Mary Robinson was elected as Ireland's first female President from 1990 to 1997 and was a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders. She served as the Chair of the Council from 2003-2009.
She was born on 21 May 1944, in Ballina, Ireland. Robinson holds an M.A. and L.L.B. from Trinity College in Dublin. She was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law in Trinity College Dublin when she was 25 years of age. With her husband, Nicholas (married 1970) she founded the Irish Centre for European Law in 1988.
Elected as a representative of the University of Dublin, she was a member of Seanad Éireann (Upper House of Parliament) 1969-1989. While in Parliament she served on the Joint Committee on EC Secondary Legislation (1973–89) and as Chairman of its Social Affairs Sub-Committee (1977–87), Chairman of its Legal Affairs Committee (1987–89), and on the Joint Committee on Marital Breakdown (1983–85). She was a member of Dublin City Council from 1979 to 1983.
Robinson resigned from the office of President on 12 September 1997, to take up the appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As High Commissioner, Robinson changed the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels; she was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helped to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo.
In 2001, Robinson served as Secretary-General of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa. Robinson founded the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, in 2002, which came to a planned end in 2010.
Robinson is Chairman of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Mary Robinson also sits on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization that supports good governance and great leadership in Africa. Robinson served as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002-2012 and has been the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization since 2005. Additionally, she serves as Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development. In 2004 she was awarded Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights. In 2009, she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mary Robinson’s newest projects are the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which seeks to incorporate human rights into the globalization process and support capacity building and good governance in developing countries; and the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change.