Gissou Nia is a human rights lawyer and Iran expert. She most recently acted as the Deputy Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Before that, from 2011 to 2014, she served as the Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Prior to her tenure at the Center, Ms. Nia worked on war crimes and crimes against humanity trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands.
Faisal Saeed al-Mutar was born in Iraq and admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2013. While in Iraq, Al-Qaeda attempted to kidnap Al Mutar three times because of his secular western lifestyle and lost members of his family to sectarian violence. He is the founder and CEO of Ideas Beyond Borders and the Global Secular Humanist Movement (GSHM). In 2016, Al Mutar received the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama for his commitment to volunteer service in America and around the world.
This event provided a thorough history and discussion of democracy in the Middle East, with a special focus on the Arab Spring. Activist Faisal Al Mutar began his remarks by talking about his personal story of growing up in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He then discussed the Arab Spring and gave his thesis: to successfully bring a democracy somewhere, you can’t just give people the right to vote. You also have to give them individual freedoms and human rights, and there needs to be a separation of religion and state.
Human rights specialist and Iran expert Gissou Nia began by talking about the state of freedoms and rights in Iran. She stated that people often say that the situation “isn’t that bad” because they compare it to places like Saudi Arabia. People tend to look at Iran and see a place that has a resemblance of elections and freedoms, but when you look closely, the elections aren’t free nor are the people. It is the structures of the Iranian government, Nia argued, that gives the sense of freedom and human rights, while oppressing its people.
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