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 ethical globalization?
Mary Robinson: When I finished my five years term as UN High Commissioner, I wanted to bring, again, that experience into linking the human rights values and the reality of economic globalization, which is so unfair and divides the world. I was influenced by Professor Hans ________, who has developed a global ethic. And he draws on the great religions of the world and sees how much they have in common as a global ethic. And I felt that similarly, the commitment to human rights should have a bearing on what happens in globalization. So we’ve been looking at trade issues, and here I wear another useful hat. I’m the Honorary President of Oxfam International. So we work with Oxfam. And I attended Cancun . . . the discussions there on trade. I was in Hong Kong for the most recent discussions. There is, on paper, a commitment to a ________ development ground which should mean fairer trade, but it’s not happening. And the rich countries continued their subsidies on agricultural goods. That’s a human rights issue. But I went to Maui with a delegation and we went out into the field. It was the women who were picking the cotton. They were poorer than they had been three or four years before because of the subsidies in the United States boosting ________ business in cotton and depressing the prices for these poor women in West Africa who have lovely cotton, but they can’t compete with the subsidies. So I saw the same thing in Mozambique with sugar, which is an EU issue . . . the European Union. So we try to frame trade issues in terms of the impact on human rights. We try to engage the private sector . . . major corporations that human rights is not just the responsibility of governments, but companies have an appropriate responsibility. We do a lot of work in that area. I mentioned already I work in health, because health is not just very important to the individual and family. A health crisis – a sick child, a dying father – can be a huge problem driving a family back into an acute poverty. So it’s very linked to family development, and also a country’s development. A country’s health system is key to whether that country will do well economically. And these are issues that engage us mostly in partnering with others and in bringing our strong human rights lens and our insistence. If you take a human rights approach, you must feel comfortable. You must think of those who are most vulnerable. You must have a gender perspective, and you must tackle corruption. So these are the kind of ways in which we show a human rights approach, and it makes a difference.
Recorded on: 7/25/07