Mary Robinson, born in 1944, studied at King’s Inns in Dublin and Harvard University. At 25, she became the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College Dublin. As a Senator in the Irish Senate from 1969 to 1989, Robinson worked hard to achieve social change, a liberalization and modernization of the Irish legal system, and more rights for women and minorities. Although these objectives were highly controversial at the time in Ireland, Robinson pursued them doggedly.
When Robinson was elected in 1990 as the first woman president of Ireland, she used her position to condemn human rights violations worldwide, particularly in crisis areas and developing countries. Her commitment to humanitarian cooperation led her to various countries including Somalia and Rwanda, where she was the first head of state to visit the country after the genocide of 1994. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002) Robinson set new standards. She succeeded in making the protection of human rights part of every UN policy and in drawing more international attention to this issue. Thanks to her commitment clear standards have been created that serve to monitor the observance of human rights worldwide.
After her term as UN High Commissioner had ended, Robinson started the movement Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and is currently its president. Its goal is to make globalization a positive force for all people around the world. Robinson is also president of the International Commission of Jurists, honorary president of Oxfam, and a member of The Elders – a group of persons committed to solving global problems.
The Freedom Award of Freie Universität is presented to personalities who have made outstanding contributions to political, social, or academic freedom. Last year the award went to Desmond Tutu, the South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In 2008 it was conferred on the former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski and in 2007 on the former President of the Republic of Korea and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung.