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Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Joins Columbia

By Katherine Moore

Mary Robinson

Columbia University announces the appointment of Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, and more recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the faculty effective spring semester, 2004.

Robinson will hold the position of Professor of Practice in the Department of International and Public Affairs and will teach a course on human rights and globalization. She also will serve as an advisor to Columbia 's Earth Institute on a broad range of international development issues and as a senior research scholar at Columbia Law School 's Human Rights Institute.

"Mary Robinson is one of the most dynamic world leaders of our times -- a true humanitarian who has spent her career advancing human rights and the principles of inclusiveness in her native Ireland as well as throughout the world," said Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University. "With her extensive diplomatic experience and years of work on ethical globalization, she will be a tremendous resource and an inspiration as we continue to build on programs of international education."

Robinson served as President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, elevating the Irish presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office for effecting change both within Ireland and internationally. She is credited for greatly improving the situation of marginalized groups within her country as well as drawing attention to global crises and the needs of developing nations. During her tenure as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Robinson was instrumental in integrating human rights concerns throughout all U.N. activities, personally visiting regions of civil conflict, including Sierra Leone, Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia, and focusing international attention on East Timor.

"We are thrilled to welcome Mary to our faculty," said School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) Dean Lisa Anderson. "Human rights issues always have been a cornerstone of SIPA's international affairs programs. Our students will benefit immensely from Mary's hands-on work in many of the world's most volatile areas, as well as senior state experience in Ireland and a strong United Nations portfolio."

In October 2002, Robinson launched the Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI) to promote a more ethical and equitable globalization process through dialogue, research and concerted action. At Columbia, Robinson will continue as executive director of EGI, and the University will become a partner in this global effort. Other EGI partners include The Aspen Institute and The International Council on Human Rights Policy.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute said: "We are delighted that the Earth Institute will house EGI's research activities at Columbia, since Mary Robinson has long noted that basic human rights for the poor are essential in promoting sustainable development."

Robinson has extensive experience in international law and global governance. At the age of 25 she was appointed the Reid Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law at Trinity College, where she also served as lecturer in European community law. With her husband Nicholas, Robinson founded the Irish Centre for European Law in 1988. A Senator from 1969 to 1989, Robinson practiced law at the Irish bar, and took leading cases to the Court of the European Communities in Luxembourg and the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. She has also served on the Dublin City Council, the International Commission of Jurists and the Advisory Committee of Interights, and was an expert on European Community and Irish parliamentary committees.

President Robinson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society. A founding member and now chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she is honorary president of Oxfam International, chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra and serves on many boards, including the Vaccine Fund.

Born in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, Robinson was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where she received a Masters of Arts degree in 1970 and now serves as Chancellor of the University. She also holds a Barrister-at-Law degree from the King's Inns, Dublin, and a Masters of Law degree from Harvard University.

Published: Dec 22, 2003
Last modified: Apr 26, 2004

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