Former Irish President Mary Robinson on the Need for Human Rights in an Interconnected World

As the world grows more interconnected, support for developing countries should be an even bigger concern, says former Irish President Mary Robinson. A failed state like Somalia, which lacks any social stability, can be the breeding grounds for pirates and terrorists. "You have a danger of terrorists being able to group where there is no law and order and find ways of attacking elsewhere in the world," she says. "We will not have peace and security if we do not have fairer balances."


In her second Big Think interview the tireless human rights advocate explains how fostering development helps both rich and poor countries: "It’s in our total interests to help to create middle classes in the developing countries: then they will buy American goods; they will want to trade to the profit of everyone."

But foreign aid can't accomplish its goals if developing countries aren't empowered to help themselves, says Robinson. "I still firmly believe we need to keep the commitments to development aid. But I also agree with an increasing number of African leaders and others who say, 'We want to bring ourselves out of poverty;  we want fairer trade rules; we want some subsidies removed that disadvantage us when we’re trying to compete on cotton or sugar, etc.'" One important way to do so would be to provide electricity to the 1.6 billion people who do not have access to it, she says.

Robinson also speaks to us about her home country, Ireland, to which she is returning after years living in New York. Ireland was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis, ending the decade of extraordinary growth known as the "Celtic Tiger," but Robinson is optimistic about the country's future: "We’ve been in hard times before," she says. "We just need to accept that there was a foolishness and a stupidity and a selfishness and that some people are feeling pain who didn’t have that responsibility, which is provoking a lot of anger; we need to be as fair as possible in how we move forward." One way of doing this, Robinson hopes, is to reinvent Ireland as hub for sustainability. "I’d like Ireland to be the go-to place on climate justice and bridge between the developed world going into the renewable energies and necessarily having measures of mitigation, but also the need to transfer good, green technologies, low-carbon technologies to the poorest so that they have a right to development."

Much has changed in the past 10 years, Robinson tells us, including the global role of the United States. She believes that the Security Council no longer reflects the power balance and economic balance in our world today and should be reformed. The United States is still a "very, very powerful player," but things are no longer the way the US perceived them to be at the beginning of the century.  

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