Mary Robinson: human rights hero

Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (wiki biography here) received an enthusiastic tribute from columnist Susan McKay in the pages of today's Irish News (And here’s to you Mrs Mary Robinson).

McKay had been to hear her at the inaugural McCluskey civil rights summer school in Carlingford and came away even more impressed than she entered:

"There’s something about Mary Robinson. As one of the world’s leading human rights activists, she is a formidable woman and an outstandingly brave one. She moves among world leaders and is a personal friend of Nelson Mandela’s. But she has not lost her belief in the importance of the local and the power of the individual to change the world. She has, above all, a rare ability to inspire."

That's why we asked her to deliver this year's Amnesty International Annual Lecture, which was publicly announced today as part of an impressive programme for the 2008 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Robinson will ask and try to answer the question How universal are human rights? in the course of her lecture, to be held at the Elmwood Hall on Friday 17 October (1pm) on the opening day of the Festival. Her lecture will be the centrepiece of our local efforts this Autumn to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She was arguably Ireland's best ever President, transforming that role from being a retirement job for fading politicians into a radical, forward-looking and inclusive Head of State. As UN High Commissioner she was brave enough to earn powerful enemies – maybe as sure sign as any of a job well done in the world's most challenging human rights position.

These days Robinson heads up Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York but bringing her all over the globe in defence and advancement of human rights.

As perhaps you can tell, Mary Robinson is one of my human rights heroes. There are few enough genuine heroes in the world today, and fewer still in Ireland, that we should make an effort to pay heed to those amongst us. So, if like me, you didn't make it to Carlingford at the weekend, why not get to our Annual Lecture in Belfast in October? Tickets available here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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