Geneva, 21 September 2012
I would like to welcome you to the second Human Rights Council’s Nelson Mandela International Day panel discussion. As requested by the Council in its resolution 20/18, today’s panel discussion focuses on how the values of reconciliation, peace, freedom and racial equality inspired by the life and actions of Nelson Mandela can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.
Today’s panel discussion is timely for three important reasons. Firstly, it honours a leader that remains unique in his ability to achieve what all human beings aspire for and cherish. It is aimed at inspiring individuals across the globe to take action to engrain Mandela’s values of reconciliation, racial harmony, peace and freedom in the realization of human rights for all. Secondly, it builds on the momentum for honouring and inculcating Mandela’s values created with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 64/13 which proclaimed 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day to be observed annually from 2010. Finally, the panel builds on the outcome of the first panel held by the Human Rights Council in September 2011, emphasizing the priority, which the Council attaches to the values of Nelson Mandela.
The life of Nelson Mandela is a true testimony to what can be achieved with strength of character and personal commitment both in the lives of individuals and of nations. Nelson Mandela devoted his life to humanity. Despite suffering, discrimination and imprisonment for 27 years, he met his oppressors with magnanimity. President Mandela devoted his life to seeking racial harmony in a society where the dominant universe imposed apartheid and discrimination. He demonstrated by his actions and values an understanding that the purveyor of racism and discrimination, hatred and conflict is a captive of hatred, constricted behind the bars of prejudice and narrow mindedness and as such in need of enlightenment and liberation as much as the victim.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In recognition of his towering achievement and contribution to global peace, democracy, reconciliation and progress, Nelson Mandela’s birthday has been proclaimed Nelson Mandela International Day by the United Nations General Assembly.
Incarceration effectively removed him from the political scene and shielded from his family and collaborators, but he was not blinded by hatred or the urge to retaliate. He immersed himself in the superior logic of love and racial harmony, justice and human dignity, which eventually triumphed over hatred and discrimination with his release in 1990 and inauguration four years later as the first President of multi-racial South Africa.
During his years of detention, he drew strength from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As he stated in his last address to the 53rd General Assembly, while the UDHR served as the vindication of the justice of the cause against apartheid, it constituted a challenge that “our freedom, once achieved, should be dedicated to the implementation of the perspectives contained in the Declaration.” In honouring Nelson Mandela, we must also think of all those who have been arbitrarily detained or denied a fair trial, those who continue to suffer oppression, discrimination and prejudice. They must not be forgotten because they are not known.
Ladies and Gentlemen
If people like Nelson Mandela are rare, it is because they were able to fully align their words with their actions.
During the Rivonia Trials, which ended in his imprisonment, he proclaimed the following famous words: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
As President, he upheld the ideals and principles which he proclaimed during his trial and incarceration and continued with his philosophy of building bridges across the racial divide. Today the South African “Rainbow Nation”, stands out as a model for all who struggle against racism, racial discrimination, intolerance and other forms of discrimination. His resolute search for truth, justice and reconciliation endeared him to all including his detractors. His most important legacy must be his ability to build the institutions of a true democracy and to remain a uniting figure in a racially diverse country.
Despite the enormous power and moral influence he wielded as President of post-apartheid South Africa and global statesman he remained resolute in his belief in the principles of democracy, justice and reconciliation. Sometimes as a South African, I wonder what would have been, what would have happened if we did not have Nelson Mandela at the helm of affairs in the immediate post-apartheid period to manage and deflate the super-charged vortex of inter-racial anger and passion to channel it towards a gradual process of national healing and development. He supervised the transformation of the apartheid state institutions from bodies that served minority interests to those that responded to the needs of all South Africans and began the gradual process of building a real rainbow nation. This was all the more remarkable considering that most people in South Africa were denied any experience in government and lacked education and training.
He respected the Constitutional Court which was established in the new South Africa and called it a “court on which hinges the future of our democracy” and that, “South Africa did not establish the court to be another rubber stamp.” His respect for the Courts was demonstrated through his actions.
As President, he dealt with the challenge of reconstructing a society shattered by apartheid policies and providing most basic services to the people. His government undertook an ambitious social transformational programme through building schools, hospitals and providing housing to the people, to boost the economy, to protect peoples’ rights through the courts and Constitution, to help the country deal with the division of its past and start the healing process and to face the abuse and damage that characterised post-apartheid communities. His Government for the first time in half a century created a context where every citizen of South Africa had the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Nelson Mandela is an exemplary global citizen with a steadfast belief in justice, human rights and equality, who reconciled with his most ardent persecutors and those who had incarcerated him for almost three decades. Since his release from prison he has worked tirelessly to secure reconciliation between white and black in the new South Africa and to build a multi-racial country. These perspectives were captured in his statement while accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993.
“The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race, will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise…. Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates.”
Ladies and Gentlemen
The most stirring voice to come out of the southern tip of Africa, Nelson Mandela, has brought his message of freedom, equality, racial harmony and human dignity to the entire world. The best way we can honour him for being such an inspiration to us all is by applying his values, and striving to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
I thank you all for coming and I wish you a successful deliberation.