The Education of Mary Robinson

| May 1, 2002 Issue

M ary Robinson's announcement last month that she would leave her post as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights in September was followed by speculations about how the Bush administration's criticism of her role in the World Racism Conference in Durban may have influenced her decision. Robinson, in an interview with Kareem Fahim in the Village Voice , explains the real factors in her move.

While Robinson does not outwardly say that U.S. criticism was an issue for her, she does allude to her frustration in working with America's faltering stance on human rights, saying that the government "has not ratified the covenants dealing with what we call economic, social, and cultural rights. The international human rights agenda is equally strong promoting civil and political rights -- right to trial, freedom of expression, religious expression, etc. -- as it is on economic, social, and cultural rights: right to food, education, health, and the right to development. There is a resistance to and cultural difficulty with that framing of human rights."

Robinson focuses primarily on America's sensitive stance as the world's role model in human rights, and analyzes its current strengths as well as its weaknesses. But whatever hope there may be the push for human rights, Robinson found the bureaucracy within the UN too much of a hindrance to work with.

As far as her personal relationship with the U.S. government, Robinson says that she hasn't "suffered from a frustration about being politically bullied, because I will not be bullied," and that her future plans are to remain in working with human rights, but "perhaps in a broader frame of shaping a more "ethical globalization, which is a debate that interests me very much."
--Julie Madsen
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