Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, unexpectedly announces on March 19, 2001 that she will not seek a second term in the post. The former President of Ireland says that she believes she can achieve more outside the “constraints” of the UN.
Robinson describes the resources available to her office as inadequate and says there was a striking contrast between the fine words used at the annual United Nations Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva and the realities on the ground.
Robinson’s announcement comes as a surprise to senior staff and diplomats who had believed she might follow the example of other UN chiefs and seek a second term. Only the second person to serve in the post, she is scheduled to step down in September at the conclusion of her four-year term.
“I will continue to work wholeheartedly for human rights in the way that I know best, as an advocate,” Robinson says. “I believe that I can, at this stage, achieve more outside of the constraints that a multilateral organisation inevitably imposes.”
Robinson tells the 53-member nation commission at the start of its six-week session, “I know some will feel that I should have sought to continue working from within the United Nations and I ask them to respect my decision.”
“Racism and xenophobia, manifesting themselves through discrimination and all forms of intolerance, are the wellspring of many of the world’s conflicts,” Robinson says in her address to the commission.
Robinson has been a high-profile and outspoken UN commissioner, on occasion angering governments with criticism of their human rights record. She says Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, had advised her to “stay an outsider” while working within the organisation in as far as she could. And this, she says, had at times made her “an awkward voice,” both for colleagues in the UN and governments. “I make no apology for this,” she adds.
(From: “Sideswipe as UN envoy steps down,” BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), March 19, 2001)