scholars, artists and professors to UCLA for the past three years.

Tohidi said the goal of the lecture series is to act as "a vehicle for intellectual communication" and to promote knowledge of Middle Eastern language. The program offers bilingual presentations, with lecturers speaking in Persian on Sundays and providing another presentation in English on Mondays.

Guest speakers in the past have included Iranian poet Simin Behbahani and former Iranian finance minister and prominent economist Dr. Jahangir Amuzegar.

"We usually choose speakers who have just published a new book or article that has become a subject of debate or interest in the Iranian community," Tohidi said.