Freedom from Fear Citation for H.E. dr. Hussain al-Shahristani by Maria van der Hoeven
Freedom from Fear…”
When he addressed the US Congress in 1941, President Roosevelt sought to build a world where democracy and the rule of law prevailed and where the right to live in peace, justice, and human dignity was secure for every person—everywhere in the world.
On this 12th day of May, in recognition of his unwavering determination to seek a better way of life for the people of Iraq, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Medal is awarded to
Hussain Ibrahim Saleh al-Shahristani
Born in the Shia Holy City of Karbala, your passionate interest in science led to a scholarship for study at the Imperial College of London where you received a BS degree in Chemical Engineering in 1965. Your studies then brought you to the University of Toronto where you would earn a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in nuclear chemistry. In 1970 you returned to Iraq with your beloved Canadian wife, Bernice, to join Iraq’s Atomic Energy Commission in the pursuit of the peaceful use of Nuclear technology, eventually becoming the Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor. Then came the tumultuous year of 1979, which brought revolution to neighboring Iran and Saddam Hussein to power in Bagdad; this was also the year that you made one of the most courageous and fateful decisions of your life: to speak truth to power.
The world would soon learn that Saddam Hussein was no ordinary strongman, but a brutal dictator who, in the wake of the Iranian revolution, would arrest thousands of your fellow citizens suspected of disloyalty to his oppressive regime. He would also order Iraq’s Atomic Energy Commission to begin work on the development of nuclear weapons. You refused to go along with this order, and what is more, decided to speak out publicly against it and against the human rights violations being perpetrated by Saddam. Your audacity soon brought arrest and torture and ten years of solitary confinement in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
With no reading or writing materials you spent those years praying, thinking of Bernice and solving puzzles designed in your mind. Eventually you were moved out of solitary confinement and in the confusion of a nighttime bombing raid during the first Gulf War managed to steal the uniform and car of the prison’s chief security officer and make your escape, soon to cross the border with your family to Iran.
Your imprisonment, escape and new found status as a refugee would re-shape your life and deepen your commitment to human rights. In 1995 you established the Iraqi Refugee Aid Council to help the millions of Iraq’s who had fled to camps in Iran; five years later you would move to London, the center of opposition to Saddam’s regime, where you would continue your aid work and continue to speak out against his violation of human rights.
With the downfall of Saddam in 2003 you returned to the place of your birth to continue the work of the IRAC. You then took up a post as head of the Iraqi Academy of Sciences and served as a visiting professor at the University of Surrey outside of London. But your dedication to the establishment of a free and democratic Iraq drew you back to serve as a member of the Iraqi Parliament and First Deputy Chairman of the Iraq National Assembly. Here, your call for religious and ethnic tolerance, earned you the respect of Shia, Sunni and Kurd alike. It wasn’t long before you were asked to join the newly elected government, first as the all-important Minister for Oil and today as Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs.
Thirty-three years ago a brutal dictator tried to silence your call for human rights. Since that time you have endured torture, imprisonment, and exile. But throughout all of this, you never gave in to bitterness or hatred, and never lost faith in the capacity of your fellow citizen to fashion a new democratic Iraq. Your dedication to that vision—to the building of a country where freedom from fear is a reality for all of its citizens—is why we honor and thank you today.