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Justice Michael Kirby Honored by IU

On May 9th, 2009, noted international human rights advocate the Honorable Michael Kirby, recently retired from the Australian High Court and a former member of the KI Board of Governors, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Indiana University, and addressed students at IU's graduation ceremony.

The Honorable Michael Kirby

Listen to an excerpt of Justice Kirby's commencement speech >>

Michael Kirby served as a Justice of the Australian High Court from 1996 to 2009. As a prominent jurist, he asserted the importance of the independent judiciary: "Judges are not there to do the popular thing. They are to do what they consider is right and required by law. And the fact that other people may disagree with it doesn't disturb your psyche in the slightest. They may be right, they may be wrong, but your duty is to do what you think is right." 1

His strong voice for human rights has been a hallmark of his legal career, and at Indiana University commencement, on May 9, 2009, he spoke about his debt to Alfred Kinsey and to IU President, Herman Wells, who defended Kinsey's right to research sexual behavior, and to exalt The Kinsey Institute:

He spoke up for The Kinsey Institute as an international center of sex research:  

"...let me tell you, the Kinsey Institute on Sex, Gender and Reproduction is not sufficiently loved and cherished and appreciated in Indiana University.  Maybe some people still feel ashamed, embarrassed.  So I have come back to Bloomington, once again, to tell them to get over it.  And to tell you how important the research done in this place has been for me and for millions of people like me and their loved ones in the four corners of the world.  For people you and I will never know.  For people often threatened with violence and even death.  For people who hide their face and who suffer stigma and who are outcasts, in a kind of international sexual apartheid.  For people who are frightened, above all, about their own reality.  It is Kinsey and Wells of Indiana University who brought those people hope and dignity.  I can tell you, it is a most precious gift.  It has helped to change the world.  Indiana USA and its great University can be proud of the contribution." 2

These strong words and bold public pronouncements are not new to those who have followed Kirby's support of human rights at home and abroad.

At home in Australia, he was part of seminal decisions regarding aboriginal rights, and in 1991, was awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal. In the international sphere, he served as the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia from 1993 to 1996, and was a member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee from 1995 to 2005, where he chaired the group that drafted the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights, adopted in 2005.

Mr. Kirby's influence has been felt in the domain of sexuality rights and research. He served as a member of the Inaugural Global Commission on AIDS of the World Health Organisation in 1988-92. From 1984 to 2001, he served on the International Commission of Jurists, an international human rights non-governmental organization, and as President encouraged the inclusion of human sexuality among human rights. In 2001-2 he was chairperson of the UNAIDS Expert Panel on HIV Testing of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, and in 2004 became a member of the UNAIDS Global Reference Panel on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights.

When asked in a 2004 interview what inspired him, Justice Kirby replied, ". . . Love of fellow human beings. Of an appreciation of justice. A feeling that I have a duty and an opportunity, within the law, to do what I can to prevent the pain and misery and sense of awfulness that injustice can cause. . ." 3

1 Interview with Justice Michael Kirby: Leadership, High Court of Australia, 29 March 2004.
2 Indiana University Commencement Address, May, 2009. (PDF)
3 Interview with Justice Michael Kirby: Leadership, High Court of Australia, 29 March 2004.

More about Michael Kirby:

Indiana University Commencement Address, May 9, 2009 (PDF)

IU Home Pages, April 2009: http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/10575.html

Australian High Court transcripts and list of speeches by former Justice Kirby:

Watch Mr. Kirby's October 2006 Branigan Lecture presented at IU:

Alfred Kinsey and His Continuing Impact on the Human Rights of Sexual Minorities
(RealPlayer Video)


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