1325 PeaceWomen
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“The voice for the voiceless”

Lawyer and Humanities Graduate.  President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997.  United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.  Professor at Columbia University (U.S.A) President of the Council of Women World Leaders, member of the Vaccine Fund Management Council, of the United Nations Leadership Council, of the Global Coalition on Women and Aids and of the Assessment Council of the Earth Institute.  Vice-president of The Club of Madrid and Honorary President of Oxfam International.  Former member of the International Committee of Jurists (1987-1990), as well as the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society.

Whoever has heard Mary Robinson speak in defence of human rights at one of her innumerable public appearances, will know that she has neither a faint heart nor fragile voice.  In her career she has never tried to evade those challenges that others would have avoided as inconvenient or untimely.  Her independent and energetic character has always led her to speak the truth even when this incites the powerful.

On occasions, such a determined attitude, come hell or highwater, is born by personal suffering from injustices, on others, as in the case of Mary Robinson, it comes from moral conscience, education and a critical approach to inequalities.

Mary Robinson was born into an educated, Irish Catholic family.  Her academic record is especially brilliant and she has represented the highest political offices not only in her own country but also internationally.  From a very young age, both at university and in politics, she has known how to open the doors previously closed to women.

As a member of the Irish Senate between 1969 and 1989, she initiated debate on contraception, achieving its legalisation in 1977.  Ireland has a long traditional conservative morality but she disputed the Irish legislation on homosexuality before the European Court of Human Rights and pioneered the fight against the economic and social laws that discriminated against women. From the eighties she worked in favour of the legalisation of divorce and to broaden the conditions for abortion.

In 1989 she resigned her seat in the Senate and retired from politics, intending to devote her time exclusively to private law practice. However, the Irish Labour Party offered her the possibility of running for the Presidency of Ireland as a counter measure, due to her progressive approach, to the anti-divorce and antiabortion actions of the powerful conservative groups. Mary Robinson accepted under the condition that she would stand in her own name as an independent candidate.

In 1990 the electorate gave its support to the first woman President of Ireland, perceiving her as a great opportunity for progress: secular, legalist and non-sectarian was an unusual stance in her country. Her work was fundamentally representative, harmonizing the political party game.  During her term of office she shattered the traditional preconceptions of how politics should be played , opted for  dialogue as a way of overcoming the conflicts and  made progress in normalizing relations with Gerry Adams (leader of Sinn Fein) and with Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, in spite of the large amount of criticism.  Committed to democratic values, she has worked to build a society based on the principles of liberty and tolerance, erasing prejudice, seeking conditions for peace through negotiation and making a constitutional solution to the Northern Ireland conflict possible.

Nevertheless, during her Presidency she not only dealt with internal matters, but also travelled to Somalia in 1992 during the famine, to Rwanda in l994 in the aftermath of the genocide and demonstrated her determined support for the International Criminal Court at The Hague which was sitting in judgement of the war crimes of the former Yugoslavia.

Her open interest in the defence of human rights, in line with United Nations policy in these conflicts, convinced Kofi Anann, the United Nations General Secretary, that Mary Robinson would be the ideal person for the chair of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  In September 1997 she resigned the Presidency of Ireland to undertake this new responsibility.

Mary Robinson has stated, on various occasions, that her mandate requires her to be “the voice for the voiceless”.  And so she was until the principal world powers answered her constant criticisms by freezing funding to OHCHR as a means of pressure.  The United States even left the Human Rights Commission, an unprecedented move in the history of the institution.  In the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, in a context indulgent with the new violations of civil liberties required by the global war on terrorism, she also refused to be silenced: “these hard-won liberties must be guarded in the face of threats and international uncertainty”.

In view off the disagreements and constant pressure from the representatives of the United States, Russia, China and Israel, in September 2002 she decided to bring her work with OHCHR to an end.

To contribute towards a more humane globalization, unstinting with the rights of the growing immigrant population of the planet, where international relations are balanced and the humanist principles of justice, equality and dignity are effective.  This is the new horizon for Mary Robinson and the Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI-Realizing Rights) which she founded in October 2002.

Her voice is persistent, determined, non-conformist and valiant, like a thunderous roar, as if it were the only voice, as if it were all the voices.