Making Human Rights Matter

20 December 2010

Realizing Rights comes to planned end with culminating event in New York

From 2002 to 2010, Realizing Rights worked with a range of partners on diverse projects and initiatives. On 14 December 2010, over 300 invited guests gathered in The Times Center in New York City to celebrate the culmination of joint endeavors and look ahead to the opportunities for new beginnings.

On an evening filled with emotion, Lyse Doucet, Correspondent for BBC World Service, moderated an event that allowed the staff of Realizing Rights to express gratitude to partners and supporters worldwide for making our work possible and for being part of our efforts to make human rights a reality for people everywhere.

In opening the proceedings, Ms. Doucet noted how the same globalizing forces which had brought the audience of human rights activists, donors and institutional partners together for the evening, also had the potential to "create gaps and widen the injustices, abuses and inequities in the world".

"Does it have to be that way?" she challenged the audience, or - echoing the founding mission of Realizing Rights - she asked "can we have ethical globalization?"

Ms. Doucet introduced the first speaker of the evening: Gara LaMarche, President & CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, which has been a committed supporter of Realizing Rights during its eight years of operation.

Mr. LaMarche noted that while eradicating human rights abuses entirely may be an endless mission, Realizing Rights has in its eight years "realized its mission... of affecting the discourse in the way we think about rights, and the way that rights relate to other concerns".

"In the relatively brief time" that it has been in operation "it has accomplished a lot".

Ms. Doucet then introduced the founder and President of Realizing Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, who received a standing ovation. Mrs. Robinson welcomed all guests and paid tribute to supporters who were unable to attend.

Everyone in the audience, she noted, had been "partners in this process we have undertaken - who have understood as Realizing Rights did - that there is a way of bringing a better approach to human rights."

In highlighting differences between the human rights landscape at the founding of Realizing Rights and its planned end eight years later, Mary Robinson noted that "there is now a constituency for economic and social rights, a constituency for corporate responsibility. In comparison to eight years ago, it's now a completely different context. So it's not an end, it's a whole set of new beginnings."

Mrs. Robinson listed the new programs and organizations which will carry forward specific aspects of the work that Realizing Rights helped develop:

  • Global Health and Development at The Aspen Institute (GHD) will continue and grow Realizing Rights' Global Health Equity Program. GHD will also continue programs in the following areas: the global health workforce crisis, policy innovations to address the challenges of global health worker migration, women's global health including maternal mortality and reproductive health, community based models of financing for health, and aid effectiveness in development assistance for health.
  • The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) is dedicated to being a global centre of excellence and expertise on the relationship between business and internationally proclaimed human rights standards. IHRB works to raise corporate standards and strengthen public policy to ensure that the activities of companies do not contribute to human rights abuses, and in fact lead to positive outcomes.
  • The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice (MRFCJ) is also taking shape to serve as a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy to support the poorest people and countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable and people-centered development.

Following Mary Robinson's welcoming remarks, a video encapsulating the essence of the work of Realizing Rights was screened:

Lyse Doucet then introduced former President of Chile and first Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet.

Ms. Bachelet took the opportunity to recognize Mary Robinson as a "great leader, whose political history, historical commitment to peace, to human rights, to justice and equality, inspires all of us."

Addressing the staff of Realizing Rights, Ms. Bachelet noted how, the evening marked another new beginning in the form of UN Women: "...I feel so at home when I see the way you work, I feel so identified with the way you haveworked directly with the people and listened to their needs, developing projects with them, building capacity - that's the way I want to work in UN Women." Ms. Bachelet called on audience members to lend their experience, wisdom and help to this new organization.

Two group dialogues were then moderated by Lyse Doucet.

The first, entitled "Leadership and Human Rights" featured a panel comprising:

  • Nyaradzayi Gumbonzbanda, General Secretary, World YWCA;
  • Constance Okollet, Chairperson, Osukura Women Network and founding member of Climate Wise Women;
  • Dr. Francisco Songane, former Minister of Health, Mozambique;
  • and Mary Robinson.

The second dialogue focused on "Workers' Rights and Corporate Responsibility".

Again featuring a panel of experts in their field, the speakers who joined Mary Robinson and Lyse Doucet on stage were:

  • Auret van Heerden, President and CEO, Fair Labor Association
  • Cathleen Caron, Founder and Executive Director, Global Workers Justice Alliance
  • and Teresa Abugah, Head of Womens Desk, Ghana Trade Union Congress.

Both dialogues featured questions from the audience.

The evening's proceedings also featured a video message from Peter Gabriel who applauded the staff and supporters of Realizing Rights for their tireless work over the past eight years. Mr. Gabriel delivered an emotive performance of 'Wallflower' a song written in solidarity with human rights defenders who have experienced imprisonment and torture.

Mary Robinson closed by thanking Lyse Doucet for her excellent moderation and the informed audience for their participation. She hoped that the two dialogues had illustrated "the need for more conversations of this kind, the need of the human rights community to have the chance to reflect and hear different perspectives on the important issues of leadership and human rights, labor rights and the decent work agenda."

An informal reception among "the company of friends" followed the formal proceedings, which had provided a fitting celebration of the many achievements of Realizing Rights and gave cause for an optimistic outlook for the work of human rights activists in 2011 and beyond.