Mary Robinson was the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002 and converted the ceremonial office into a bully pulpit for human rights. She also helped make human rights a central focus of the world. From 1990 to 1997, as the first female president of Ireland, Robinson transformed that figurehead post into a forum that brought the excluded Irish—especially women, economic exiles, sexual minorities, the poor, and disabled—to the focus of national policy. She used her high profile as a lightning rod, visiting catastrophically violent sites like Somalia—where she was the first head of state to visit the area after the genocide—Bosnia, and Rwanda, describing with plain words and raw emotion the details to the international press corps.

Born Mary Bourke ...

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