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Mary Robinson

Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2006

Mary Robinson (Ballina, Ireland, 1944),  graduated in Law at Trinity College Dublin, and earned a Barrister-at-Law degree from King´s Inn, Dublin, and a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. She became a member of the English Bar in 1973, and at the age of twenty-five became Trinity College´s youngest ever lecturer in Law.

In 1990, she became Ireland´s first female president, holding the post until 1997, during which time she was prominent for her defence of human rights. She was the first female head of state to visit Rwanda in the wake of the genocide, and whilst there met with representatives of different organisations and United Nations´ human rights observers. She travelled to Somalia following the 1992 crisis and lent her support to the creation of the International Penal Tribunal. She was also Special Rapporteur to the International Meeting organised in 1993 by the Council of Europe on the theme, Human Rights at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century, a precursor of the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna that same year. Mary Robinson delivered the keynote address at the Council of Europe preparatory meeting for the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.

In 1997, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced her appointment as High Commissioner for Human Rights. She held the post until 2005, holding responsibility for the human rights workings of the whole United Nations´ system and for supervising its Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Mary Robinson was elected head of the EGI, the Ethical Globalization Initiative, whose main concern is to lobby governments that have ratified international conventions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), Civil and Political Rights (1966), Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1980) and Rights of the Child (1989) to honour their commitments.

Mary Robinson is also lecturer at the University of Columbia and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She is President of the Council of Women World Leaders, and a member of the steering committee of the Vaccine Fund, and of the U.N. Global Coalition Leadership Council on Women and Aids. She also sits on the Advisory Board of the Earth Institute. She is Vice-president of the Club of Madrid and honorary president of Oxfam International. She has been a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990), of the Royal Irish Academy and of the American Philosophical Society. She is president of the Club de Madrid and member of the renowned group The Elders.

Apart from the numerous conferences and articles that Mary Robinson has given and published in the course of her career, she has also written and collaborated in such publications as Creating a European Economic Space (1990), A voice for Somalia (1992), Realizing Human Rights (1997), Human Rights in the "War Terror" (2005), published by Cambridge University Press, and A voice for Human Rights (2005) - a collection of her speeches between 1997 and 2005, with a prologue by Kofi Annan. Her career has also inspired a dozen or so other books, including John Horgan´s Mary Robinson: An independent voice, (1997), Mary Robinson: Citizen of the World by Gerald Colman Jones (2000) and Mary Robinson: fighter for Human Rights, by Lita Friedman (2004).

She has received numerous accolades, including the 1995 Award of the Harvard Faculty of Law, the Winston Churchill Medal, the Medals of Honour of the universities of Coimbra, California and Salamanca, the Collar of Hussein Bin Ali from the Hashmite Kingdom of Jordan, the Max Schmidheiny Foundation´s Freedom Prize (Switzerland), the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize from the UNESCO, and the 2004 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award. She is also Doctor Honoris Causa at 31 universities, including Cambridge, Harvard, Mongolia National University, Kyung-Hee (Seul), London and Dublin.

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