Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Supports U.N. Security Council on Libya

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), this week expressed her support of the recent U.N. Security Council’s actions on Libya.[1]

On February 26, 2011, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, which among other things, referred the Libyan situation since February 15, 2011, to the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, directed the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the Court and Prosecutor and invited the Prosecutor to make periodic reports about his actions in this matter to the Council.[2] This action, Robinson said, was unusual, but demonstrated the usefulness of having a permanent international criminal court that could be called upon in ongoing situations involving the most serious crimes of international concern and that could help to stop those crimes before they become worse. She also recognized, on the other hand, that the referral might complicate efforts to get Colonel Gadhafi and others to abdicate power by fleeing to another country because of the possibility of criminal charges by the ICC.

Less than three weeks later, the Council, 10 to 0 (with 5 abstentions), approved Resolution 1973, which authorized U.N. members to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya by establishing a no-fly zone, but excluding a foreign occupation force.[3] Robinson asserted that this action was a proper exercise of the emerging international principle of the duty or right to protect or humanitarian intervention because of the imminent threat by the Gadhafi regime to kill many of its own people, especially in Benghazi. She also cautioned against expanding these military measures into intervention on the ground.

In addition, Robinson applauded this year’s “Arab Spring.” The uprisings in the Middle East included many women and demonstrate, she said, that men and women all over the world want human dignity, freedom and human rights as well as a decent living. The desire for human rights is indeed universal. It is not some Western set of values that is imposed on other societies.

Mary Robinson is also the former President of Ireland (1990-97). In 2002 she founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative that aimed “to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.”[4] After that organization finished its work in 2010, Robinson founded The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice for “thought, leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.”[5]


[1] Robinson’s remarks at the University of Minnesota and on Minnesota Public Radio are available at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/04/08/midmorning1; http://cce.umn.edu/LearningLife/Listen-to-Past-Events/index.html (forthcoming).

[2] U.N. Security Council, 6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/28/PDF/N1124528.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1970 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/58/PDF/N1124558.pdf?OpenElement.

[3] U.N. Security Council, 6498th meeting (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/PRO/N11/267/18/PDF/N1126718.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1973 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/268/39/PDF/N1126839.pdf?OpenElement. The five Security Council members that abstained were Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation.

[4] Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, http://www.realizingrights.org.

[5] The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice, http://www.mrfcj.org.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Growing up in the small Iowa town of Perry, I was an active member of the local Methodist Church. I was president of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), and our pastor, whom I respected, encouraged me to go into the ministry.

Once I went to college, however, I soon convinced myself that all religions were antiquated superstitions that were of no use to an intelligent, hard-working person like myself. This not uncommon sophomoric rebellion lasted for the next 24 years.

Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary

In 1981 I could admit to others and myself that I did not have all the answers and that there was an inner emptiness in my life. I started attending and then joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (http://www.ewestminster.org). A friend was a member there. I worked downtown, and the church was open to the downtown community, especially through its Westminster Town Hall Forum, which brought notable people to speak on key issues in ethical perspective. This was a church, I came to understand, that respected intellect as an important aspect of religious faith and life. Its mission statement provides that “In response to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, [its mission] is:

• to proclaim and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ;
• to gather as an open community to worship God with dignity and joy, warmth and beauty;
• to nourish personal faith through study, prayer, and fellowship;
• to work for love, peace and justice;
• to be a welcoming and caring Christian community, witnessing to God’s love day by day;
• to work locally and beyond with our denomination and the larger Christian Church; and
• to be a telling presence in the city.”

I have been and continue to be an active member of Westminster, serving as an elder and member of various committees. Most recently I have been chairing its Global Partnerships Committee that supervises our partnerships with churches and other organizations in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, and Bethlehem. This is one way we endeavor to fulfill the Biblical injunction from Apostle Paul: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28)[1] In other words, we are all brothers and sisters without the artificial distinctions that so often divide us from one another.

My Christian Faith

Jesus was a human being who had a special, if not unique, relationship with God the Creator.

By his life and by his death, Jesus demonstrated to the people of his time and to all people of all time how we as His brothers and sisters should live our lives.

The first foundation of my Christian faith is Jesus’ encounter with a clever lawyer in Luke 10:25-37. The lawyer asked Jesus a trick question as to what the lawyer had to do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer did not really want to know the answer; instead, the lawyer wanted Jesus to give an answer that could be twisted to incriminate him. Jesus ducked the question and instead responded with another question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then said the lawyer had answered correctly and that he would live if he did exactly that.

The lawyer, however, would not let it end there. He then asked what he thought was another trick question of Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Again, the lawyer did not really want to know the answer; instead he wanted Jesus to provide an answer that could also be twisted against him. Again, however, Jesus did not answer directly, but instead told the Parable of the Good Samaritan without the punch line identifying the good neighbor. Once again Jesus asked the lawyer to fill in the blank, this time to identify the good neighbor in the story. The lawyer did just that by saying, “The one who had mercy on [the man by the side of the road].” Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 29-37)

Parenthetically as a lawyer myself I have to say that the lawyer in this passage was clever, but not clever enough. The really clever lawyer would not have let Jesus refuse to answer the question. Instead the lawyer would say something like “I am not here to answer questions. My job is to ask the questions. Yours is to answer my questions.” And if this encounter were in a courtroom, the lawyer would ask the judge to instruct the witness to answer the question.

Returning to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the lessons of this story for me is that your neighbor whom you should love as yourself is anyone and everyone and that they can appear when you least expect them. That sets forth a daunting assignment. I have never met this challenge and never can.

That leads to the second foundation of my Christian faith. God knows that we fail and yet forgives us. The most powerful statement of God’s forgiveness comes in another story by Jesus, The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-31), http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015&version=NIV.  As an only son and as a father of two sons, I see myself in this story as the older, resentful son as well as the younger, lost son and more recently as the father.

The meaning of these two stories for me is captured by the third foundation of my Christian faith, the following statement by my personal saint, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero:

“The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.”

“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is            another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”

“No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings        wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.”

“That is what we are all about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.”

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a  future that is not our own.”

Getting Started

In my 70-plus years I have developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics, economics and history.

This is due to an excellent education at Grinnell College and the Universities of Oxford and Chicago, 35 years of practicing law in New York City and Minneapolis, being a pro bono lawyer for asylum seekers, teaching international human rights law, international travel and wide reading. These activities by themselves provide additional subjects for commentaries.

These interests also have been furthered by a renewed Christian faith and an active membership in Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. This faith and learning about other religious traditions are other major interests of mine.

As will become apparent in subsequent postings, I have particular interests in certain legal topics–refugee and asylum law; litigation in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute that covers lawsuits by foreigners for human rights abuses; U.S. constitutional law; and alternative dispute resolution– and in certain countries–Great Britain, El Salvador, Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil and Cameroon.

I already have written a lot on these subjects and have decided to share these writings on this blog. I also will comment on other issues as they arise. Many of these writings will be longer than a typical blog. In subsequent postings I will describe my political philosophy and Christian faith that I hope is evident in my writings.