April 22, 2003

U.N. Human Rights Lecture Packs Statler

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Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland, addressed a packed Alice Statler Auditorium last night as the recipient of this year’s Henry E. and Nancy Horton Bartels World Affairs Fellowship.

The fellowship recognizes Robinson’s pursuit of universal human rights initiatives through her past work with the United Nations and through her current project, the Ethical Globalization Initiative.

Introducing Robinson, President Hunter R. Rawlings III underscored the pertinence of her global efforts.

“[Robinson’s] visit is especially appropriate given the current world situation, [including] the war in Iraq and its aftermath,” Rawlings said.

Robinson’s address emphasized the need to implement human rights initiatives that not only protect civil and political liberties but that also honor economic, social and cultural rights, which include food security, access to clean water, education, health care and other elements that constitute a decent standard of living.

In discussing human rights policy, Robinson specifically articulated her admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt’s contribution to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which was drafted upon the creation of the U.N. Referring to the declaration as “an extraordinary breakthrough for mankind,” she applauded Roosevelt’s efforts to include as many worldwide traditions as possible in the creation of a universally applicable code of human rights.

“The world was gifted with a charter that matters in every single country,” she said. “[If the document reflected] a Western agenda, it would not be a universal one.”

In her address, Robinson also recalled the worldwide spirit with which nations approached human rights initiatives at the turn of the millennium and contrasted this enthusiasm with post-Sept. 11 attitudes that she said have prioritized human security initiatives over human rights.

She expressed her disappointment that the Millennium Development Goals, human rights initiatives drafted by the U.N. in 2000, were neglected following the terrorist attacks, saying, “There seems to have been a tradeoff between human rights and human security.”

Championing simultaneous implementation of human rights and security measures, she said, “[We need to] make an important new link between the protection of human security … and the protection of human rights.”

Finally, Robinson emphasized the individual’s responsibility in fostering a community that values human rights.

“[Every person] has duties to the community, without which the individual cannot develop [attributes] of personality,” she said.

Robinson’s comments elicited both applause and critique from audience members. Many members of the audience commented on Robinson’s eloquence.

“She was very well-spoken,” said Tajrina Hai ’05. “There were no questions she left unanswered.”

Audience members were also impressed by Robinson’s work with the U.N.

“I was very impressed by her work as the human rights commissioner,” said Prof. Wayles Browne, linguistics.

“I enjoyed her description of how the human rights commission works,” added Tomer Malchi ’03.

Critics of Robinson referenced human rights issues that Robinson did not address in her lecture.

“One of the bigger problems she failed to touch on were the corporations,” Malchi said. “Corporations have more economic power than some nations.”

In addition to drawing applause and critique, Robinson’s comments also inspired global analysis.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a big milestone in getting countries to agree that there are some rights that everyone ought to have,” Browne said. “Every country ought to help the U.N.”

Archived article by Ellen Miller