US defends Robinson medal


The White House has defended its decision to award the highest civilian honour in the United States to former president Mary Robinson.

President Barack Obama named Mrs Robinson as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week.

However, some Jewish groups have criticised the move over her stance on Israel.

US pro-Israeli lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) expressed concern at the award.

"Mary Robinson, who was one of the people responsible for the 2001 Durban conference against racism descending into an anti-Israel propaganda forum, is not an appropriate recipient for one of our nation's highest honors", the Committee said in a statement issued yesterday.

"In fact, awarding the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson does great dishonor to the many outstanding men and women who have received it in the past," the coalition said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mrs Robinson was being recognised because she was a prominent advocate for women’s rights in Ireland and around the world.

Mr Gibbs said she had made statements that President Barack Obama did not agree with, but that was likely to be the case with a number of the 16 people he planned to recognise for their lifetime achievements.

Last week, the White House praised Mrs Robinson’s contribution to human rights rights at home and internationally.

"Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland (1990 – 1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 – 2002), a post that required her to end her presidency four months early. Robinson served as a prominent member of the Irish Senate prior to her election as President," The White House said in its citation.

"She continues to bring attention to international issues as Honorary President of Oxfam International, and Chairs the Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI Alliance). Since 2002 she has been President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an organization she founded to make human rights the compass which charts a course for globalization that is fair, just and benefits all", it concluded.

Mr Obama will award the medals at the White House on August 12th.