Obama names Robinson for top civilian honour


PRESIDENT BARACK Obama has named former president Mary Robinson as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.

Announcing the award yesterday, the White House praised Mrs Robinson’s role as Ireland’s first woman president, her career in the Seanad, her tenure as United Nations Human Rights Commissioner and her work on behalf of non-governmental organisations.

Mrs Robinson said she was “both humbled and honoured” by the award.

“None of us achieves what we have done without the support of others, so I am aware that many other people share in this honour. It is wonderful to be recognised in such extraordinary company,” she added.

Of Mrs Robinson, the White House said: “She continues to bring attention to international issues as honorary president of Oxfam International, and chairs the board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI Alliance). Since 2002, she has been president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an organisation she founded to make human rights the compass which charts a course for globalisation that is fair, just and benefits all.”

Other recipients of this year’s Medal of Freedom include Senator Edward Kennedy, South African human rights campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, physicist Stephen Hawking, former supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, actor Sidney Poitier and tennis player Billie Jean King.

The medal will be awarded posthumously to former Republican senator Jack Kemp and to Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco politician who was assassinated in 1978 and became the subject of an Oscar-winning film last year starring Sean Penn.

“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way,” Mr Obama said. “Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honour to award them the Medal of Freedom.”

Established by former US president Harry Truman in 1945, the Medal of Freedom is awarded annually to individuals “who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours”. Mrs Robinson served as president between 1990 and 1997 before being appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights until 2002.