Mary Robinson

First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.

"Part of the wisdom of the Elders is to remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented."

Work with The Elders

Mary Robinson has been a member of The Elders since the group was founded in 2007 and makes it a priority to bring the concerns of ordinary people to the global stage.

She has travelled to the Middle East several times with The Elders to encourage peace efforts and support Israelis and Palestinans working for peaceful coexistence; visited the Korean Peninsula to help ease tensions between North and South Korea and learn more about North Korea’s chronic food crisis; joined an Elders' delegation to Côte d'Ivoire to emphasise the importance of reconciliation following widespread civil conflict in early 2011.

In 2012 she visited South Sudan to meet leaders, civil society and refugees from recent fighting, urging a return to dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan. Later that year she was part of an Elders' visit to Cairo to encourage Egypt's democratic transition.

A tireless champion of women’s equality, she also travelled to Ethiopia in June 2011 with her fellow Elders to convene an international meeting of experts and activists working to end child marriage, which was followed by a visit to India in February 2012 to support youth activists tackling early marriage in their own communities.

Mrs Robinson also participated in the Elders+Youngers project, an intergenerational dialogue on sustainable development between four Elders and four young change-makers during the Rio+20 summit in June 2012.

First woman President of Ireland

Mary Robinson was elected Irish President in 1990 and served for seven years as a principled and transformative leader who continued to fight for equality and women’s rights throughout her time in office. A firm believer in dialogue and reconciliation, she broke taboos by being the first Irish head of state to make official visits to Britain, as well as regularly visiting Northern Ireland.

She was the first head of state to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and brought global media attention to the suffering of Rwandans as the first Head of State to visit the country just after the 1994 genocide.

Human rights champion

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Mary Robinson integrated human rights into the United Nations system and became renowned as an outspoken voice dedicated to investigating and exposing human rights abuses across the world.

Mary Robinson founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, which aimed to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.

As an academic, legislator and barrister, Mary Robinson has always sought to use law as an instrument for social change, arguing landmark cases before the European Court of Human Rights as well as in the Irish courts and the European Court in Luxembourg. A committed European, she also served on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. In 1988 Mary Robinson and her husband founded the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College, the University of Dublin. Ten years later she was elected Chancellor of the University.

Tackling global issues

Mary Robinson heads the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, a centre for education and advocacy on sustainable and people-centred development in the world’s poorest communities.

She co-founded the Council of Women World Leaders, a network that mobilises women leaders at the highest levels to promote democracy and gender equality. She is a member of the Club of Madrid, a group of global leaders working on governance and conflict issues. She is also:

  • Honorary President of Oxfam International
  • Former President of the International Commission of Jurists
  • Board Member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
  • Board Member of the European Climate Foundation

Mary Robinson served as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa from 2013-2014, stepping down in July 2014 to take up the post of Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Articles featuring Mary Robinson


Violence against women – increasing public awareness

"The most terrible human rights abuse unaddressed is the abuse of women and girls..." Jimmy Carter

The Elders mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by highlighting some of the challenges facing women and girls including female foeticide, child marriage, sexual violence and equal participation; and call for increased public awareness as a catalyst for action.


How can young people join in the debate about climate change?


Women at the heart of sustainable peace


The Elders call for climate action #NowNotTomorrow

“We all talk about climate change. I have a sense that people don't take it seriously.” Kofi Annan

Joined by fellow Elders Gro Harlem Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo, Kofi Annan calls on world leaders to take action on climate change ahead of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit 2014.


Mary Robinson: "fracking is not the solution"