Archive for December, 2008

We beseech God — exalted be His glory — to grant awareness and insight to the men of wisdom as well as to those who hold in their grasp the reins of power in Persia, that they may be able to distinguish the right way from the crooked and devious path and may clearly discern the well-wisher from the ill-wisher with a true and genuine sense of discrimination. Baha’i writings

Earlier this month the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Iran’s atrocious human rights record. Shortly afterwards the Iranian authorities closed down the offices of the 2003 Nobel Laureate human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi. She and her colleagues at the `Defenders of Human Rights Centre’ have been defending the seven Baha’i leaders who have been imprisoned in Iran since last spring – without any success – they have not even been able to see their clients. The Baha’is are currently being held without charge in Evin prison in Tehran.

Shirin Ebadi

The Baha’i International Community has expressed `grave concern’ over the closure, characterizing it `a blow to human rights for the whole of Iran’ and calling for its reopening. Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, commented that `the fact that the Iranian government would shut down the office of its most famous human rights defender, who is Iran’s only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the first Muslim woman so recognized, can only be perceived by the world at large as further evidence that the government has no regard for rights and freedoms’.

Ebadi was recently in London, speaking at an event at the British Museum sponsored by `Magic of Persia’, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am not a conspiracy theorist but it does seem more than a coincidence that within days of her talk about human rights, her office is closed down.

My husband went to the event, which was well attended. He reports that Shirin Ebadi lecture was introduced by Tahirih Danesh, herself a human rights researcher and documenter, whose own introductory talk was excellent.

Yesterday I had a chance to hear Ms Danesh speak myself, at the Conference of Persian Arts and Letters in London. She spoke eloquently about the situation of the Baha’is in Iran, pointing out that the current persecution is more nuanced than it was at the beginning of the Islamic revolution in 1979 and in the early 1980s. It is now very much focused on strangling the whole community by such methods as denying young people access to higher education, arbitrary arrests and ignoring `popular’ attacks on Baha’is, as well as the continued detainment of the Baha’is leadership.

Ms Danesh is also the co-author a new publication from the UK’s Foreign Policy Centre, `A Revolution Without Rights? Women, Kurds and Baha’is Searching for Equality in Iran’. Earlier this month I attended the Justice Conference in the Netherlands at which Ms Danesh’s co-author Geoff Cameron gave a compelling lecture about the terrible human rights abuses of these three distinct groups – I won’t go into detail – just consider that women are stoned to death there.


The irony of such human rights abuses in Iran is that Cyrus the Great, Persian emperor from 559 to 529 BCE, is credited with producing what is considered the first known `human rights charter’.

The Cyrus Cylinder, a large stone document, decrees the equality of minority religions, languages and races.


Most countries are proud of their heritage and do everything to protect it. Too bad Iran isn’t one of them.

Ironic too that `Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, predicted so positive a future for the country that has persecuted its Baha’i citizens for 160 years: `The government of the native land of the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] will become the most respected government of this world . . . and Iran will become the most prosperous of all lands.’

It’s not too late to start the process by extending human rights to all its people – and reopening the Defenders of Human Rights Centre – and perhaps reading the Cyrus Cylinder.

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Bahá’u’lláh taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. `Abdu’l-Baha, speaking in 1912

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To commemorate this achievement and to conclude the 16 days of activism to eliminate violence against women and children, the UK National Committee of UNIFEM (the United Nations Development for Women) arranged a parliamentary signing of its `Say “No” to Violence against Women’ petition and I went as Secretary of the committee.

The cross party event was held in the beautiful Committee 6 of the House of Commons and hosted by Vera Baird MP, the Solicitor General, while the Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP led ministers, peers and MPs to sign the petition as members of UNIFEM in the United Kingdom looked on. I was particularly pleased to see Patrick Hall MP there, along with his wife Claudia, who is a good friend of mine.

Harriet Harman signing

On signing the Say No to Violence Against Women campaign, Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and
Equality, said: `Violence against women is everyone’s problem – it destroys the lives of women
and children in all regions, in all social classes, and across all countries. We need to work together to end
it, and I wholeheartedly support UNIFEM and its Say No to Violence Against Women campaign. Tackling violence against women is a priority for this Government, and we have made much progress,
including tackling domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. But there is still a long way to
go, and we are determined to do more.’


It was a great way to spend the birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So much hope and expectation, arising out of the horror of two world wars, is built into that document which begins with the `recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ as `the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.

However, most people do not enjoy the rights identified in the Declaration. Article 1:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

is a statement of facts. But how many people are in fact free? And how many actually enjoy the rights with which they are born? And clearly not everyone acts towards everyone else in a spirit of brotherhood.

How many Congolese and Darfurans can say that article 3’s claim that `Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’ works for them? How many young women can say that article 16 (2) – `Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses’ – has protected them? How many Bahá’ís in Iran feel that article 18 – `Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’ – is being observed by their government? And how many young Bahá’ís are getting higher education because that same government upholds article 26 (1)?

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

So is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wrong? Is it nothing more than the triumph of hope over experience? Not at all. Just as a child embodies the potential of the adult but few of the capabilities, so the people of the world embody the potential of an adult global community and civilization but as yet few of the capacities. A child takes a few steps and falls over. So does the world community. With each passing birthday the child develops more skills and is better able to manage. So does the world community. While 60 is getting on for `old’ for a person, for the world community, which is destined to last, Bahá’u’lláh says, some five hundred thousand years, 60 is still infancy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights points out the direction of travel. Happy birthday, human rights!

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O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned. Baha’u’llah, Baha’i writings

A quarter of the women and girls reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

A quarter of the women not reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

So, altogether, about 850,000,000 women and girls.

Some say it is third of all women, more like 1,100,000,000.

On 25 November, 5,066,549 signatures of people saying `NO’ to violence against women were handed over by UNIFEM to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That is, about .07 per cent of all people have said that they are opposed to violence against women.

Do we take this issue seriously?

Several of the people who signed up to oppose violence against women were at the Baha’i national centre tonight. Along with one women who, bravely, explained that she herself had been the subject of violence at the hand of a spouse

We are towards the end of the 16 days of activism to eradicate violence against women. Tonight, as their contribution to the campaign, the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom hosted a reception highlighting the Bahá’í International Community’s statement `Beyond Legal Reforms: Culture and Capacity in the Eradication of Violence Against Women and Girls’.

President of the United Kingdom National Committee for UNIFEM, Zarin Hainsworth Fadaei, presented the brief but powerful document, which focuses on the need not just for legal and institutional reform – necessary as this is – but also on the `deep-rooted changes needed to create a culture where justice and equality prevail over the impetuousness of authoritarian power and physical force’, the `inner, ethical and moral dimension’ that `provides the surest foundation for values and behaviour which raise up women and girls’ and `promote the advancement of all of humankind’.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House of Lords, congratulated the Bahá’ís on their thoughtful and thought-provoking publication. She gave an account of what the British government is doing to tackle this issue, pointing out that, just as the Baha’i document stated, legislation is not the only way forward. For example, she said, there is British legislation against female genital mutilation (FGM); on the other hand there have been no convictions. Early in the next year the government is launching a consultation on violence against women, intended to sharpen the focus on the issue.

Baroness Gould, chair of the Women’s National Commission, also applauded the Baha’i statement, particularly its grasp of the complexity and interconnectedness of the issues. She said that there were enough laws – what was needed now was to put all the laws into action.

Most important is our own response. It is we, the people, who need to change the way in which we deal with one another. We have to create an environment in which violence against women, girls, children, anyone, is completely unacceptable and the perpetrators punished.

A quarter of the women and girls reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

A quarter of the women not reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

This is something we can do something about.

A quarter of the women and girls reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

A quarter of the women not reading this blog have been subjected – or are being subjected – to some kind of abuse or violence.

If this is you, tell someone. Now. Seek help. Now. Here.

If this is your sister, your daughter, your mother, your friend, your neighbour, your boss, your work colleague, your teacher, your student – tell them you know. Get them to seek help now. Send them this link.

Stop violence against women and girls. Now.

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