ResourcesPress Release

Physicians for Human Rights: Obama Rightly Honors Mary Robinson

For Immediate Release

(Cambridge, Mass.) — Mary Robinson, the courageous former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is among the distinguished recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be awarded by President Obama on August 12, 2009. This honor is well deserved. Robinson, the former President of Ireland, has brought a clear, uncompromising voice on behalf of people throughout the world whose rights have been infringed.

“She is an outspoken advocate of the rights of women, of those in Zimbabwe and throughout the world oppressed by their own governments, and of people everywhere who are dying of treatable disease because their right to health remains unrealized,” said Physicians for Human Rights CEO Frank Donaghue.

Yet, as it has done before, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has led a charge, joined in the last few days by several other groups, vilifying Robinson with false accusations that she is “anti-Israel.” Most of their criticisms stem from her role at the UN Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when she served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“In stark contradiction to these allegations, Robinson forcefully condemned Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism under circumstances where it would have been far easier to remain silent,” noted PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.

AIPAC’s accusatory press release on Mary Robinson’s role misrepresents what she did and said in Durban. In a single sentence, AIPAC makes two incorrect statements, saying that the final conference text passed by participating states included a passage that Zionism equaled racism, and that she supported such a text. Neither is true. Thanks in part to her tireless work, and that of others, the final conference resolution of the participating states eliminated all references to such vicious sentiments. And after a forum of NGOs issued a declaration that equated Zionism with racism, Robinson stood resolutely before hundreds of people associated with the statement, and told them that their resolution was so unacceptable to her that she would not forward it to the conference of states.

Throughout her laudable tenure as High Commissioner, Robinson stood steadfastly for universal human rights. All Americans should be proud that President Obama is awarding this extraordinary honor to her. Physicians for Human Rights commends President Obama on his choices, and congratulates Mary Robinson together with all of the other 2009 honorees.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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