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Mary Robinson: Queens' Festival Annual Amnesty International Lecture

The idea today had been for me to do a live blogging of Mary Robinson's presentation at this year's Queen's Annual Amnesty International Lecture. Alas due to low wireless reception this was not to be. So what I did instead was log times as I went along. What follows is not so much a description of what was going on (because that would read as follows: Applause-Mary Robinson spoke- the audience listened rapt-followed by more louder applause- the end) but rather a synopsis of what Dr. Robinson (although she'll always be just Mary to me) had to say. In fact she had so very much to say with so little fluff to pad it out that my hands were kept busy non-stop typing for the entirety of her time on stage. So rather than upload the entire spiel here in one blog I'll break it down in to  a few mini-blogs to cover it all.


The Elmwood hall is almost hushed in preparation for Mary Robinson's arrival. I think there is a palatable excitement at her arrival. There was certainly excitement in the voice of the man who dashed past 'security' (aka Amnesty's  Paddy) to speak to her. But Mary Robinson is one of those people who can produce that kind of reaction. I would quite like to have raced after her myself and blurted out my story of having seen her in Mitchelstown Co.Cork when she visited just after becoming president. I was 13 and convinced that she was waving directly at me from her car. I would love to tell her that she was an inspiration then and a greater one now. But alas I just stand and stare after her with barely disguised awe and shuffle in to the hall to await her lecture.


Brice Dickson from QUB's Human Right's Centre begins the introductions with a reminder of Mary Robinson's record of pushing the human rights agenda worldwide; frequently making her voice be heard by those commonly rigidly imperceptive to human rights.


Dickson is followed on stage by the Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen. She reminds the audience of the importance of Amnesty's work and Mary Robinson's association and support of Amnesty's ideals. And then Mary Robinson takes to the stage.


I'm aware that I imbue Mary Robinson with a certain rock star/ guru sheen. And I know that I am not alone in my fervour! She's an unlikely figure for such adulation in some ways. She appears as an unassuming character, replete as always in her pearls and suit pants and then she speaks. And as soon as she starts talking you immediately see why this crowd has gathered to hear her, why the applause was so welcoming, and why there's not a whisper rising up from them as she speaks. And it's because she speaks informally and with warmth and most importantly- she speaks sense.

She opens her lecture saying that she wants the lecture to be on a conversational level and that is how it goes. The lecture is given more like an after dinner anecdote. This just so happens to be an anecdote relating the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its application to Northern Ireland and the rest of the world, and the importance of emphasising the declaration as the possession of each and everyone of us within civil society!!



As Dr. Robinson is here to speak about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that's exactly where she begins. She recalls the 50th anniversary of the Declaration in her early days as High Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN. With the new found power of the internet they produced copies of the Declaration in 237 languages- entering the Guinness book of records as a result! Alas however it did not make it as the most read text.

For a moment Dr. Robinson extended her multi-faceted CV to include 'spiritual medium' calling down the spirit of Elanor Roosevelt to the stage to remind us of the Declaration's original author's wishes for the historical work. Roosevelt recognised the need to engage in a bit of bossing (something which the newly 'elder-ised' Robinson recognises in herself) to make sure that people knew about their 'duty of care' which stretched beyond their own community and to the world.

And so ends the first section of this blog. In the next sections I will cover Mary Robinson's coverage of the importance of  the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights and particularly the relevance of the right to health and the impact this has on the world's most marginalised and disenfranchised. Also her discussion of the need for a bill of rights for Northern Ireland as well as some kind of truth recovery process to deal with the impact of the injustices of the Northern Ireland conflict.



About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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