Former Irish leader stresses human rights [The Daily Cardinal]

By: Kathy Mittelstadt /The Daily Cardinal – September 29, 2008

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and current U.N. commissioner for human rights visited campus Friday to discuss the continued struggle for global human rights.

“Our world looks much like the world of 1948,” Robinson said in reference to the year the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “In many countries people are attacked, intimidated or imprisoned because they express their opinions or take action to obtain or recover basic political or civil rights.”

Robinson said there are many global justice issues yet to battle and groups of people are still excluded from social benefits.

“Women continue to suffer from violence, harassment and economic exploitation because of their gender. Minorities of all kinds continue to face discrimination,” she said. “Coming here on the 60th anniversary [of the declaration], I am very pleased to see … that faculty members and students are coming together to say ‘what are future challenges.’”

UW-Madison’s Human Rights Initiative was launched this year.

“The purpose of our initiative is to coordinate [the] diverse interests in human rights to create new learning opportunities for students and to try to stimulate new research on human rights,” said Scott Straus, a UW-Madison associate professor of political science and international studies, who is the faculty coordinator of the initiative.

UW-Madison senior Whitney Antone said stories from her boyfriend’s childhood in Uganda sparked her interest in the initiative.

“He’s told me stories about how when he was little he went to boarding school, and they would wake up in the middle of the night to gun shots and they would have to hide. Some of the kids would get taken by rebels and they’d never be seen again,” she said.

According to Straus, UW-Madison is the ideal location for the initiative due to an increasing focus on human rights from both students and faculty.

“We’ll be trying to establish new intellectual agendas, ones that anticipate future human rights challenges and overall expanded thinking and research on this crucial topic,” he said.