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Iran's Ebadi Accepts Nobel Peace Prize - 2003-12-10

Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi has become the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at a glittering ceremony in Oslo, Norway. The prizewinner, 56, called the award an inspiration to Iranians and Muslims, but also took a swipe at the West, accusing it of hiding behind the September 11 attacks to violate human rights.

Shirin Ebadi was given the Nobel Peace Prize for defending the rights of women and children in Iran. And although she has worked tirelessly to bring hope to those Iranians who strive for democracy and respect for human rights, she is also critical of the West for what she sees as its own human rights violations.

In her acceptance speech Wednesday at Oslo's City Hall, Ms. Ebadi indirectly accused the United States and its allies of using the specter of terrorism as a cloak to violate international law and human rights.

"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.

Ms. Ebadi specifically mentioned the plight of prisoners being held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying they were being denied their rights under the Geneva conventions and other international treaties.

And she questioned what she considers selective application by the West of United Nations Security Council resolutions, asking why those dealing with Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands have never been fully implemented while those dealing with Iraq were considered binding.

Some observers in Oslo who had expected Ms. Ebadi to focus her criticism on her own government rather than on the West, said she seemed to be trying to demonstrate that she is not a western stooge, as Iranian extremists allege.

But the Nobel laureate, who received a check for nearly $1.4 million and has pledged to continue her work in Iran, also had some harsh words for the theocratic rulers of her own country and the leaders of other Muslim nations.

"The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states has its roots in the patriarchal and male-dominated culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam," she said. "The culture does not tolerate freedom and democracy, just as it does not believe in the equal rights of men and women and the liberation of women from male domination."

She said she expects her selection will inspire millions of women in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East to strive for their rights. She said the award sends a message that the efforts of women in the Middle East to improve human rights and establish democracies have the support of the international community.

But, as Ms. Ebadi, dressed in a Western-style suit, was delivering her speech in Oslo, Islamic hardliners in Teheran warned she will have to face consequences for appearing in public without the traditional headscarf that all Iranian women are required to wear, whether they are at home or abroad.