Cablegate: Thailand: Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi Discusses

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. On April 10, Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate
(2003) Shirin Ebadi spoke in Bangkok. She focused a
discussion attended by poloff on her experiences as a judge,
lawyer and advocate for women,s rights in Iran, before and
after the Islamic Revolution. She argued that many of the
laws that stand in the way of women,s equality in Iran are
in place due to "the wrong interpretation of Islam," and that
these laws are opposed by a "very strong" women,s movement.
Ms. Ebadi also criticized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and
stated that the U.S. reason for going to war was a desire for
Iraqi oil. At a dinner reception that night, Ms. Ebadi
called for a withdrawal of Thai troops from the South as a
means of beginning peaceful negotiations with "the rebels."


2. (U) On April 10, Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate (2003)
Shirin Ebadi -- who has just been named one of Time
Magazine,s 100 Most Influential People -- spoke about
"Defending the Rights of Women and Children" to a small
audience composed primarily of representatives of the NGO
community and several members of the Thai Human Rights
Commission (HRC). Poloff observed several Muslim attendees
in the audience.

3. (U) Ms. Ebadi contrasted different ways women suffer
inequality in the West and in the Islamic World. In the
West, she said, women,s rights are legally protected, but
not always recognized by society. In the Islamic world, women
suffer "legal and institutionalized" discrimination,
including polygamy and unequal treatment under the law. She
concluded that these two halves form "an entire world where
women are second-class citizens" stemming principally from a
universal "patriarchal culture." Ms. Ebadi argued that the
key to a peaceful society is a combination of "real"
democracy and human rights. She repeatedly emphasized that a
democracy elected by the majority, but which does not respect
the rights of its women and minorities is not a "real"

4. (U) When asked why so many educated women in Iran
supported ("voted") for the Revolution in 1979, Ebadi
responded that the key ideals behind the 1979 Revolution were
"independence and freedom," which she supported to this day.
She expressed her hope that someday there would be "real"
democracy and freedom in Iran.

5. (U) Ms. Ebadi was asked what women,s groups in Iran have
been able to accomplish under Islamic shariyah law. She
noted that 63% of Iranian university students are now women
and that Iranian women are becoming more educated than men.
The feminist movement in Iran has been "gaining ground
strongly" and there is support from all classes of society.
Still, she said, the Iranian legal system continues to deny
women their rights as equal citizens. She pointed out that
many of the current laws derived from "the wrong
interpretation" of Islam and that these laws were "not
compatible with Iranian culture."

6. (U) She proudly stated that pressure from women,s groups
had been instrumental in changing many laws, including the
reversal of a 1979 ruling that women could no longer serve as
judges. In 1979, female judges (including Ms. Ebadi herself)
were demoted to clerks in their own courts. Thanks to women
"fighting the system" she said, the government ruled in 1992
that the previous interpretation of Islam had been incorrect.
Although the women,s movement still had a long way to go,
she expressed optimism that women would one day win equal
rights in Iran


7. (U) When asked about Iraq, Ms. Ebadi stated that she had
denounced the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq on many
occasions. She added that although Saddam Hussein had been a
terrible dictator who "should have been eliminated," she
"wished" that he had been overthrown by Iraqis and not by
U.S. military force. She said that recent elections were "a
step in the right direction," but was adamant that the price
of the war had been "outrageously high," resulting in 100,000
Iraqi deaths, the looting of national museums and the
destruction of homes. She argued that the human cost could
have been lessened greatly if the international community had
helped Iraqis to do the job themselves.

8. (U) She stated matter-of-factly that "oil was the deciding
factor for going to war." When asked if she believed the war
was fought for the benefit of Israel, she considered the
question a moment before responding that while "it goes
without saying" that the foremost U.S. objective in the
Middle East is Israeli security, Iraq had not posed a serious
threat to Israel since the first Gulf War. In her opinion,
it was clearly oil that interested the U.S.


9. (U) At a dinner hosted by the Thai Senate Foreign
Relations Committee the evening of April 10, press reports
indicate Ms. Ebadi urged a full pullout of Thai troops from
the South as a means of entering into peaceful talks with the
"rebels." "In my opinion, soldiers must be returned to their
barrack. Through (dialogue) everything must be solved," she
is quoted as saying. As part of Ms. Ebadi's message of the
importance of "real democracy," she also commented that
"majority-Islam nations must observe the rights of minorities
such as Christians, while majority-Buddhist nations must
observe the rights of minority Muslims."

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