The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said today she would step down from her post in September, drawing an immediate reaction from Secretary-General Kofi Annan who praised Mrs. Robinson for her great contribution to the cause of human rights.
Mrs. Robinson, who has been the High Commissioner since June 1997, announced her intention to complete her term this year in her opening statement to the UN Human Rights Commission, which began its fifty-eighth session this morning in Geneva.
Noting that it was her last address to the UN’s principal human rights body as a senior UN official, Mrs. Robinson said events of the last year highlighted the importance of a "strong and independent" UN human rights office, with "a principled commitment to the universal application of human rights standards, and with the integrity to stand up an speak publicly about those issues in all states, even in the most difficult circumstances."
She described the 11 September terrorist attack in the United States as "an attack against the very system of international relations on the which the [Human Rights] Commission and the entire work of the United Nations is based."
"The buildings that were destroyed on 11 September can be replaced, but if the pillars of the international system are damaged or demolished, they will not be so easy to restore," she cautioned.
Paying “warm tribute” to Mrs. Robinson’s efforts, the Secretary-General said she had achieved remarkable progress in raising the profile of human rights and making them a central issue in all societies during her term as Human Rights Commissioner. She never "tired of lending her powerful voice to the cries of ... victims, which otherwise might not have been heard, " a spokesperson for Mr. Annan said in a statement.
Prior to joining the UN, Ms. Robinson – a lawyer with a long history of working for human rights – was President of Ireland. She was the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide, the first Head of State to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the first to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992.