Mary Therese Winifred Robinson (Irish: Máire Mhic Róibín) (b. 1944 – ) served as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland , serving from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002.
Born Mary Bourke, she attended Mount Anville Secondary School in Dublin and studied law at Trinity College, Dublin and Harvard Law School. In her twenties, she became the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin, considered to be a prestigious appointment made to accomplished lawyers.
In 1970 she married Nicholas Robinson with whom she has three children.
She first rose to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner and member of the Irish senate (1969–1989). In 1973, she became a member of the English Bar ( Middle Temple ). She became a Senior Counsel in 1980, and served as a member of the Advisory Commission of Inter-Rights (1984-1990) and as a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990).
She defeated Fianna Fáil’s Brian Lenihan, Snr and Fine Gael’s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming, as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers Party of Ireland and independent senators, the first elected president in the office’s history not to have the support of Fianna Fáil. Robinson became the first Labour Party candidate, the first woman and the first non-Fianna Fáil candidate in the history of contested presidential elections to win the presidency. By half way through her term of office her popularity rating reached an unheard of 93%
Mrs. Robinson was the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She was also the first Head of State to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and received the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.
Robinson resigned the presidency early to take up a new role with the United Nations in 1997.
President Mary Robinson is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders , an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
Mary Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 September 1997, following her nomination to the post by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the endorsement of the General Assembly.
As High Commissioner, Mrs. Robinson gave priority to implementing the Secretary-General’s reform proposal to integrate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations. During her first year as High Commissioner, Mrs. Robinson traveled to Rwanda, South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia, among other countries. In September 1998, she visited China–the first High Commissioner to do so–and signed an agreement with the Government for OHCHR to undertake a wide-ranging technical-cooperation programme to improve human rights in that country. Mrs. Robinson also strengthened human rights monitoring in such conflict areas as Kosovo, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Mrs. Robinson’s term of office expired in 2002.