Muslim woman makes history by receiving Nobel Peace Prize
December 11, 2003

For the first time in history, a Muslim woman has received the Nobel Peace Prize.

In her acceptance speech, Shirin Ebadi of Iran sent a bold anti-war message to the West, accusing it of hiding behind the September 11 attacks to violate human rights.

Reformist lawyer Ebadi was handed the $1,4-million (about
R9-million) prize and a gold medal by the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee at a glittering ceremony at Oslo City Hall yesterday.

A tireless campaigner for women's and children's rights, Ebadi has challenged fundamental articles of Iranian law such as those saying a woman's life is worth half that of a man, or that a woman needs her husband's permission to leave the country.

Hailed as a hero among Iranian reformists and shunned by Tehran's hardline clerics, Ebadi accused the US administration of ignoring UN resolutions in the Middle East yet using them as a pretext to go to war in Iraq.

"In the past two years, some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of September 11 and the war on international terrorism as a pretext," she said in her acceptance speech.

"Regulations restricting human rights and basic freedoms ... have been justified and given legitimacy under the cloak of the war on terrorism," Ebadi told the ceremony, which was attended by Norwegian royalty.

Dressed in a pale yellow skirt with a matching jacket and wearing no headscarf - as required by Islamic law - a stern Ebadi spoke in Farsi to an audience including Hollywood couple Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, star hosts of yesterday's Nobel concert.

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon, acting as regent for his ailing father King Harald, attended the ceremony with his mother Queen Sonja and pregnant wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

"Your name will shine in the history of the Peace Prize," committee head Ole Danbolt Mjoes said of Ebadi in a speech, adding that he hoped the award would inspire reform. "And let me hasten to add: this applies to the Western world

as well."

As a defence lawyer, Ebadi earned a reputation for taking on cases others dared not touch.

She insists that human rights can go hand-in-hand with Islam. Many exiled pro-reformists criticise her as too soft on Tehran,

while Iranian hardliners call her a Western stooge.

Iran's hardline Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper lambasted Ebadi for appearing on television without a headscarf and for shaking hands with men. "They gave this supposed Nobel Prize to her to become a tool of foreign powers' goals in Iran," it said.

The 56-year-old laureate, who was jailed in Iran in 2000 as a result of one of her high-profile legal cases, lashed out at what she called breaches of the Geneva Convention at the US's Guantanamo Bay military jail.

Ebadi, Iran's first female judge before the 1979 Islamic revolution forced her to step aside in favour of men, said it was worrying that human rights were violated by the same Western democracies that had initiated the principles.

The laureate said she and other human rights activists questioned why some UN resolutions were binding to the West, and others were ignored, such as in the Middle East.

"In the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq, once on the recommendation of the Security Council, and the second time in spite of UN Security Council opposition, were subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and ultimately, military occupation," she said.

Ebadi also pointed a finger at her own government, urging Tehran to accept that reform is inevitable.

"In fact, it is not so easy to rule over a people who are aware of their rights by using traditional, patriarchal and paternalistic methods," she warned. - Reuters

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