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Announcement of Nobel Peace Price

Aired October 10, 2003 - 05:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news right now. You are looking at a live picture from Oslo, Norway, where they are about to, we are all about to find out who will be the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Good morning.

It's Friday, October 10 and from the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Carol Lin in for Carol Costello.

Any moment now we are going to be hearing the name of the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Again, you are looking at a live picture outside the Nobel awards committee meeting room in Oslo, Norway. The committee's chairman will emerge shortly to announce the winner and as you probably know, the Nobel selection process is highly secretive. The names of the candidates, a record 165 this year, are even kept under wraps.

But there has been a lot of speculation Pope John Paul II will be the choice. Other names being floated include the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel; Afghan President Hamid Karzai; and Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya.

Now, one reason the names of the nominees aren't revealed is to protect dissidents who could suffer reprisals in their countries.

Right now, the chairman of the awards committee.


LIN: All right, obviously at the moment he is not speaking English. Ole Danbolt Mjoes is actually speaking in Norwegian, announcing this prize. We expect a translation or an English announcement at any moment.

But once again, you are watching live coverage right now out of Oslo, Norway, where we are expecting any moment now to hear the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2003.

All right, we have just confirmed that it is Ms. Shirin Ebadi who has won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a lawyer and a human rights activist active in Iran for fighting for women's rights and children's rights. She is actually only, actually, now one of 11 women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize since the inception of the prize in 1901.

She is, actually, was the first female judge in Iran and had to resign her position following the 1979 revolution. She was really considered for a very tiny woman here and a woman certainly of small physical stature, but of a giant stature in the human rights community. She's a member of Amnesty International. She was accused by some hard-line ayatollahs of actually trying to single-handedly undermine Iran's Islamic revolution by her legal actions.

She has tried, for example, to fight for women's rights, children's rights, to raise the minimum age at which a young girl could be married. At the time, girls as young as nine years old could be given away as brides by their families.

This is somewhat of a surprise in the communities which have speculated who might be the most likely winner. Pope John Paul II was one of the top names being mentioned. But, once again, live out of Norway, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi.

MJOES: ... the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003 to Shirin Ebadi for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children. As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person and has never heeded the threats to her own safety.

Her principal arena is the struggle for basic human rights and no society deserves to be labeled civilized unless the rights of women and children are respected. In an era of violence, she has consistently supported non-violence. It's fundamental to her view that the supreme political power in a community must be built on democratic elections.

She favors enlightenment and dialogue as the best path to changing attitudes and resolving conflict.

Ebadi is a conscious Muslim. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. It's important to her that the dialogue between the different cultures and religions of the world should take as its point of departure their shared values. It's a pleasure for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to a woman who is part of the Muslim world and of whom that world should be proud along with all who fight for human rights wherever they live.

During recent decades, democracy and human rights have advanced in various parts of the world. By its awards of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has attempted to speed up this process. We hope that the people of Iran will feel joyous that for the first time in history, one of their citizens has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and we hope the prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Muslim world and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support.

LIN: The Nobel Peace Prize awards committee making the announcement for the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2003. She is Shirin Ebadi, first a lawyer who practiced in Iran, a human rights activist who fought for the rights of women and children. She is the first Iranian to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, only the 11th woman to win the prize in the 101 year history of the Peace Prize.

She was actually the first female judge -- she's had a series of firsts in her life -- the first female judge in Iran until she had to resign her position after the revolution of 1979, when Islamic clerics took over control of the country and deemed women to be too emotional and irrational to hold such high level posts. She has expressed herself in her career to be courageous. She has never heeded the threats against her. She has been tried for, among other things, disturbing public opinion in Iran. She was finally freed from jail.

We understand that she's currently right now in Paris. I'm sure she got the phone call not too long ago telling her that she had won this prize. And a bit of a surprise for people who were speculating that it would have been someone else, perhaps Pope John Paul II, for example, was one of the names bandied about early on as a potential winner.

With us on the telephone right now is Stein Toennesson.

He is the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

Mr. Toennesson, is this a surprise to you?

STEIN TOENNESSON, INTERNATIONAL PEACE RESEARCH INSTITUTE: It is some a surprise to me, but not to the human rights community. And it shouldn't have been a surprise to me because Shirin Ebadi is a prominent human rights figure and she is an Iranian. And I knew that the committee would look for a Muslim, for a woman and for someone fighting for human rights. So my failure to include her among the front runners, I think, is a mistake.

LIN: Among the front runners you were thinking who were most possible, who were they?

TOENNESSON: I was thinking about the former Czech president, Vaclav Havel; about Pope John Paul; about the International Atomic Energy Agency; and also about Brazilian President Lula; all men.

LIN: And...

TOENNESSON: There had only been 10 female winners before. But I also pointed at Iranian dissident Agajori (ph), who is in prison in Iran. But he is a man. This choice here, I think, is excellent. And it also points to the quality of another prize in Norway, which is the Rafto Prize, because the Rafto Prize has several times gone to people who have later got the Nobel Peace Prize.

LIN: Which she won back in 2001.

TOENNESSON: That's right. And this has happened also in the past with Aung San Suu Kyi, who got the Rafto Prize first, and later the Nobel Peace Prize. And also the people in East Timor, that preceded a prize to Bishop Belo and to Jose Ramos-Horta.

So the Rafto Prize has become -- the list of Rafto Prize winners must now be included among the sources when we try to guess about who's getting the Nobel Peace Prize.

LIN: Well, specifically, let's talk a little bit more about Shirin Ebadi. I've got some of her very noted credentials here. She is an Iranian lawyer, a human rights activist, born in 1947. She received a law degree from the University of Tehran. And in the years between 1975 and '79, she served as president of the City Court of Tehran, one of the first female judges in Iran.

Now, after the revolution in 1979, she was forced to resign and she now works as an attorney and teaches at the University of Tehran. A pretty remarkable career for a woman in that country, wouldn't you say?

TOENNESSON: Yes, but the women also play, have played a very significant role in the reform movement in Iran. And she played such a role, too. So the women were enormously important supporters for President Khatami when he won the presidency in Iran.

Now that the reform movement is in a kind of crisis and many have been frustrated by the lack of reform in Iran, I think that this may encourage and stimulate it to go on with its struggle for human rights and democracy.

LIN: So help us, Mr. Toennesson, appreciate, then, the work that she has done in the human rights arena in her country and the risks that she took in that work.

TOENNESSON: Now, I think that that has been, from what I see now about information about her, it's quite remarkable and what I heard about her before she was announced now was mainly from Amnesty International, Norway, where the leader actually had her as the lead runner. So he made a very good prediction. And he emphasized how courageous she had been in her work.

LIN: For example, she was an attorney of the families of writers and intellectuals who were victims of the serial murders between 1999 and 2000. What do you know about this?

TOENNESSON: No, I am not, I have not really studied her career before the award was given, and this was part of my failure to predict her.

LIN: No problem. No problem. She has worked actively and successfully to reveal the principals behind the attacks on students at the Tehran University back in 1999, where apparently several students died. And as a consequence, she was or has been imprisoned on numerous occasions.

The ayatollahs, after the 1979 revolution, considered her, actually accused her of trying to single-handedly undermine Iran's Islamic Revolution.

Why was she such a threat to the establishment then?

TOENNESSON: Now, this enters into the ongoing struggle, which has lasted for a long time, between the orthodox people in Iran, who are linked to the great, the leader Khameini, and to the reformers, who have tried to push the president towards a more radical reform, push and pressure. And now the big question now is what kind of reactions you will get from Iran, and if there will be a uniform reaction or if you will see different voices in Iran being expressed as a reaction to this choice.

LIN: What is your prediction there, then? What do you think the reaction is going to be?

TOENNESSON: I would guess that we will get a mixed reaction, where you will get first, perhaps, silence, and then some negative reactions from the orthodox side. And then you will get expression of support from others. And what I hope is that the president and the vice president will see the value of this and see how this may support their reform struggle.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Stein Toennesson.

Please stay with us.

Stein Toennesson is the director of research, the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

Right now we want to bring into the dialogue here Shirzad Bozorgmehr.

Do I have the correct pronunciation of your name?

SHIRZAD BOZORGMEHR, JOURNALIST: Yes, close enough, yes, Bozorgmehr.

LIN: All right, Shirzad, thank you very much for being with us.

You're a journalist. I just want to get your reaction to the announcement by the awards committee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

BOZORGMEHR: Well, I'm sure that the people of Iran would be delighted because she's been a very well known activist in the field of promoting women's rights and she's been defending, as a lawyer, some political activists here who have been trying to promote democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

She has been under a lot of pressure and that is probably why she's been living in Paris for the last few months.

LIN: When you say under pressure, what do you mean?

BOZORGMEHR: Well, she's been defending, as I said, a lot of political activists and as such, she has not been very popular with the powers that be, the conservatives in the Islamic Republic. But she's been very popular within the reformist camp, those who are trying to reform the political system in Iran.

And, as I said, but her work mostly concentrated on promoting women's rights. And as you know, half of the population are women and over 70 percent of them are under 30 years of age. So they're very active. They're very hopeful for their future and gaining some more rights in Iran. And she's been very instrumental in that.

She is a very well known figure in political circles in Iran, not very much liked by the conservatives, but very popular among the reformists, as I said.

This will promote the cause of Iranian women and, as well as that, the political activists in Iran, because now she -- because due to the stature that she has gained now internationally, she has a measure of protection. She could probably come back now. The conservatives would not receive her very well, naturally, but the reformists will and hopefully President Khatami will recognize her efforts and appreciate it publicly.

LIN: Shirzad, a record number of candidates that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee considered this year, 165, many of them certainly noted in their work, certainly as dedicated in their work and the pursuit for peace.

Why is it that you think that the Committee chose her?

BOZORGMEHR: I'm not going to kind of give my own opinion, because I'm not, you know, in a position to do so. But I can imagine, you know, I can explain to you what the conservatives would feel about it. And they would most probably say that the Committee that elected her as a nominee and then awarded her the award was politically motivated. They would most probably say that. And...

LIN: What do you mean politically motivated?

BOZORGMEHR: Because she is going against the current in Iran and because she's representing the women's cause. And this has met with some resistance within the country, within the conservative establishment. So they would naturally think that under the current circumstances where Iran is under heavy pressure from abroad to change its behavior, for the government to change its behavior, so to speak, they would consider this as a means to put more pressure on Iran, to promote -- this is, you know, to promote someone who is opposing the regime, parts of the policies of the regime.

To promote her that way and to award her an internationally recognized award such as the Nobel Peace Prize would give her more clout. And this is not something that the conservatives would appreciate and they would definitely think that this is politically motivated.

LIN: Do you know much about the specifics of the cases she has actually defended?

BOZORGMEHR: Not as such, but she is well known for, as I said, promoting women's rights. She has defended women in the cases against their husbands or against the state when the status of women were in question. She has defended several political activists who have been in trouble with the judiciary and in some cases she has won; in some cases she has lost.

But she is considered to be a very courageous woman, a very exceptional women and an extremely skillful lawyer.

LIN: Shirzad, help the American audience understand the nature of her work and the risks that she took. For example, we understand she was fighting to raise the minimum wage -- minimum age at which a young girl could be married off. She has fought for women's rights in terms of the law regarding blood money paid a murderer to the victim's family in return for the family waiving its right to insist on the death penalty.

BOZORGMEHR: You just said it in a nutshell. You explained all of it. She did not succeed in everything that she tried, but the fact that she brought it to the public attention and the fact that a woman, a lone woman stood up to the establishment and promoted the cause of a group of people, namely women and activists who were, in a way, at the mercy of the system, she stood up for them and she fought for them.

This has endeared her greatly to the Iranian public as a whole.

LIN: So you think she made a difference?

BOZORGMEHR: Oh, she definitely has. She definitely has. Not even -- she had even before receiving this award, because she initiated this whole movement of promoting women's causes openly and publicly and getting into arguments with the powers that be over here, be it in the judiciary or in the government.

So she is known as a very courageous woman who fought against great odds and regardless of the outcome, she fought the good fight.

LIN: Do you know much about her personally? Would you know what her reaction might have been when she got the phone call?

BOZORGMEHR: I have met her a couple of times. I have interviewed her with Christiane Amanpour a couple of times. But I do not know her personally.

But the impression I got from those meetings was that she was a very highly intelligent woman, very well educated and an expert in law, especially when it pertains to women and children. And the striking thing about her was her courage, because when I met her, she was under heavy pressure and -- but she was very adamant and she was very determined to continue.

And as we can see, she has continued and this is a great success for her.

LIN: The Nobel Peace Prize is worth quite a bit of money. I'm looking for the exact figure here. I think it's more than, it's certainly more than a million dollars, $1.3 million.

What do you think she's going to do with the money?

BOZORGMEHR: I have absolutely no idea, but I would imagine that if she's going to give some of it away, it would probably go to the women's cause and the political activists, I would imagine.

LIN: All right, she must have been a formidable foe in her country.

BOZORGMEHR: She is, yah.

LIN: Thank you very much, Shirzad Bozorgmehr, for joining us, a journalist in Iran.

We are going to take a quick break but we are bringing you breaking news about the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the 11th woman in 101 years in the history of the Peace Prize -- Shirin Ebadi, a human rights attorney in Iran.


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