Every individual must work toward improving U.S. foreign relations, said former president of Ireland Mary Robinson during a speech Friday in the Intercultural Center.

Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, was elected to two four-year terms from 1990 to 1997. After that, she served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She also was a member of the Irish Senate from 1969 to 1989 and has been a professor of international affairs at Columbia University since 2004.

Robinson stressed the importance of citizen diplomacy in the world, which the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy described as “the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to shape U.S. foreign relations `one handshake at a time.'” She said there are numerous examples of citizen diplomacy in action throughout the world, including “the 43.7 million [people who have] stood up against poverty.”

She also discussed the issue of migration, one of the key issues of citizen diplomacy, and the importance of choosing proper language when discussing it. The danger of pejorative labels cannot be minimized, she said. As an example, she noted the negative connotations of the term “illegal aliens,” and proposed the alternative description, “migrants with irregular status.”

In addition, Robinson described the delicate balance between the push and pull factors in migration, envisioning a future of opportunities for migrants who “always have the right to move.”

She further addressed the requirements for citizen diplomacy. “If we are going to have citizen diplomacy in a fast moving world,” she said. “[It will be based on] shared values.”

According to Robinson, a strong international health network is inextricably linked to this future world, emphasizing more stable health systems and improved access to healthcare, as the need for doctors and nurses increases at such a rapid rate.

Human rights were another cornerstone of her address, particularly in the importance for countries to honor and aspire to the realization of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Robinson offered her audience a tangible way to act on citizen diplomacy by signing the Every Human Has Rights pledge to take individual responsibility. She said that her goal is for one billion people to sign the pledge.

Robinson is a member of “The Elders,” a group of notable peace activists and human rights advocates which also includes former South African President Nelson Mandela, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

The speech was sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies.

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