Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner to speak at Vanderbilt‘s Senior Day

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The first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace
Prize, Shirin Ebadi, will speak at Vanderbilt University‘s Senior Class
Day on Thursday, May 12, at 10 a.m. on Alumni Lawn.

Citing her courage in fighting for human rights and democracy despite
threats to her own safety, the Nobel committee awarded the 2003 Nobel
Peace Prize to Ebadi, who, as an attorney, continues today to use the
law to push for rights for women, children and the victims of
government repression in Iran. Ebadi served more than 20 days in jail
in 2000 as a result of representing the families of students and
reformists killed by pro-regime vigilantes.

“Shirin Ebadi is a universally respected and admired voice,” said
Chancellor Gordon Gee. “She is a role model for women and men who have
endured unspeakable violations of dignity and basic human rights.

“Our students learn to be critical thinkers and leaders,” Gee
added. “Shirin Ebadi‘s fight for the rights of women and children
in Iran is a lesson of courage and conviction for all. Her passion for
justice in the face of threats to her own safety is truly an

Gee will present Ebadi the Chancellor‘s Medal for human rights during
the second Senior Class Day, an event held the day before the
university‘s Commencement exercises on Friday, May 13. In case of rain,
the festivities will be held in Memorial Gym. Last year, then-National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was the guest speaker for the
inaugural Senior Class Day festivities.

Ebadi recently took part in a world summit on terrorism in Madrid
attended by various heads of government and experts from 50 countries,
and she recently spoke with members of the foreign affairs committee of
the European Parliament about Europe‘s relationship with Iran.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Ebadi warned the United States
that military action in Iran would be an “utter disaster” for human
rights defenders and for the independent human rights organizations
currently making progress in that country. This came just weeks after
President Bush said he has not ruled out the use of military force if
diplomacy fails to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. “Respect
for human rights in any country must spring forth through the will of
the people and as a part of genuine democratic process. Such respect
can never be imposed by foreign military might and coercion — an
approach that abounds in contradictions,” the op-ed added. That column
was co-written with Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Ebadi is co-founder and president of the Center for Defense of Human
Rights, and she helped start the Association for Support of Children‘s
Rights, where she served as president until 2000. In 1975 she became
the first woman judge in the history of Iran but was stripped of that
title following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The cleric rulers
forbid women to serve as judges, so she was demoted and told she could
become a clerk/secretary in the court she once presided over. She
refused that position.

Her application to practice law was denied, so she spent those
“unemployed” years, as she calls them, writing books and articles on
human rights and legal rights of children and women. One book, The
Rights of the Child, was named “Book of the Year” by the Culture and
Islamic Guidance Ministry. Ebadi studied the Koran to refute arguments
used by the conservative cleric rulers in family law cases. As the
Human Rights Watch organization points out, Ebadi‘s work rests on the
belief that human rights standards do not contradict the principles of
an Islamic society.
In 1992, Ebadi received her license to practice law and has represented
students, journalists and the families of people murdered by pro-regime

The Nobel Peace Prize is not the first recognition of Ebadi‘s human
rights activities. The mother of two daughters received the Rafto Human
Rights Foundation prize in 2001.

Vanderbilt‘s Senior Class Day activities include a ceremonial walk
through the gates of the university by graduates at 9:30 a.m. followed
by the guest speaker at 10 a.m., faculty-led seminars and a Senior
Send-Off with Chancellor Gee.

Media contact: Emily Pearce, (615) 322-2706

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