Washington, DC – “It is humbling to learn of young Iranians who are willing to risk so much for greater freedoms, and I join you in honoring them,” said Senator Ted Kaufman on the presentation of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2010 Democracy Award to the Green Movement in Iran last Thursday.
At the award ceremony, Prof. Mahnaz Afkhami, Dr. Ladan Boroumand, Prof. Daniel Brumberg, Prof. Larry Diamond, Nikahang Kowsar, Dr. Abbas Milani, Ali Akbar Mousavi, Prof. Azar Nafisi, and Dr. Marc Plattner helped shed light on the complex hopes and challenges of the Iranian people in their struggles for democracy. The experts in both panels focused on the flagrant and continuing human rights violations by the Iranian government.
Afkhami emphasized that the international community’s singular focus on the nuclear issue ignores the human rights crisis in Iran, which is equally important. Kowsar illustrated the denial of free speech and press in a series of cartoons mocking journalists in Iran. Boroumand told harrowing stories of ordinary Iranians who were detained in the notorious Kahrizak Prison in Iran. “The regime denies the humanity of its citizens,” she said of their treatment.
“When you talk about civil society and about human rights, people think you are just being trendy… and they say ‘Let’s talk about more important things,’” said Nafisi. “But this regime confiscates your identity and the only way to get it back is to have your voice [heard].”
Milani went even further, stressing not just the existential, but also the economic, political, and social necessity of democracy for Iran. “Iranian society is ready now more than ever to recognize the 100-year old dream of democracy,” he said.
Despite agreement on the importance of greater attention to human rights violations, however, all of the speakers differed on how the change was to be brought about in Iran and how long it should take. While Brumberg stressed the long-term nature of the struggle for democracy, for example, Senator McCain pressed for outright regime change, stressing the need “to mobilize our friends and allies in like-minded countries, both in the public sphere and the private sector, to challenge the legitimacy of this Iranian regime.”
All the speakers ultimately agreed on the importance of the unity of the international community in dealing with Iran’s human rights violations. “This is not a time for inaction and silence,” said Mousavi, pointing to the people who at this very moment are being tortured, facing execution, and who are suffering other atrocities. It is time for a clear and uniform message from the international community in face of the unbearable violence the Iranian people are facing, he said.