24 September 2018
Nelson Mandela was one of humanity’s great leaders. He embodied the highest values of the United Nations. He devoted his life to serving his community – as a lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, a peacemaker, President and a respected elder. He cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people live together in equality and harmony. This was a bedrock cause for which he was prepared to fight and die. He faced his oppressors in court, knowing they had the power of life and death, and he refused to back down. As a political prisoner, he steadfastly refused to allow his dignity to be undermined, and he became a rallying point for a global movement that led to the dismantling of the apartheid regime. The role played by the United Nations is a milestone in our proud history. As President of South Africa, Madiba championed women’s rights and South Africa’s landmark 1996 Constitution, which remains a beacon for human rights and equal opportunity. Under his leadership, South Africa expanded access to healthcare, education, housing, water, sanitation and electricity. And, beyond South Africa’s borders, Madiba was a profound influence for peace and democracy. For example, in Burundi, he played a key role in brokering the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. And, everywhere, he was a champion for peace, forgiveness, humility, compassion and dignity and human rights. This year we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Almost exactly 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela spoke about that landmark document in this hall. He urged all leaders to “have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a human world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration.” Those were the words of Nelson Mandela. Today, with human rights under growing pressure around the world, we would be well served by reflecting on the example of this outstanding man. We need to face the forces that threaten us with the wisdom, courage and fortitude that Nelson Mandela embodied. This is the only way to build the just, peaceful and prosperous world envisioned in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Madiba was a global citizen whose legacy must continue to guide us. To honour this legacy, the Government of South Africa has generously donated a statue of Madiba that I was honoured to unveil this morning. In 2015, the United Nations also decided to award the Nelson Mandela Prize every five years to two individuals who have made significant contributions to the service of humanity. The first recipients were Namibian philanthropic eye surgeon Helena Ndume and my good friend Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal. Each year, we also observe Nelson Mandela International Day by promoting and engaging in community service. Today, we remember a man of great wisdom, quiet dignity and towering achievement, who worked tirelessly for peace and human dignity for people everywhere. This is our Organization’s purpose and – as leaders – it is our responsibility. Let us commit to build on Nelson Mandela’s legacy so that all people everywhere can enjoy peace, prosperity and inclusive and sustainable development. Thank you.