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‘In a globalised world, human rights must also be global’

In the week following the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, the family of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Narges Mohammadi visited Sweden and Uppsala.

During the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s family’s time in Uppsala, the Foundation was honoured to receive a visit, and Programme Manager Jemina Holmberg had the opportunity to ask questions about their dedicated fight for human rights in Iran and globally, and what role international actors can play.

‘Zan – Zendegi – Azadi´. ’Woman – Life – Freedom’.

The message of the slogan, calling for the empowerment and basic rights for women in Iran, and popularised during the movement sweeping the streets of Iran following the death of 22-yearold Masha Amini in 2022, has since spread around the world. The message was also at the centre of the acceptance speech by the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Narges Mohammadi, delivered by her children, Kiana and Ali Rahmani, at the award ceremony in Oslo. Although the award officially bears the label Peace prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has on several occasions given the prize to persons or organisations working to advance social justice, human rights, and democracy, thereby illustrating the indispensable link between them and peace. (1)

Taghi Rahmani speaking at the Uppsala University aula in December. To the right are his and Narges Mohammadi’s children, Kiana and Ali Rahmani.

The prize was awarded to Narges Mohammadi ’for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all (2). Everyone who has learned her story knows that this fight has been carried out at an enormous personal cost. Yet, despite having been in and out of prison for large parts of the past two decades, in a country notorious for its human rights abuses and mistreatment of prisoners, Narges Mohammadi still maintains that The more they lock us up, the stronger we become(3).  This seemingly paradoxical statement was filled with meaning by her family when receiving the prize on her behalf. Her husband Taghi Rahmani, himself a dedicated human rights activist, and their 17- yearold twins Ali and Kiana Rahmani, shared further details of her story during a visit to Sweden following the award ceremony in Norway.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation had the honour of hosting Narges Mohammadi’s family for a conversation on her work and the forces that drive her, as well as the role that international actors can play to help in the fight for equality, freedom and human rights in Iran and, by extension, globally. This visit was preceded by a panel discussion at Uppsala University and a lecture in the Swedish Parliament focusing on Narges Mohammadi’s personal quest for gender equality, human rights and freedom, and the importance of civil society for peace and democracy.

A reoccuring message in these events was that in a globalised world, human rights must also be global. An interconnected world will never be stronger than its weakest link, and if human rights violations in one part of the world are neglected, the effects will eventually spill over and have ramifications in other parts. In an urgent call for international solidarity, the Nobel laureate and her family emphasised that Iranian civil society is in dire need of outside support and called on other countries’ civil society actors to help.

Those who can enjoy their freedom of expression must use it to put pressure on their own governments to speak out against regimes like the one in Iran’, Taghi Rahmani pleaded, continuing The West needs to have a strategy on how to deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. If it doesn’t, it will serve the interests of the regime’.

On the question of sanctions on Iran, Taghi Rahmani explained that while an appropriate means of pressuring the government in theory, in reality they are strengthening the regime, which has learned to circumvent them, and hurting the people. And sanctions are by no means enough – the outside world must find ways of strengthening the people of Iran and others living under other autocratic governments.

In her acceptance speech, Narges Mohammadi expressed disappointment about the inaction of the international community, urging that not enough has been done to advance human rights and to fight against gender apartheid in Iran. According to her, more pressure is needed, more engagement is needed, and – above all – the criticism that is being voiced must be transformed into tangible action.

‘There are so many documents and agreements on human rights, but none of them will help without action’, Taghi Rahmani stated.

Being asked about the potential role of multilateral organisations like the UN, Taghi Rahmani explained that he has not had much contact with the UN and doesn’t really know how to engage with them. The people of Iran need to be able to see that the UN reacts, and acts, on their needs.

‘They want to see the same reactions as have been seen for Gaza where the Secretary-General publicly and forcefully asked for a ceasefire. This reaction was important for us to see, since the views of the UN in Iran have been negatively tainted by its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan’, he said.

While international solidarity and action was asked for by the Rahmani family,they also emphasised that change needs to come from within, through resistance and non-violence, and be built up within the fabric of Iranian society. There needs to be an understanding that without human rights, including gender equality, there will never be democracy.

During the visit at the Foundation, Taghi Rahmani also pointed out that internet technology is absolutely essential to enable people to break free from the regime’s controlled, one-sided propaganda.

‘The power of social media is massive and access to the internet needs to be granted to the people of Iran. It can be used to strengthen fundamentalism if it is not accessible to the people. But it can also be used to mobilise the people, Taghi Rahmani said. He underlined that the internet has been at the heart of the resistance movement in Iran, and this is where the real mobilisation has taken place.

Throughout our conversation, Narges Mohammadi’s family continuously referenced and quoted her ideas, bearing witness to their wife and mother’s steadfast resolve to fight for human rights in a country where the constitution itself enshrines discrimination.

‘She has always said that victory won’t be easy. It will take time. But it is possible, even in Iran’, said Taghi Rahmani, adding, ‘Woman – Life – Freedom is not just a political movement – it’s a civil, cultural and social movement as well. And we need all the support we can get.’

In closing, Ali Rahmani conveyed a strong message that people living in democratic countries should not take their democracy for granted:

‘Never get comfortable in enjoying your human rights. They continuously must be defended.’

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View more photos from the ceremony and the family’s visit here:
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Jemina Holmberg By Jemina Holmberg

About Jemina Holmberg


Jemina Holmberg is the Foundation’s Senior Programme Manager for UN Leadership. She brings extensive experience as a manager and expert in the Swedish civil service. Jemina held various positions in the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters and she worked as the Chief of Staff of the Uppsala County Governor and  the County Administrative Board.

She holds a master’s degree in International Studies from the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, a Bachelor of Science in International Relations from the London School of Economics and completed the Diplomatic Training Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.