Stressing the importance of cooperation in advancing human rights, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, shared her views on global justice with several hundred audience members at a lecture Tuesday afternoon.
The talk, called “Building an Ethical Globalization,” was sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, the Law School, and the School of Management. Held in the Law School auditorium, the speech focused on the difficulty of uniting various factions to protect human rights.
“How do we build an ethical globalization that bridges the gap between north and south, rich and poor, secular and religious?” Robinson asked the audience.
Robinson began her speech by discussing her experience in the past five years as high commissioner for human rights, calling it “challenging but a deep privilege.” She then read from Yale President Richard Levin’s address on Sept. 11, 2002 and related his message of tolerance to her own.
Robinson went on to explain the new approaches to human rights that have been developed since she was appointed to the United Nations by Kofi Annan in 1997. Those changes include increasing cooperation among different human rights organizations and giving local civic groups greater responsibility for human rights.
“I’ve witnessed the emergence of a powerful vehicle for change,” Robinson said.
The debate over human rights had passed governments by, she said, and civic groups and individuals were the ones who had to push for change.
“I’ve always believed that it was individuals who make the difference ultimately,” Robinson said.
After her speech, Robinson answered questions concerning international criminal courts and women’s rights in the Middle East and Iraq. When asked how to deal with female circumcision in Africa, Robinson once again suggested that it was individuals, rather than national or international organizations, who would eventually be the agents of change.
“The best way to tackle it is by empowering women to make the decision not to allow their daughters and grandchildren to be subjected to that practice,” Robinson said.
Yale Center for International and Area Studies Director Gustav Ranis introduced Robinson before the talk and briefly discussed her work with the U.N. He warned the audience that the United States risked losing touch with its values in its aggressive pursuit of terrorism and described America’s long tradition of justice and human rights.
“We are in danger of neglecting that tradition and giving a prize to our enemies,” Ranis said. “It is the prize of the erosion of what we stand for.”
Reactions to Robinson’s speech were generally positive.
“I thought that her speech was very realistic, which I really appreciated,” Justin List DIV ’04 said. “I heard Kofi Annan speak last week and I definitely liked her speech better.”
List also praised Robinson’s frankness when answering controversial questions.