"REGULATIONS RESTRICTING HUMAN RIGHTS AND BASIC FREEDOMS… HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED AND GIVEN LEGITIMACY UNDER THE CLOAK OF THE WAR ON TERRORISM."
OSLO (Reuters)–Iran’s Shirin Ebadi became the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday and accused the West of using the September 11 attacks as a smokescreen to cover up human rights violations.
Reformist lawyer Ebadi was handed the $1.4 million prize and gold medal by the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee at a glittering ceremony at Oslo City Hall.
A tireless campaigner for women’s and children’s rights–Ebadi has challenged fundamental articles of Iranian law which maintain that a woman’s life is worth half that of a man’s 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.
Dressed in a pale yellow skirt with a matching jacket and wearing no headscarf–a stern Ebadi spoke in Farsi to an audience that included Hollywood couple Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones–hosts of Thursday’s Nobel concert.
Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon attended the ceremony instead of his ailing father King Harald along with his mother Queen Sonja and his pregnant wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit.
"Your name will shine in the history of the Peace Prize," Committee head Ole Danbolt Mjoes said 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 defense lawyer–Ebadi earned a reputation for taking on cases others dared not touch. Insisting human rights can go hand in hand with Islam–many pro-reformists say she is too soft on Tehran while Iranian hardliners call her a Western stooge.
In an interview on CNN after the ceremony Ebadi said she would spend the award money to pursue her work in Iran. "The moment I return to Tehran I will continue my work," Ebadi said–adding that she would also join efforts to rid Iran of landmines.
Reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami–whose six-year presidency has been plagued by resistance to change from hardliners–initially welcomed the prize to Ebadi but played down its importance. Near the Oslo City Hall–about 50 exiled Iranian opponents of Khatami’s regime held a demonstration–shouting "Down with the Islamic Republic of Iran." Some of them accused Ebadi of wrongly supporting Khatami.
In Iran–conservative newspapers called on authorities to prevent Ebadi giving speeches at Iranian universities. "Our universities are no place for hypocrites," the ultra conservative Ya Lesarat weekly newspaper said.
Hardline Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper lambasted Ebadi for appearing in public 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 conventions at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Ebadi–Iran’s first female judge before the 1979 Islamic revolution forced her to step aside in favor 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 United Nations resolutions were binding in the West while others–such as those relating to the Middle East–were ignored. US President George W. Bush’s administration–labeling Iran part of an "Axis of Evil" along with Iraq and North Korea–launched the Iraq war in March–saying President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But the war had no explicit backing from the Security Council.
Ebadi 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 using traditional–patriarchal and paternalistic methods," she said.