Acceptance speech by H.E. dr. Hussain al-Shahristani
Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award 2012
I am greatly honored and deeply moved to be nominated to the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Freedom from Fear award. I consider this as recognition of the Iraqi people, who have struggled so fearlessly for their freedom from tyranny and dictatorship, more than a personal award.
I confronted my fear in December 1979 when I had to make a choice: either to work on Saddam’s nuclear weapon program, or pay a price. The choice was simple, and the price turned out to be 11 years and 3 months in prison.
When I made that choice, it didn’t cross my mind that I would have to explain my decision to such a distinguished audience. Then, I was more concerned with how to explain myself to my interrogators.
After graduation with a degree in nuclear science, I returned to my home country to put my knowledge to the service of the people. The regime wanted me to work on a military nuclear program. I declined, and explained that my scientific training was not in the field of bomb making. After severe torture, the head of Iraqi Intelligence vehemently told me that “It is a man’s duty to serve his country and those who are not willing to serve do not deserve to be alive.” I nodded in agreement that it is a person’s duty to serve his country, but that I had a different understanding of what constituted a service to my country. I was then taken into solitary confinement, where I was kept for ten years. However, I was luckier than tens of thousands of my countrymen who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom.
It is heartening to see Iraq free after all these sacrifices, a country that strives to build pluralistic society with full commitment to the four freedoms that President Roosevelt had advocated. What is more heartening is to see young men and women in the Arab World rising up and demanding these freedoms.
Different regions of the world with different cultures may have different concepts of good governance and may follow different routes to achieve it. But there are basic principles such as Roosevelt’s four freedoms, equality between men and women, equality under the law, respect and protection of minorities are common to all societies. We all share responsibility to uphold the same standards of universal human rights, and to stand by those who cry for them wherever they are.
The Arab people have peacefully and fearlessly stood up to bring down dictators but this remains a step. Without establishing a democratic system with full respect for the human, political and economic rights of all the citizens, the uprising would not reach its objectives.
The peoples of the Middle East, as they endeavor to build free societies without fear, feel highly threatened by weapons of mass destruction, whether present or potential, and it is important, if we dream of a world without fear, to call on all the countries in the region to attend the conference organized by IAEA next December to discuss the establishment of WMD Free Zone in the ME.
May I use this occasion to call from this podium on fellow scientists around the world to refrain from working on weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons will not enhance national security, but rather encourage rulers to be more aggressive and less compromising in solving international problems.
Instead of using our talents to develop such weapons, we should strive to uphold and spread democracy, justice, equality, the rule of law, tolerance, mutual respect, people-centered policies, and sustainable environmental practices.
Thank you again for this honor.