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Robinson's Crusade

"Naming and shaming," the former Irish president and UN commissioner speaks out for the oppressed


Talk about a pointed irony -- Mary Robinson's five-year tenure as outspoken United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights came to an end on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that, in a very real way, led to her downfall.

Her public dismay over America's war on terrorism was not welcome in Washington. According to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, "She rightly criticized the U.S. government for ripping up the Geneva convention and for civilian casualties in Afghanistan. She was only doing her duty. But this administration does not like being held to international standards." Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was prevented from holding a second term as high commissioner. But if the Bush administration thought that Robinson's removal from office would still her voice, they were wildly mistaken. Now freed of the shackles of ceremony and bureaucracy, Robinson is more vocal than ever.

Tuesday night's lecture will mark her second visit to St. Louis in six months. In October, when she received the Global Citizen Award at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she spoke with quiet fervor about how, since 9/11, the United States has so abused legality that "human rights and civil liberties no longer matter. The rest of the world looks to the U.S. as the exemplar of human-rights standards. If those standards no longer matter here, what message does that send to the world's emerging countries that lack a democratic tradition?"

The persuasive 58-year-old Galway native says, "The true culture of human rights means that you must be prepared to criticize everybody" -- in shorthand, she says, "naming and shaming."

It's reasonable to assume that Robinson's lecture will offer -- in the most gracious and civil terms -- some provocative views on the Bush administration's dealings with the UN and the ensuing Iraq war. As she has stated, "This is a bleak time for human rights."

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