Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, on Human Rights

Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, on Human Rights

Article excerpt

Widely recognized as one of the world's most eloquent and courageous defenders of human rights, she was recently appointed Honorary President of Oxfam International. As High Commissioner, Mary Robinson pursued accountability for violations of economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights. Her term helped increase the visibility of human rights violations associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS and helped highlight the connection between institutionalized discrimination and poverty. She is now Director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative based in New York City. The following remarks were given by Mary Robinson on Human Rights Day in Moscow, Russia.

The starting point of the Universal Declaration and of the many covenants and conventions which have followed from it is the dignity and worth of individual human being. Article One says it all--"all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." ... and I would add sisterhood.

The focus is on the individual. We do not ask how we should treat human beings in order to have a well ordered society. Rather we ask how to organize society to ensure the development and well-being of people. This has been fundamental to the UN's approach to human rights and economic development for the past fifty years.

The 20 articles of the Universal Declaration set out the rights we now call human rights--to life, liberty and security, to equality before the law, to nationality, to privacy, to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and association, to take part in government, to work and to rest, to an adequate standard of living, to education.

The Declaration's 28th and 29th articles then place the individual person in the community in which alone the free and full development of his or her personality is possible. The 29th article recognizes--explicity--that rights and freedoms shall sometimes be limited by laws solely to guarantee the rights and freedoms of others and the requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.

This is no invitation to anarchy or unbridled individual rights. Neither should these rights be negatively considered "entitlements" in the welfare sense of the word. …

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