Statement by Mary Robinson on receipt of U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom

August 12th, 2009

Mary Robinson receives the Presidential Medal of Honor from President Obama I am extremely humbled and honored to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. It is a remarkable honor which I share with all those who work so tirelessly in the field of human rights. It was extraordinary to be honored in the first instance but to receive the medal in the company of such a sterling group of people was particularly special.

In the citation read during the ceremony I was particularly pleased that these words were used:

???For Mary Robinson, the fight to end discrimination and suffering is an urgent moral imperative.???

This is an observation I will treasure ??? and share with many others. Let me quote from my fellow honoree Archbishop Desmond Tutu who for many years has said: "If I stand out it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of others who have the strength to carry me." I have been fortunate in having been able to depend on the strength of countless human rights workers ??? including wonderful women activists - throughout the world over many years.

In 1995 my compatriot S?amus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Over the years I have often depended on the words of S?amus and other poets when my own words would prove inadequate. On this occasion let me quote from S?amus??? Nobel address.

???When the bard Demodocus sings of the fall of Troy and of the slaughter that accompanied it, Odysseus weeps and Homer says that his tears were like the tears of a wife on a battlefield weeping for the death of a fallen husband. His epic simile continues:
At the sight of the man panting and dying there,
she slips down to enfold him, crying out;
then feels the spears, prodding her back and shoulders,
and goes bound into slavery and grief.
Piteous weeping wears away her cheeks:
but no more piteous than Odysseus' tears,
cloaked as they were, now, from the company.
Even to-day, three thousand years later, as we channel-surf over so much live coverage of contemporary savagery, highly informed but nevertheless in danger of growing immune, familiar to the point of over familiarity with old newsreels of the concentration camp and the gulag, Homer's image can still bring us to our senses. The callousness of those spear shafts on the woman's back and shoulders survives time and translation. The image has that documentary adequacy which answers all that we know about the intolerable.???

We must not allow ourselves to become over familiar with or lose sight of the intolerable. We must ensure our sources are highly reliable and not be distracted by ill-informed comment. Contemporary savagery continues to thrive in our 21st century and will do so unless we all accept the challenge posed by President Obama and act as agents of change.

"The only girl in a family of four brothers, Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world." - President Barack Obama, August 12th 2009

For Mary Robinson, the fight to end discrimination and suffering is an urgent moral imperative. She has been a trail-blazing crusader for women???s rights in Ireland and a forceful advocate for equality and human rights around the world. Whether courageously visiting conflict-stricken regions, or working to inject concern for human rights into business and economic development, Mary Robinson continues this important work today, urging citizens and nations to make common cause for justice. - Official Citation

Graca and I send you our heartfelt congratulations for the Freedom Award bestowed upon you by President Obama. You are most certainly a deserving recipient and we are grateful that your efforts have been recognized with such a prestigious award. We trust that this award will serve as inspiration for you to continue the good work you do. - Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel

Related Links:

Official White House announcement

Statement by members of the Realizing Rights Board in support of Mary Robinson - July 31st 2009

Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel congratulate Mary Robinson on Medal of Freedom Award - August 13th 2009

Tributes paid to Robinson on top US honour - August 12th 2009

Nancy Rubin - former US representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights - calls Mary Robinson ?dedicated crusader for the human rights of all people? - Aug. 12th 2009

Oxfam International congratulates Mary Robinson on US Presidential Medal of Freedom - Oxfam International, Aug. 11th 2009

Global Fund Celebrates Medal of Freedom Nominee, Mary Robinson - Global Fund for Women, Aug. 10th 2009

Lord Lester pays tribute to Mary Robinson's courage and pursuit of justice - The Irish Times, Aug. 10th 2009

Israeli human rights groups back Robinson pick - JTA, Aug. 10th 2009

Amnesty International congratulates Mary Robinson on Medal of Freedom - Amnesty International, Aug. 10th 2009

Nobel Women's Initiative Congratulates Mary Robinson - Physicians for Human Rights, Aug. 9th 2009

Obama Rightly Honors Mary Robinson - Physicians for Human Rights, Aug. 6th 2009

GAVI Chair Mary Robinson awarded US Presidential Medal of Freedom - Aug 05 | GAVI Alliance