seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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OHCHR Mary Robinson Criticises U.S. for Violating Human Rights

mary-robinsonOn August 30, 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, criticises the United States for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and of trying to scale back plans to save the world’s poorest people.

Robinson becomes the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 12, 1997, following her nomination to the post by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and the endorsement of the General Assembly.

She assumes responsibility for the UN human rights programme at the time when the Office of the High Commissioner and the Centre for Human Rights are consolidated into a single Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

As High Commissioner, Robinson gives priority to implementing the Secretary-General’s reform proposal to integrate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations. During her first year as High Commissioner, she travels to Rwanda, South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia, among other countries. In September 1998, she becomes the first High Commissioner to visit China and signs an agreement with the Government for OHCHR to undertake a wide-ranging technical-cooperation programme to improve human rights in that country. She also strengthens human rights monitoring in such conflict areas as Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Her term of office expires in 2002 after sustained pressure from the United States leads her to declare she is no longer able to continue her work.

Robinson comes to the United Nations after a distinguished, seven-year tenure as President of Ireland. She is the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She is also the first Head of State to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and receives the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.

Before she is elected President of Ireland in 1990, Robinson serves as Senator for 20 years. Born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she is called to the bar in 1967 and two years later becomes the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1973, she becomes a member of the English Bar (Middle Temple). She becomes a Senior Counsel in 1980, and serves as a member of the Advisory Commission of Inter-Rights (1984-1990) and as a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990).

Educated at Trinity College, Robinson holds law degrees from the King’s Inns in Dublin and from Harvard University. She has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, medals and prizes from universities and humanitarian organizations around the world. In July 2009, she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States, by U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Mary Robinson Resigns as President of Ireland

mary-robinsonPresident Mary Robinson resigns on September 12, 1997, two months ahead of the end of her term, in order to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On July 24, 1997 Robinson announces her intention to resign as President of Ireland. The Irish Government states that her announcement “was not unexpected” and wishes her “every success.” She resigns by addressing a message to the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann and it takes effect at 1:00 PM on September 12.

Upon her resignation as President, the role of President is transferred to the Presidential Commission, which is comprised of the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Éireann, from September 12 until November 11, 1997, when Mary McAleese is sworn in as the new President.

Media reports suggest that Robinson has been head-hunted for the post by Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to assume an advocacy as opposed to administrative role, in other words to become a public campaigner outlining principles rather than the previous implementational and consensus-building model. The belief is that the post has ceased to be seen as the voice of general principles and has become largely bureaucratic. Robinson’s role is to set the human rights agenda within the organisation and internationally, refocusing its appeal.

Robinson is the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticises the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to “bonded labour” and criticises the United States’ use of capital punishment.

In 2001, Robinson chairs the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances, which is held in Tehran, Iran. Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group, and the Baha’i International Community are not permitted to attend. Robinson wears a headscarf at the meeting in conformance to the Iranians edict that all women attending the conference must wear a headscarf. Women who do not wear the headscarf are criticized, which Robinson says plays into the hands of religious conservatives.

She extends her intended single four-year term by a year following an appeal by Secretary General Annan to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.