Kerry is in her office on Madison Avenue in New York. She is President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. As a child in a very privileged condition she understood how many other people in the world were suffering injustice and discrimination. Very early on she decided to run the Center that her family and their friends had created in memory of her father, Robert F. Kennedy.
“We have three offices, one in Washington, one in New York and one in Florence. Next week I am going to Florence for a board meeting and the opening of a new library of five hundred volumes on Human Rights and International Issues. Our center is in the historic complex of Le Murate which became a combination of affordable housing and a center for arts and culture when Mayor Renzi was in office. We have a training institute there for human rights defenders and from there we are also fighting laws against social minorities – like in Uganda, where they just passed a law that punishes homosexuality with life imprisonment.”
Then you go to Turin?
Yes, we are opening an exhibition of photographs of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King at the Rosselli Foundation from May 19th. We are at the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. We do this not only as a reminder, but also because ‘What’s Past is Prologue’ and there are many issues that we face as a society today which require the same kind of organization and determination for justice.
What is the goal of the Center? What is your role?
The Foundation was started by the family of Robert F. Kennedy and his friends, to realize his vision of justice. So we work on Human Rights issues in Italy, in the USA and around the world. There are major problems around the world today like violence against women, global warming, war in Syria, Middle East, Russia, Crimea, terrorism, these issues are all violations of Human Rights. So, we believe that if we can get governments and corporations, husbands and classmates to stop violating Human Rights, we can create a just world.
Do you have good results?
I am very optimistic because when I started working on Human Rights in 1981 all Latin America was under right wing military dictatorship and today, except for Cuba, they are all democracies. All Eastern Europe was under communism and today there is not a communist government in Eastern Europe. South Africa was at the height of Apartheid and today it has had a series of freely elected governments, elected by the majority of the people. Women’s rights were not on the international agenda until 1995, when Hillary Clinton declared in Beijing that, “Women’s rights are human rights.” That was a revolutionary thing to say in 1995 and today CEDAW, the women’s rights convention of the UN, has been ratified by one hundred and eighty-three countries. So we have seen huge, massive changes and those changes have come about not because governments or militaries or multinational corporations wanted these changes to happen but because ordinary people harnessed the dream of freedom and made it come through.
What about you?
I am the President of the Center and I am responsible for raising funds of over ten million US dollars per year. We get them from individuals, corporations, governments or, in Italy, bank foundations. I am responsible for our programs and to making sure that they are impactful. I am an ambassador for the organization and I have written articles and a couple of books.
Why didn’t you follow your father’s footsteps in elected office?
I think that there is an important role to play in elected office and I have enormous admiration for many people who take that route. When I was in law school there was an open seat in the city government of Boston. I thought about it, but my heart has always been in international issues and this is the work I want to do. Running for office and getting elected would be a compromise for me in too many ways. It can give you power, but for what? In many things, but not in what I am interested to do.
Do politicians listen to you?
Not enough. If they did, it would be better (she said, smiling). But I am grateful for the open relationship that I have with many leaders in our country and other countries around the world.
Are you going to support Hillary for President?
Yes, she is a wise woman and a great leader. I have more to learn from her on these issues.
And President Obama?
We have had a good rapport with the White House. He hosted our defenders from Zimbabwe, the White House supported our work on sexual minorities in Uganda and other countries. They are good allies in our work in Mexico for civilian jurisdiction.
And what sort of relationship do you have with the Italian leaders?
I know Renzi because of our work in Florence. He is a big fan of Robert Kennedy and I am very excited that Italy has a man like Renzi after Berlusconi. I think he is a man not only with a sense of vision, but also you have the sense that for him a day has not enough hours to get everything done and there is an almost frenetic energy of not only coming up with ideas, but actually doing the change he has said he is going to do – and that makes him an exceptional political leader.
What are your new issues?
What we are doing now is called RFK Compass. We bring together about a hundred people who control between three to five trillion dollars and we bring them together three times a year to talk about the impact of human rights violation and environmental degradation and corruption on their investment outcome.
If they asked you to choose one issue of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
It would be empowering women, because women are fifty per cent of people and whenever they are in power there are more implications to stop Human Rights violations.
New York, May 7th 2014