Mary Lawlor

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Mary Lawlor (@MaryLawlorhrds) is United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Centre for Social Innovation, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin, where she takes a lead on Business and Human Rights.  She is a member of the Advisory Board of the School of Business.

Mary was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders on May 1st 2020 by the UN Human Rights Council. As an independent expert, she is part of the Council’s fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms.  She studies developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights. The Special Rapporteur has a mandate to seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders and recommend effective strategies to governments and non-state actors, such as Business, to better protect them.

In 2001, Mary founded Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Front Line Defenders concentrates all its activities on human rights defenders at risk who work peacefully for the rights of others as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The aim is to protect defenders of human rights and provide them with “round the clock” practical support so that they can continue their work to build civil and just societies.

As Executive Director from 2001-2016, Mary represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. She led country visits, engaged in high level international advocacy, oversaw accountability, managed and evaluated programs and raised funds.

In 2007, Front Line Defenders was awarded the King Baudouin International Development Prize and in 2018, it was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize.

Prior to Front Line Defenders, Mary was Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000. She became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.

Mary has a BA in Psychology and Philosophy and postgraduate degrees in Montessori Teaching and Personnel Management.

She is on the Advisory Board of the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life and the Norwegian Human Rights Fund.

Mary was awarded the Irish Life WMB Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2008. In 2011, she received the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Special Recognition Award. In 2014, Mary was awarded the French insignia of Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur and an honorary degree of Doctor in Laws from Trinity College Dublin.

In December 2016, she was awarded the Franco-German Award for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (presented by both Foreign Ministers). In 2017, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from University College Dublin.  In 2019, she received The Dóchas Lifetime Achievement Award.

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