Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and more former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo (1944), the daughter of two physicians, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King's Inns Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she won a fellowship in 1967.
A committed European, she also served on the International Commission of Jurists, the Advisory Committee of Interights, and on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world, Mary Robinson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society and, since 2002, has been Honorary President of Oxfam International. A founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she serves on many boards including the Vaccine Fund, and chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Currently based in New York, Mary Robinson is now leading Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative. Its mission is to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.
Topic: Mary Robinson on African Affairs
Mary Robinson: Working in Africa, I’m very conscious that there are 53 countries, and that they are moving at different speeds; and that you also have important Pan African and regional African institutions. There was a reform of the African union, and it has a commission like the Commission of the European Union. Half the numbers of that commission are women, so there’s a big commitment to gender in a lot of issues. In many of the countries now, there is a real sense that things are moving forward. There was a recent opinion or something taken, and most of the African countries sampled really felt there was a lot of room for improvement, but we’re on the right road – commitment to the millennium goals, better governance, tackling corruption. So I think there’s a tendency sometimes to sort of write off Africa in the sweep as being a basket case or something. Far from it. There are actually very interesting and very progressive things happening in many of the countries in Africa.
Recorded on: 7/25/07