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The BBC's Claire Doole
"She has become an outspoken defender of the oppressed"
 real 28k

Monday, 19 March, 2001, 17:55 GMT
Sideswipe as UN envoy steps down
Mary Robinson signs a memorandum of understanding on human rights in China
Robinson's visits to China were occasionally stormy affairs
Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has unexpectedly announced that she will not seek a second term in the post.


I will continue to work wholeheartedly for human rights... I believe that I can achieve more outside of the constraints that a multilateral organisation inevitably imposes

Mary Robinson
Former Irish President Mrs Robinson said that she thought she could achieve more outside the "constraints" of the UN.

She described the resources available to her office as inadequate and said there was a striking contrast between the fine words used at the annual UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva and the realities on the ground.

Her announcement came as a surprise to senior staff and diplomats who had believed she might follow the example of other UN chiefs and seek a second term.

Mrs Robinson, only the second person to serve in the post, is scheduled to step down in September at the end of her four-year term.

"I will continue to work wholeheartedly for human rights in the way that I know best, as an advocate.

"I believe that I can, at this stage, achieve more outside of the constraints that a multilateral organisation inevitably imposes," Mrs Robinson said.

Outsider

Mrs Robinson told the 53-member nation commission at the start of its six-week session: "I know some will feel that I should have sought to continue working from within the United Nations and I ask them to respect my decision."

Robinson biography
21 May 1944: Born in County Mayo, Ireland
1969: Appointed Reid Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law - Trinity College, Dublin
1969-89: Member of the Irish Upper House of Parliament
1988: Co-founds the Irish Centre for European Law
1990: First woman to become President of Ireland
1997: Appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mrs Robinson has been a high-profile and outspoken UN commissioner, on occasion angering governments with criticism of their human rights record.

She said UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, had advised her to "stay an outsider" while working within the organisation in as far as she could.

And this, said Mrs Robinson, had at times made her "an awkward voice", both for colleagues in the UN and governments.

"I make no apology for this," she added.

Mrs Robinson's mandate expires after the World Conference against Racism, to be held in South Africa from 31 August to 7 September.

"Racism and xenophobia, manifesting themselves through discrimination and all forms of intolerance, are the wellspring of many of the world's conflicts," Mrs Robinson said in her address to the commission.

The forum which opened in Geneva is expected to focus on alleged human rights abuses in hotspots including China, the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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See also:

01 May 00 | Europe
UN links globalisation to racism
04 Apr 00 | Europe
Chechen visit a mixed success
19 Mar 01 | World
Mary Robinson: Awkward outsider
01 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Robinson critical on China rights
16 Apr 00 | Africa
Rights centre opens in Morocco
27 Nov 00 | Middle East
UN rights chief criticises Israel
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