Manouchehr Ganji was born in Tehran, Iran. A human rights activist since his student days in the United States, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the international protection of human rights while a student at the Geneva Graduate Institute. Between 1969 and 1973, Dr Ganji served as the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur in charge of the preparation of a comprehensive study on conditions of economic, social and cultural rights in all UN member countries, which was published in 1974. In 1973 and 1976, Dr Ganji was elected by the UN Commission on Human Rights to serve, in his personal capacity, as a member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities serving a three-year term per election. In 1976 he was also elected by the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to serve a three-year term in his personal capacity as a Member of the Committee on Human Rights, where he was responsible for overseeing the implementation of the covenant.
At the time of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign, and during Dr Ganji’s tenure as Iran’s Minister for Education (1976-1979) and Minister of Science and Higher Education (1977-1978), Dr Ganji convinced the Shah to allow the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) to open up permanent offices in Iran. This allowed the ICRC to visit and inspect Iranian prisons and guarantee that no torture was taking place there. The ICRC offices remained open and active until after the Iranian Revolution, when the ruling clerics closed them down in 1980.
In 1979, Dr Ganji was forced to flee Iran to Turkey by foot during the Iranian Revolution. Since then, Mr Ganji has been active in bringing about the Iranian ruling clerics’ human rights violations to the world's attention. He notably founded the Organization for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms for Iran, which aims to educate the Iranian people about their rights and freedoms, and strives towards the establishment of a free and pluralistic society respectful of human rights, the rule of non-discrimination, the separation of church and state and a parliamentary democracy in Iran.