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News, 8/23/2011

Mary Robinson: Development towards rule of law requires broad cooperation

A practical, results-oriented approach to supporting the rule of law and human rights. This is how Mary Robinson, speaking at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Helsinki on Monday, described her impressions of Finland.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson was keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission in Helsinki. Photo: Eero KuosmanenFormer Irish President Mary Robinson was keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission in Helsinki. Photo: Eero Kuosmanen

Former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said she was particularly impressed by the commitment and leadership that Finland had showed in the Helsinki process a few years ago.

Processes applying new innovative ways of thinking would certainly be in demand right now, she pointed out at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission.

Robinson is currently involved in supporting rule of law and human rights development through initiatives funded by her own foundation.

There is no shortage of work, she stressed: ‘There are many places around the world where poor people do not have the protection of rule of law.’

Grassroots efforts through NGOs are not alone enough, she reminded and went on to share some experiences of the work she has done in the right-to-health field in collaboration with the World Health Organization and African governments. A ministerial leadership initiative attracted wide interest and four African countries were selected to take part in the programme, i.e. Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

‘Over the four years of the programme supported by the Gates Foundation we brought together representatives of different health ministries to learn from each other,’ Robinson explained. The programme also visited Rwanda to learn from a universal health insurance scheme in that country.

Measures designed to help poor people do not always get the support they deserve from the donor community, Robinson said.

In Sierra Leone, her initiative supported President Karuma in his political decision to ensure that priority would be given to reducing maternal and child mortality. However the World Bank and the wider donor community said this was too poor a country to afford free health care for all.

For more than a year now, Sierra Leone has provided free health care to all pregnant and lactating mothers and children under the age of five. This has resulted in chaos at health clinics, and staff have been exhausted under the huge workload. However no one has had any complaints about the Government’s decision to launch the programme, Robinson stressed.

Decent work is another important area of Robinson’s work. In that field, too, she has come up against a wall. ‘In Liberia we helped the Ministry of Labour to draft decent work legislation. However that would have required a labour force survey, but donor support was not forthcoming to finance such a survey.’

Climate change is also high on the Mary Robinson Foundation’s agenda. At the Copenhagen Climate Convention the poorest people did not feature in the discussions at all. ‘The 17th Conference of Parties in Durban needs to be more human centred and focused on gender equality in particular, because women play a key role in poor communities,’ she stressed and pointed out that poor people must also have access to renewable energy.

The problems and the people working to solve them must be brought together in a new way, Robinson believes: ‘We need governments, we need Finland and Ireland, we need businesses and we need NGOs that want to work together with governments.’

The movement to promote rule of law needs access to the same kind of large funds that are available to the major players in the health sector, she concluded.

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Updated 8/23/2011

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