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.
Question: What is your legacy?
Mary Robinson: Well in a way that’s more for others, but I think it’s true to say that I’ve been very much identified with human rights. Some people don’t like that. They say, “Oh, she’s always talking about human rights.” But I think it’s important that we know that we have values. And then we hold governments accountable and the business sector accountable. If I’ve contributed significantly to that, I’d be very happy with that. As it happens, I’ve been recently asked and very honored to become one of the elders working with incredible people like ________ himself, Nelson Mandela, Graca his wife, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Muhammad Yunis, Ella Bhatt of India and so forth. And I’ve been able to encourage that we as elder remind the world of human rights. I’m glad that that can be part of what I can say. And I believe that . . . I believe that there’s a growing idealism in young people. They’re longing for that voice. Why do so many young people listen to __________ . . . love him in a way that’s hard to understand basically? It’s because he stands for the values that would make our world a more peaceful, a more . . . a fairer and a better place for the dignity and rights of everybody in the world. We could do it.
Recorded on: 7/25/07