Former Irish president talks rights

| 10/10/07 12:29am
Former President of Ireland and Montgomery Fellow Mary Robinson stressed a societal recommitment to human rights in Moore Auditorium Tuesday.
by Kate Coster / The Dartmouth

Robinson, in her Montgomery Fellow lecture, spoke on issues including women's rights and the use of torture as a matter of global security. She drew anecdotes and insight from her various experiences as a lawyer, president and chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, as well as her involvement in other human rights organizations, to illustrate the issues that face society today.

In 1948, humanity was reeling from the effects of two world wars and the Holocaust, Robinson said. The original Declaration of Human Rights, written by an international committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, became a "testament to the resilience of human spirit," Robinson said.

Robinson told the audience that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the global mentality is closer than it ever was to the "fear" that existed in 1948. She cited issues of poverty, intractable conflict, sexual violence and nuclear proliferation as causing such fear in the 21st century. In addition, Robinson explained that the world now faces large-scale climate change, which has human rights implications because it may produce large numbers of refugees.

Before 9/11, Robinson said, the United States was a "major ally in promoting human rights."

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the "standard slipped," she said.

She highlighted the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the imprisonment of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay as instances in which the United States has set a bad example in global human rights.

In criticizing the U.S. policy on torture, which many Bush administration officials have said is justified in matters of national security, Robinson argued that torture actually constitutes a global security risk, because any information extracted under methods that violate the Geneva Convention may be faulty. Nations that act on such wrong information could endanger themselves and their allies, Robinson claimed.

Equally important in addressing human rights concerns, Robinson said, is providing access to adequate healthcare. She pointed to Sweden, where one in 30,000 women die in childbirth, and Afghanistan, where one in six do, saying that there was no reason such inequalities couldn't be addressed if made a priority.

"For many, healthcare is the most valuable right -- and the most overlooked," Robinson said.

She contended that many world issues, from overpopulation to high child mortality rates, directly correlate to lack of women's education and healthcare. Though many often balk at including access to healthcare as a right on the same level as life or free speech, Robinson said, they are interconnected issues. She told the audience that access to healthcare was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that sixty years later society is far from achieving that goal.

Robinson concluded her speech saying that she wanted to address how students can get involved in addressing these global issues. She said that the U.N. has declared 2008 a year to redefine human rights and then reposition them as a global priority. Robinson complimented Dartmouth students on "asking good, unpredictable questions without the negative cynicism often present in those that address such issues."

Dartmouth students should use that attitude to initiate far-reaching conversations about global issues and the promotion of human rights, Robinson said.

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