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Spurned for Integrity
Tuesday, 22 September 2009 09:34
by Paul Balles

Because she has criticized Israel along with others for human rights infringements, Mary Robinson has once again come under fire. Hillel Neuer and the UN Watch blog wanted to deny her the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom for being an "agent of change".

The World Jewish Congress has also expressed dismay, saying, "We are deeply troubled that the White House has chosen to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson.”

They accused her of legitimizing "demonstrations of hostility to Israel and the Jewish people,” a claim that was proven totally inaccurate when a group of Israel’s supporters tried to make the same accusations to keep her from delivering a commencement address at Emery University in 2004. They failed because their accusations of anti-Semitism against her were provably untrue.

After she once criticized Israel for its occupation of Palestine, she became a target for vilification. Michael Rubin, a writer for the National Review (May 2002) questioned whether Mrs. Robinson was a war criminal! Rubin’s article was filled with flagrant misinterpretations and outright distortions of her actions as well as her inactions. Rubin’s tirade was roused by what he labelled “bashing Israel and sponsoring forums to promote anti-Semitism” – both gross untruths.

Along similar lines, The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), calling her “yet another anti-Israel extremist,” attempted to obstruct her 2004 appointment as a professor at Columbia University. That attempt, too, deservedly failed.

Mary Robinson became Ireland's first woman President in 1990 after a stormy election campaign. As it turned out, she was not only the first, but also the best. The position of President of Ireland had been largely ceremonial before Mrs. Robinson’s election. Once she got into office that changed drastically.

As president, Mrs. Robinson was a modernizer who sought to reconcile Ireland with the rest of the world. One commentator said, “Her very presence as head of state lent credibility to the conciliatory mood between London and Dublin and was therefore part of the chemistry which created the continuing pressure for intelligent new thinking in Northern Ireland.”

Marie Geoghegan Quinn wrote, “As President, Mary Robinson galvanized women in a way no woman politician has been able to do before or since.” She actually changed, as President, from a “shy, lawyerly and serious minded senator... (to) an outgoing, warm, accessible yet dignified woman who had visibly found her niche.”

Sexual discrimination, equity and human rights - the issues that Mary Robinson chose to address — have earned her both reverence and resentment. She sacrificed diplomacy for forthrightness with people who have ferociously rejected her honesty.

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Mary Robinson's appointment to the post of Human Rights Commissioner in 1997 came at a time when her talent and ability were just what the job needed. Well-informed as a human rights lawyer, respected for her accomplishments as Ireland's President, this outspoken Irish woman had exactly what the world's abusers needed and deserved.

Mary Robinson took on everyone she found responsible for human rights violations. It didn't matter whether that involved leaders of countries like China, Russia or the USA. She rallied against despots in Africa and Serbia. She criticized Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and Indonesia for organizing mass bloodshed in East Timor.

She has been critical of the war on terrorism, saying, “Certain governments are using the language of combating terrorism to clamp down on legitimate dissent, to be much tougher on human-rights defenders, to tighten up in very strict ways asylum and refugee policy, to provide harsh measures on those who are undocumented migrants.”

The accuracy of her observations touched some raw political nerves. However, Mrs. Robinson remained unrelenting in her struggle for human rights, regardless of who had been guilty of violating them.

Just as she criticized China for its failure to uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she took the US to task for its failure to ratify many human rights proposals and initiatives, such as covenants dealing with economic, social and cultural rights — the right to food, education, health and development.

Despite the deeply embedded cultural differences between East and West on what constitutes the most important human rights, Mrs. Robinson has held fast to her position that the UN Declaration on Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is the law.

This amazingly dedicated woman has undertaken a calling that every human rights organization, government and business should support. Mary Robinson has fittingly criticized countries that have been guilty of human rights violations, regardless of whether those countries have been ready to accept the disclosure of these truths.

Integrity, courage and forthrightness about human rights should not be spurned. Instead of ignoring her or disparaging her for washing several countries' dirty laundry in public, Mary Robinson should receive the accolades she deserves from men and women everywhere.
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