Learning & Knowledge
Shirin Ebadi, Human Rights and Economic Development
Presidential Fellows Lecture Series
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opened the Presidential Lecture Series by introducing
, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and describing her background. He noted that Cyrus the Great of Persia was the first advocate of human rights. Ebadi has been an ardent activist and advocate for the rights of refugees, women and children.
Ebadi called the Bank an important institution in helping globalization unfold in the correct manner, as well as for expanding wealth and democracy throughout the world. She noted the immense disparities between rich and poor and that one-sixth of the world lives in poverty. The UN Development Programme reports that 50 countries in the past three years have become poorer. Such poverty, she believes, will also adversely impact the economies of richer countries. So it is in the interests of the richer countries to improve the economies of the poorer ones by helping them repay their debts and take advantage of advances in science, Ebadi said. It is the responsibility of shareholders of the World Bank to assist these countries. Ebadi recited the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include eradicating extreme poverty, securing primary education for children, improving the status of women, and protecting the environment. She highlighted the vast gulf between rich and poor by noting that life expectancy in Japan is 82 years and in Sierra Leone is 35 years. Global cooperation is needed to fill this divide.
Loans and grants by development organizations like the Bank are one method for helping the poor. However, the poor who live in countries that have dictatorships are at an extreme disadvantage because these resources are used to enhance the conditions of elite groups. Undemocratic governments that receive loans and grants are emboldened to neglect human rights, Ebadi said. Giving loans to such governments, is to ridicule the rights of those who are not part of the elite governing structure in dictatorial regimes. In such societies, she noted, people are often born into debt.
Ebadi issued a warning. All dictators fall eventually and the people who were oppressed will condemn those outside governments and institutions that helped stabilize the dictatorships. Anger is the enemy of intellect, and she suggested such anger has led to the current global violence and instability. Dictatorships, that come to power and rule without giving a voice to its citizens, cannot enact sustainable development policies. Respecting human rights should be a prerequisite for the development institutions when administering loans. Free speech and freedom of the press are central to democratic governments that respect human rights. Human rights should be a priority for development institutions in fostering their development goals.
During the question and answer period, Ebadi said under appropriate interpretations, one could be a Muslim and support democracy. She suggested that the rights of women are upheld only in democracies. On the issue of the rights of women in Iran, Ebadi said women are highly educated, but have significantly less rights in Iranian society than men. The feminism movement in Iran has gained momentum because of this discrimination. She acknowledge that current Islamic regimes are repressive of human rights, including Iranís, but questioned whether such repression represented true Islamic faith. Ebadi voiced criticism of the current war in Iraq after she was asked about recent abuses of Iraqi prisoners by US military personnel. She voiced her hope for a quick transfer of political power from the US to the UN and finally to the Iraqi people. When asked if the world was better without Saddam Hussain, she suggested the current occupancy by international coalition forces was not popular among the Iraqi population. Following the close of the event, she threw flowers into the audience.
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