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.
In an interview with RTÉ News Ahern says the most important issue for this country is the primacy of the United Nations. He disagrees with the United States on whether or not they legally needed another UN Resolution before launching an attack on Iraq. He says other countries, including Ireland, have another point of view.
The leading United States Congressman, Jim Walsh, welcomes the support that the Taoiseach has given to the United States in relation to Iraq. After a meeting with Sinn Féin in Belfast earlier in the day, he says that he recognises that it is a difficult time for the Irish people.
In the meantime, the UK has told its nationals in Iraq to leave the country immediately. In a statement the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says it has issued the alert because of increasing tension in the region and the risk of terrorist action. The office says anyone considering going to Iraq should remember that UK nationals were held hostage by the Baghdad government in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.
The British embassy in Kuwait City advises its citizens to leave Kuwait unless their presence in the emirate is essential. It also orders dependants of embassy staff to leave. “We advise you not to make any non-essential travel including holiday travel to Kuwait and, if already in Kuwait, to leave unless you consider your presence there is essential,” the embassy says in an advisory note.
An estimated 4,000 British nationals are resident in Kuwait. Britain has no diplomatic relations with President Saddam Hussein’s regime, and therefore cannot give consular assistance to British nationals inside Iraq. The current travel advisory for Israel warns against “any non-essential travel including holiday travel.”
(From: “More countries call for second UN Resolution” by RTÉ News, originally published Wednesday, February 19, 2003)
Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.
Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.
After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.
Robinson becomes the first woman in the university’s 406-year history to be elected to the position, making her the titular head of the University of Dublin of which Trinity College is the sole constituent, and represents it on ceremonial occasions. She is installed as Chancellor on December 17, 1998, replacing Dr. Francis Joseph Charles O’Reilly.
Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo in 1944, the daughter of two physicians, she is educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King’s Inns in Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she wins a fellowship in 1967. She graduates with a first class TCD law degree in 1967. She is Reid Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law from 1969 to 1975, and lectures in European law from 1972 to 1990. She represents the university in Seanad Éireann from 1969 to 1989. She serves as the seventh (and first female) President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997.
Mowlam joins the Shadow Cabinet when John Smith becomes leader of the Labour Party in 1992, holding the title of Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage. During this time, she antagonises both monarchists and republicans by calling for Buckingham Palace to be demolished and replaced by a “modern” palace built at public expense. Later, her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, is seen as her greatest strength by her supporters.
Following Smith’s death in 1994, Mowlam, alongside Peter Kilfoyle, becomes a principal organiser of Tony Blair‘s campaign for the Labour leadership. After his victory, Blair makes her Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She initially resists being appointed to the position, preferring an economic portfolio, but, after accepting it, she throws her weight into the job.
Mowlam oversees the negotiations which lead to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. She is successful in helping to restore an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire and including Sinn Féin in multi-party talks about the future of Northern Ireland. In an attempt to persuade the Ulster loyalists to participate in the peace process, she pays an unprecedented and potentially dangerous visit to loyalist prisoners in HM Prison Maze, meeting convicted murderers face-to-face and unaccompanied.
Mowlam witnesses the Good Friday Agreement signing in 1998, which leads to the temporary establishment of a devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. However, an increasingly difficult relationship with Unionist parties means her role in the talks is ultimately taken over by Tony Blair and his staff.
Mowlam’s deteriorating relationship with Unionists is the key reason she is replaced by Peter Mandelson as Northern Ireland Secretary in October 1999. Her move to the relatively lowly position of Minister for the Cabinet Office possibly involves other factors, notably her health and her popularity. On September 4, 2000, she announces her intention to retire from Parliament and relinquishes her seat at the 2001 general election.
Five months before the 1997 general election, Mowlam is diagnosed with a brain tumor, a fact that she tries to keep private. She appears to suffer from balance problems as a result of her radiotherapy. According to her husband, she falls on July 30, 2005, receiving head injuries and never regaining consciousness. Her living will, in which she asks not to be resuscitated, is honoured. On August 12, 2005, Mowlan is moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, Kent, where she dies seven days later, on August 19, 2005, aged 55.
Mowlam is an atheist and is cremated in Sittingbourne on September 1, 2005 at a non-religious service conducted by Reverend Richard Coles, formerly of the 1980s band The Communards. Half of her ashes were scattered at Hillsborough Castle, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s official residence, and the other half in her former parliamentary constituency of Redcar.
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).
Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year 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.
After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”
In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”