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for human rights - Interview with Mary Robinson, the first woman
President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002)
April 28, 2010
Inside / Out with Mary Robinson
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Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has
spent most of her life as a human rights advocate.
She and six
international women leaders visited Zimbabwe to support and strengthen
women's role in governance and in the constitutional review
the past decade Zimbabwe has become a country that many world leaders
won't visit. In some cases, certain individuals like Archbishop
Desmond Tutu wouldn't be granted entry because of their criticism
of the government. How did you reconcile this in making the decision
to come to Zimbabwe?
I made a state
visit here in 1994 and I have tried to follow what has been happening
in Zimbabwe with a lot of concern for that reason. I have a lot
of Zimbabwean friends, particularly Nyaradzai who is part of our
delegation. For the last two years we have been trying to plan this
visit. Fortunately, during the Commission on the Status of Women
in New York, the two women Ministers, the Minister for Gender and
Community Affairs Olivia Muchena and Sekai Hove-Holland came together
and had two meetings with me. I felt that these were two women Ministers
who were taking a risk, and I will do anything I can to help. With
Nyaradzai already agreeing, and the YWCA
here locally being helpful with the other women's groups,
I began to contact women. Everybody said yes immediately. It was
extraordinary. I think we sense that the Global
Political Agreement (GPA) has proclaimed the equality and empowerment
of women, and there is a Constitutional
review, which is absolutely vital.
I am so proud
of the six African women leaders who are with me. They in fact know
far more than I do. I am leader because I have a certain status
but there is no leader really. We are a group that is a resource
for the women in general of Zimbabwe.
do you hope to achieve through this visit to Zimbabwe?
I think we
wanted to highlight the importance of women becoming involved. We
want to listen to women who are still excluded and marginalized.
Yesterday we went on field visits into the rural areas. I went to
Bulawayo, the City of Kings. I was very glad to go. It is important
that we went out of Harare, and also met a number of women groups
there on economic empowerment and went out into a very rural area
where there was an economic empowerment project.
meetings with Zimbabwean women so far, what would you say are the
most pressing issues faced by women in our society? In what ways
do you hope these may be addressed?
There are very
pressing issues. Economic issues, land issues . . . that women were
targeted as victims with rape and torture and that, as yet, there
has not been a basis for true healing and justice in that context.
But there are wonderful women's groups, very articulate, very
aware, and very knowledgeable and, I think, with the capacity to
opinion is there a role for men in fulfilling UN Security Council
Resolution 1325: increasing the participation of women in efforts
to achieve sustainable peace by amplifying their voices and priorities?
There's a role for men in this whole movement for equality.
There are men who are supportive; we have been meeting them. It's
extremely important; this is not just an issue for women. This is
actually, as I keep emphasizing, an issue for the future of Zimbabwe.
If supportive men understand how important it is that women have
a voice and a place and equality and visibility in the Constitutional
Review process that will change the narrative of Zimbabwe outside.
do you address criticism that International Human Rights Instruments
particularly those that are related to women and LGBTI persons are
in conflict with African values and culture, and that this is a
way of imposing western values on developing nations?
I used to hear
that argument quite a lot when I served as High Commissioner for
Human Rights. I generally heard it from not very good leaders who
didn't want to enshrine and entrench these measures. There's
an opportunity now for Zimbabwe to entrench the many international
instruments into the Constitution. On the question of values, it
is a pity that western countries have put too much emphasis on only
one half of human rights for far too long, that is civil and political
rights. The other half like the right to food, safe water and education
are equally important.
has ratified several international human rights instruments, including
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet there are numerous
incidences of human rights violations. How can we bridge the gap
between policy and implementation?
First of all
I think is it important to entrench Human Rights Instruments into
the Constitution, which will help the domesticating of them. Second,
the question then is implementation. When I was serving as High
Commissioner for Human Rights I would say to every country, you
have problems. No country has a perfect record, not even the modern
Ireland or the modern United States. It's a question of making
progress. I serve on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and
we have an Ibrahim Index measuring the governance of the 53 African
countries. We see progress in poor countries like Liberia and Sierra
Leone because they are improving their governance. And they are
coming from a low base but with steady improvement. In recent years
we saw Zimbabwe going down. Now I think we'll see Zimbabwe
coming up again. Governance is vital.
you say your outlook for Zimbabwe is optimistic?
My outlook is
hopeful and more so now that I am here. Optimism not yet; we need
to see that there is movement in relation to the Constitutional
Review and the Organ Of Reconciliation.
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