Mary Robinson served as President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002. She first rose to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989) and was inaugurated as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland on the 3rd of December 1990.
At her inauguration, President Robinson declared that she would cultivate a role which represented all the people of Ireland and that the Presidential Office would be open and inclusive. She followed through with this promise, creating a platform for the marginalised, reaching out to the global Irish diaspora, and connecting people so that nobody was left behind in Ireland.
Robinson's work before, during and since her presidency has undoubtably been inspired by a lifelong desire to ensure Human Rights for all. The devastation that followed two world wars left European political leaders facing almost insurmountable challenges. In their efforts to restore peace and tackle economic regeneration, they successfully worked together, building structures which would rescue citizens from the destruction of the past, formulated plans to provide security and stability going forward and enshrining a set of basic inalienable rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In her TED Talk (which you can view below), Mary Robinson describes 1945 as "an extraordinary year."
Mary Robinson has described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an "international Magna Carta for all mankind." Throughout her life, she has lived by its mantra, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The desire to ensure that no one is left behind is central to all of Robinson's work towards furthering human rights and justice.
Last year, when she took part in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Mary Robinson spoke of the extraordinary tasks achieved back then, and of how capable we are as people in finding solutions to world problems.
After her Presidency, Mary Robinson went on to become the High Commissioner for Human Rights and has held several UN roles since. In her work around the globe focussed on promoting human rights and sustainable development, it became apparent to her that the greatest threat to human rights was climate change and its enormous impact on some of the most marginalised people on the planet. She regularly met people who, as a result of climate pattern changes, suffered from long periods of drought and flash flooding. Buildings destroyed and food shortages from poor harvests. Robinson heard repeatedly: ‘oh, but things are so much worse now.’ Basic rights to food and shelter were deprived as a result of climate change. Robinson could see that those who had had no contribution to the causes of climate change, were in fact the most affected by it. She realised, that she had to address this moral argument, a question of climate justice, to ensure that the world's poorest and most vulnerable people do not get left behind.
When she considers the future life of her grandchildren, and the world they will share with nine billion people in the year 2050, Mary Robinson hopes that they will look back on the year 2015 - the year the Sustainable Development Goals were launched and the Paris Climate Agreement reached - and consider it ‘a remarkable year’. She likes to imagine that they will look back on it gratefully, for the decisions which were made which will alter the route of environmental catastrophe. The history books of the future will recount two important summits which have taken place that year. The first one, in New York, in September, where the agreement on Sustainable Development Goals was reached and would provide help for countries to live sustainably in tune with Mother Earth. The second, COP21 in Paris, where an agreement was reached between all parties which would put into place steps to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Reflecting on the events of 2016, Robinson acknowledges that political and economic uncertainty around the globe presents challenges that are undoubtably daunting. However, the need for action to tackle global challenges has never been greater and in her recent statement for The Elders, she talks of finding inpiration at the recent COP22 talks in Marakech, Morocco, and the need for all of us to work together for a better world where human rights, peace, justice and security are enjoyed by all.
We as a people are capable of coming together to solve problems, insurmountable tasks. We are all in this together… we all want the same thing - a world that in 2050 will be a safer world, a much more equal world. Where nobody is left behind.