Shirin Ebadi - Roozonline -2007.11.24
When the Iranian constitutional movement was on its way in the early days of the 20th century, the Russian revolution had not yet taken place and the Tsars ruled their empire like despots. In the West and North-West of Iran too, the Ottoman khalifs ruled with despotic hands. In other parts of Asia and even in Japan the democratic movement had not yet been launched.
The Iranian nation at that time was the first one to rise up for the establishment of democracy. The constitutional revolution was the culmination of their efforts. But after the passage of over a hundred years, the Iranian nation has unfortunately still not succeeded in establishing democracy because of domestic and foreign reasons. We are still far from having free elections I Iran because the most important feature of any meaningful election is that people have the freedom to vote for anyone they wish. This is still a dream for Iranians. And while the first constitution that was drafted after the 1979 Islamic revolution contained provisions for such elections, subsequent laws that were passed denied this right to the people.
During the pre-revolutionary regime and even today, much has been said about free elections and the demand for them has been aired. And this begs the questions as to what exactly are free elections. The fact is that plenty of work needs to be done to just come up with the criteria for free elections. It is generally said that the appointed Guardians Council is an obstacle to free elections in the country. But the problem is larger and wider than just that. For example, even if we did not have this appointed supervision by the Council, candidates for public office need to enjoy equal access to public and government media to communicate with the masses, which if they do not have, would preclude any free elections. So there are different standards by which to judge whether elections are free or not.
In this regard, the Kanoone Modafean Hoghoogh’e Bashar (Center for the Defense of Human Rights) created a committee to study this issue based on international law, including the various Human Rights conventions and declarations to which Iran has adhered to, and announce the standards for holding free elections, and pursue to have them implemented. The work of this group is based on the commitments that the Islamic republic of Iran has towards international arrangements. In other words, it is in view of these obligations that this working group will study the laws supervising elections and conclude whether and which ones are being followed by the government of Iran and specific government agencies involved in the process of elections.
Members of this group have been long-time promoters and activists of freedom and have thus won the respect of the public. They have come up with election standards after discussing the issue amongst themselves. The next step therefore is the announcement of the degree to which Iran’s government has adhered to these standards and its international obligations in this regard. The next step would be to follow up the findings to implement the shortcomings.
Shirin Ebadi is the Nobel Peace Prize winner and a regular contributor to Rooz Online.
We must not forget that a mere 20+ years ago, mere talk of human rights and modern values in Iran was a taboo imposed by many politicians. When these people wanted to denounce someone they would call them “a liberal” or a supporter of democracy and human rights (because they were Western values). Today, however, because of the continuous and incessant work of human rights advocates and activists, this issue has become a national virtue so that even those politicians who in practice violate the principles of democracy and human rights strive to present themselves to be supporters of these rights.
In continuation of these activities, work must continue to create the cultural foundations for this so that public awareness about the requirements for free elections becomes universal.
And finally it should be overlooked that only through the materialization of these conditions will the people of Iran be able to create the environment that would allow the holding of free and fair elections, after the passage of a century of such efforts.