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Non-Democratic Governments Should Not Receive Assistance, Says Nobel Laureate - 2004-05-04

The 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, called on the world community to stop giving financial assistance to governments and regimes that are not democratic. Ms. Ebadi made her comments Monday in a speech at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington.

In his introductory remarks, prior to Shirin Ebadi's speech, World Bank president James Wolfsensohn compared the Iranian activist to historical Persian figure, Cyrus the Great, who he credited with developing a declaration of human rights 2,500 years ago.

Mr. Wolfensohn quoted the Nobel Prize committee in pointing out that Ms. Ebadi is pushing for a new interpretation of Islam that respects human rights. "The [Nobel] citation went on to say that [Ms.] Ebadi is a conscious Muslim. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. It is 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."

This sentiment was echoed by Ms. Ebadi. She said Islam is just one of the concepts that governments around the world have used as an excuse to repress their people. "Everybody finds a justification of some sort. Somebody says I follow Marxism, and this is how I should act. And then someone comes along and says, well, my religion tells me I should act in such and such a way. And somebody says it is national security that wants me to call a war, etc, and somebody says it's my national interest."

Ms. Ebadi pushed for the need to promote human rights and democracy alongside economic development. Without singling out any specific countries for criticism, she made it clear that financial aid to countries she described as "undemocratic," only helps prop up repressive regimes.

"In countries that are undemocratic, where their governments are undemocratic, and where all the administrative, political and economic power of the society lies in the hands of one person or a special group or elites of a country, the granting of loans means assisting dictators and opposing people who are already oppressed," said Ms. Ebadi. "In other words, to say it more clearly, if undemocratic countries receive loans and credits, they are strengthened to become more negligent of the rights of their people."

She added that the people living under a bad government will also harbor anger for nations or international institutions that are seen as having helped that regime. "The palaces of tyrants will one day fall, and it is then that the people, the oppressed people, who will, with hatred and grudge, look at the countries that supported that and the institutions that provided loans to that former system and consider them as the reason for this, as an accomplice to the crime that occurred and as a reason for their misfortune."

Ms. Ebadi also said she believes freedom is the most important human possession. She added, though, that anger is the enemy of intellect -- and that people who are angry could resort to means that threaten world security.