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See also G8 Online 2005

Interview with
Mary Robinson
Executive Director, The Ethical Globalization Initiative

4 July 2005

The Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI) advocates on behalf of  three urgent issues in its campaigns for greater human development and security: equitable international trade and development; strengthening responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa; and humane migration policies.  Aside from being the founder and executive director directing EGI, Mary Robinson has in the past served as the President of Ireland and later as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson is also the current Honourary President of Oxfam.

G8RG: What do you think are the prospects of the G8 making further concessions on debt cancellation?

Mary Robinson: The prospects are good because we are seeing a combination of pressure coming from African leaders and citizens' groups, from northern and southern civil society groups, and from visionary individuals within the G8 leadership itself who are able to persuade their colleagues of the importance of deeper and faster debt relief. The debt relief agreement reached by the Group of Eight Finance Ministers is an important step forward. We have seen that debt relief is feasible as the World Bank, the IMF and governments such as the UK and US have endorsed specific proposals to expand the HIPC initiative. And we have seen how desirable it is after monitoring the impact in countries such as Uganda and Honduras, where debt relief speeded up poverty reduction efforts.

G8RG: Why did the G8 not make these greater concessions in the first place?

Mary Robinson: After an accumulation of poor country debt over many decades, much of it borrowed by leaders who were unaccountable, and for aid programs that were poorly designed, change - not surprisingly - has come very slowly. The Jubilee 2000 campaign and the many voices raised in protest at the burden of debt got the ball rolling. But it was only after it became clear that the HIPC initiative was too modest and too slow that a sufficient number of decision-makers came to realize that faster progress on debt relief was critical to really make a difference in poverty reduction efforts.

G8RG: Climate change and Africa are slated to top the agenda at the upcoming G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.  Are there any other issues that you would urge the G8 to focus on?

Mary Robinson: These are essential issues to focus on. But within the broad topic of Africa I would urge a more specific focus on areas that will make the most difference in the everyday lives of people, on issues that relate to both the economic productivity of African communities, and to the social services that are essential to living a full and dignified life. My organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative has chosen three areas where we think collaborative efforts are imperative if all nations are to achieve the goals set out in the UN Millennium Declaration. One is the right to health - and here we believe that a key ingredient in effective aid programs for Africa, that will make a difference in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, is funding and capacity-building of local health systems that put the focus on women's and girls' health, and ensure their access to reproductive and primary health care. A second area is international trade rules and arrangements that foster development within African economies rather than serving the narrow domestic interests of rich countries. The third area is building humane migration policies. Migration is the human face of globalization and while it is not a prominent topic at this year’s G8 meeting, it will be later in 2005 with the release of a report by the Global Commission on International Migration, and further in 2006 with a special focus on the links between migration and development at the United Nations. It is essential that G8 countries take a longer-term view and create more ethical migration policies that will benefit rich and poor countries and their citizens.   

As they rightly focus on Africa this year, I hope G8 leaders will also realize that if we want African nations to help themselves, we need bottom-up thinking – that means removing barriers to development and putting power in the hands of ordinary people. We should be investing directly in the African farmer and creating a fairer marketplace by ending subsidies for rich-country agricultural products like cotton and sugar and the dumping of surpluses on the international market. The international policy lens has to be refocused on the human rights of people in Africa and the tools which will allow them to progressively realize those rights.

G8RG: What is your assessment of the G8 countries action on the WHO 3x5 goal that aimed to place 3 million people on anti-retroviral treatments by 2005?

Mary Robinson: This is a laudable goal, but the WHO itself acknowledges that not enough has been done to make it happen - much more concerted action by governments, civil society organizations and the private sector is required before this can be achieved.

G8RG: Do you deem the 3x5 target to be a sufficient framework to tackle the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS?

 Mary Robinson: Much more should be done to make it work - in particular, the 3x5 goal will need country-specific approaches that take into account the gender inequalities that underlie the sharp increase of HIV infection rates among women, including violence against women, and the unequal power relations that make it difficult for women to keep themselves safe. 

G8RG: What are your thoughts on the Commission for Africa Report's call to action to the international community to facilitate a coordinated response to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic in 2005? Do you expect the G8 to apply these recommendations? 

Mary Robinson: I agreed with the call for a coordinated response, but I believe that it is neither just nor effective to pursue a response that does not take sufficient account of the gender dimension of the pandemic. Overlooking that is surely one of the greatest shortcomings of our current response worldwide.

The G8 Research Group would like to thank all the organizations and individuals
who participated in interviews.
The views expressed herein do not reflect the views of the G8 Research Group.

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