EVEN when the glass was half full, the contents remained important because they could be used creatively to further any cause, former UN high commissioner for human rights and former Irish president Mary Robinson has told a gathering of University of Pretoria students.

Robinson was addressing master’s programme students during a fireside chat at Freedom Park’s The Sanctuary, where she interacted with them, advised and discussed various topics with them, and challenged them to take the human rights struggle and run with it, using the tools of social media at their disposal.

The students were drawn from the Human Rights Law and HIV in Africa programme, the Human Rights and Democracy in Africa programme and the Centre for the Study of Aids’s leadership programme.

Robinson said: “Young people have a responsibility to participate in the fight for human rights; they need to understand what human rights mean.”

Their generation had more capacity to hold governments, corporations and others in power accountable than before, she told them.

She added: “Never has a generation been more empowered to deal with the challenges of human rights or had the capacity to hold governments and corporations to account.”

With the tools of social media at their disposal they could keep governments and corporations on their toes and make sure they met their responsibilities.

“You can use these platforms to keep visibility, to track their actions and progress and map them, and for data-capturing,” she said.

Robinson has been in the country to deliver the 10th Nelson Mandela Lecture, and she engaged with the students in her capacity as the University of Pretoria’s extraordinary professor for the Centre for Human Rights and Centre for the Study of Aids.

Robinson told her audience that there could be no human rights without concerted citizen action, which would in turn ensure implementation.

“It has never been more possible to assert concerted citizen action,” she said.

She said discrimination happened to individuals who were weak and could not fight for themselves.

“When normal law is not working, use the social media to track the actions of those discriminating. They are bullies… make them afraid.”

Robinson advised the students to work hard to bring hope again to those who had lost it.

“Even when it looks like there is nothing left to do because the laws are not being implemented, you must look into yourself and tap into your capabilities, what makes you effective,” she said.

She told them to prepare to fight hard: “You won’t win, win, win, it’s a struggle, you must gain ground.”

She said it was extraordinarily important to keep up with the struggle.