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Mary Robinson to Start New Human Rights Project - 2002-09-10

The outgoing head of the United Nations human rights office, Mary Robinson, says she plans to start a new project called the Ethical Globalization Initiative to ensure governments meet their legal commitments on human rights.

Ms. Robinson's five years in office as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights often have been controversial. She has won the admiration of activists for speaking up on behalf of victims of human rights abuse. At the same time, her outspoken criticism of allegedly abusive governments has gained her some powerful enemies in many parts of the world.

Ms. Robinson says her job has not always been easy, but says she is proud of the role her small office has played in setting up projects to improve human rights standards in countries such as China, Cambodia and East Timor.

"I am very grateful that, at the end of five years in a difficult, but in an office that it is a great privilege to hold, that I have this combination of an inner peace," she said. "And, I feel very energized, provided I get that holiday, which I intend to take. I feel very energized and very happy about the future."

Ms. Robinson steps down as U.N. High Commissioner on the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. She calls this event an appalling crime against humanity. But she says she is afraid many countries are using the war against terrorism as an excuse to crack down on their opponents.

Ms. Robinson says the project she is starting will work to make sure governments put into practice international human rights treaties they have signed. Another aspect of the project is to provide developing countries with the money they need to build national systems to protect human rights. She says the project will begin in Africa.

"I think it is a reality that really no African countries can prioritize in domestic spending, strengthening their administration of justice, rule of law, because they have to pay the debt, they have to combat HIV/AIDS, they have to feed, clothe, build an infrastructure, etc.," she said. "So, I want to harness more resources in the North, in the developed world, from universities, foundations, bar associations."

The outgoing high commissioner says governments and civil societies must work together to see that peoples' rights are protected.