Adelphi, MD - On the evening of Nov. 1,
2006, Mary Robinson, the first female President
of Ireland (1990-97), and a former United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002),
gave a lecture. It was sponsored by the U. of
Maryland University College (UMUC), an institution
with "3,300 faculty members and 90,000 students
Robinson's talk was entitled, Human
Rights and Globalization. The event was
held in the schools auditorium, which was
filled to near capacity. Ms. Susan C. Aldridge,
UMUCs President, introduced Robinson, who
spoke for about an hour. She covered a wide array
of topics ranging from the origins of the United
Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
to troubled hot spots around the world, in places
like Tibet, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Grozny in
Chechnya, the Balkans and Darfur.
Robinson began by recalling the key role of the
late Eleanor Roosevelt, (the widow of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt), in shaping the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). (3)
She said that although she wasnt
an attorney, Mrs. Roosevelt knew how to boss
lawyers and eminent jurists around to get the
job done. She helped this team of jurists "to
adopt a real vision of values for our world."
The global Charter on Rights was adopted on Dec.
10, 1948, in Paris, France. This was only three
years after the creation of the UN itself. This
is also why Dec. 10th is honored today
as Human Rights Day, Robinson pointed
Trained for the law as a Barrister, Robinson hails
from the market town of Ballina, in County Mayo,
in the West of Ireland. Her parents were both
physicians and her maiden name is Bourke. Robinson
joked that she had to learn about human rights
early on because she was wedged in between
four brothers. Two older and two younger.
She grew up in a mostly rural area, which is within
a short automobile ride of the sprawling Ox Mountains,
the pristine Bay of Killaha and the Atlantic Ocean.
The salmon-filled Moy River flows through Ballina.
Its small cemetery, Leigue, located on the fringe
of the town, holds the remains of two of Irelands
legendary IRA Hunger Strikes from
the 70s, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.
Robinson admitted that she has
passed her 60th birthday and is very
proud of now being a grandmother.
After serving for 20 years in the Irish Republic's
Senate, (1969-89), she began to specialize in
Human Rights Law, while raising a family, and
teaching Constitutional Law at Dublin University.
Today, among a host of other projects, Robinson
is the architect and one of the moving forces
behind the Ethical Global Initiative (EGI). It
advocates the integration of human rights,
gender sensitivity, and enhanced accountability
into efforts addressing global challenges and
Robinson, a "Feminist,"
in a then-very "conservative" country,
before the word was fashionable, is working on
creating a process for having Human Rights"-the
words themselves-invoke more depth and more
coherence for everyone. She underscored
how the UDHR has been adopted and endorsed by
every country in the world, but that, she quickly
added, is a lot different then having it implemented
by every country. Robinson reports that when she
held the position of UN's High Commissioner for
Human Rights, it was a very small office, with
little or no enforcement power. She made it her
personal business to go to the countries where
human rights were being egregiously violated,
so that she could be seen, in her official capacity,
as identifying with the victims of
Two of the articles of the UDHR have a lot of
meaning for Robinson. They are Article 1 and Article
29 (Subsection 1), and she read both of them to
the audience. First, Article 1: All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and
rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience
and should act towards one another in a spirit
of brotherhood. Then, Article 29 (1): Everyone
has duties to the community in which alone the
free and full development of his personality is
possible. Dignity, she emphasized, was a
very important concept" to the drafters
of the document. All the peoples of the world,
Robinson urged, should be made aware that the
UDHR "is their birthright."
As to where we are today on that issue, Robinson
said: "We know from UNICEF...that more than
30,000 children, under five [years of age], die
every day in our world of preventable diseases
or...hunger," Robinson said. "This is
a silent Tsunami every week and is therefore 52
silent Tsunamis every year. To me, that is a more
meaningful figure then talking about a billion
people living on less than a dollar a day. We
get lost in all of the statistics. But, I think
we can all grasp the unnecessary deaths of children--very
often painfully. We do have a world that hasn't
lived up to Mrs. Roosevelt's vision and [of] her
It was during the Q&A period, when the controversial
subject of Darfur came up. (7)
Robinson said in response to a question on its
status: The situation in Darfur is far worse
than we are hearing and reading about. It is absolutely
catastrophic at the moment. It is hard to explain
how much worse it was from six months ago even.
A number of those who were trying to help-aid
workers-can no longer be there because of security.
So, they are squeezed out. Save-the- Children,
Oxfam are finding it much more difficult to be
there. Politically, Sudan is getting off the hook
altogether and part of it has to do with the fact
that the oil money [is] now [coming] into Sudan,
[along with] the Chinese investment and Khartoum
[is] booming. It is though Darfur is somehow a
forgotten backwater again. And it is really very
difficult. And I do think that the United States
has tried...But somehow it is not enough at all.
We are seeing the unforgiveable - the never again
- again. And just because they are poor and they
are black, and they are voiceless, its happening.
Human beings are being killed. Women are being
raped. Villages are being savaged every day and
it is getting worse...The United States, the E.U.,
the countries of the world, honestly, have to,
really, wake- up...As far as I am concerned, it
[Darfur] is a disgrace! It is absolutely unacceptable.
And I dont have an easy answer...Lets
get Darfur up on as high a list as possible. Sudan
cares about public opinion. Its not getting
the messages that it should be getting about what
is happening in Darfur. That has to change.
Robinson finished her informative lecture by reading
some passages from Seamus Heaney's poem, "The
Republic of Conscience." (9)
It calls for each of us, in our own lives, to
fight to protect and promote human rights and
to be "an Ambassador of Conscience."
This year's awardee, presented by Amnesty International
(AI), which has adopted the poem as one of its
themes, is Nelson Mandela, one of South Africa's
greatest sons. He has demanded that the HIV/AIDS
epidemic be treated as a "human rights"
issue and require "urgent global concern."
Thanks to human rights champions, like Robinson,
AI's honoree, such as Mandela, and so many other
unsung heroes, the world is better off. The governmental
bullies do back off and retreat, but, unfortunately,
only temporarily. More, much more, remains to
be done in this important arena. Robinson's' crusade
for making the UDHR a global code to protect every
individual on the planet, as in a solemn and legally
enforceable "birthright" is central,
as is the need for every country to strictly abide
by its provisions, or to face blame, shame and
punishment. Only in this way can we end what Robinson
refers to as the "cycle of impunity."
Pamphlet, UMUCs Academic Speaker Series"
mary_robinson/index.html and http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Heroes/Mary_Robinson.html
William Hughes 2006.
Hughes is the author of Saying No
to the War Party (IUniverse, Inc.).