Mary Robinson tells Belfast Festival audience: Human rights - much to celebrate, much to do

Former Irish President Mary Robinson is to tell a packed Elmwood Hall that, sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is still much to be done to make rights an everyday reality for millions around the globe.

The one-time UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to deliver the Amnesty International Annual Lecture to a sell-out crowd of 500 people at Queen's University on Friday (17 October at 1pm), the first event in this year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's.

She is expected to say:

"Much progress has been made since 1948, when in an act of courageous leadership, world leaders came together to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration let humanity's shared values come shining through the shadows cast by the dark events of World War Two. Since then many of the principles it set out have become enshrined in international law and we now see better legal protection of rights than ever before. Yet, sixty years on from this solemn declaration to uphold every human's rights, billions still live in poverty, torture is widespread, and free speech is absent in many corners of the world. Only by people standing together, once again, for our shared humanity can these 21st century tragedies be overcome."

Turning her attention to Northern Ireland, she will encourage political parties to work closely with community groups and charities in agreeing a strong Bill of Rights which would benefit everyone:

"A strong, meaningful Bill of Rights could help to provide the sort of equal protection for vulnerable people which would benefit all and disadvantage none. If political parties and civil society can work together to forge such a Bill of Rights, it could help offer a shared vision for Northern Ireland that would be a victory for all. This would be a tremendous prize, worth striving for in spite of past difficulties and political differences."

Looking ahead to next month's expected report of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, she is expected to warn that any truth process designed for Northern Ireland should not focus on a search for reconciliation at the expense of justice for victims:

"Facing the truth can be a painful process for any society emerging from years of conflict - that has been the experience the world over. Yet, let's be clear: victims have a right to truth and a right to justice. These rights should not be compromised for the sake of political expediency. The most effective way of establishing long-term peace and reconciliation is to honestly confront the past and commit to justice. I hope that will be Northern Ireland's experience in the months and years ahead."

Before the event, two school girls from Methodist College Belfast - youth activists with Amnesty International - will present Dr Robinson with a colourful copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This marks the start of a campaign which will see Amnesty distribute thousands of copies of the Declaration to Belfast Festival-goers over the next two weeks. This is a joint initiative of Amnesty International and the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. The Amnesty International Annual Lecture is presented in association with the Human Rights Centre at Queen's.

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