ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA, NELSON MANDELA, AT THE 53RD UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
New York, 21 September 1998
Mr Secretary General, the Hon.Kofi Annan;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“ Quite appropriately, this 53rd General Assembly will be remembered through the ages as the moment at which we marked and celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born in the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazi and fascist crime against humanity, this Declaration held high hope that all our societies would, in future, be built on the foundation of the glorious vision spelt out in each of its clauses.
For those who had to fight for their emancipation, such as ourselves who, with your help, had to free ourselves from the criminal apartheid system, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights served as the vindication of the justice of our cause.
At the same time, it constituted a challenge to us that our freedom, once achieved, should be dedicated to the implementation of the perspectives contained in the Declaration.
Today, we celebrate the fact that this historic document has survived a turbulent five decades, which have seen some of the most extraordinary developments in the evolution of human society.
These include the collapse of the colonial system, the passing of a bipolar world, breath-taking advances in science and technology and the entrenchment of the complex process of globalisation.
And yet, at the end of it all, the human beings who are the subject of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continue to be afflicted by wars and violent conflicts.
They have, as yet, not attained their freedom from fear and death that would be brought about by the use of weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional arms.
Many are still unable to exercise the fundamental and inalienable democratic rights that would enable them to participate in the determination of the destiny of their countries, nations, families and children and to protect themselves from tyranny and dictatorship.
The very right to be human is denied everyday to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment.
The failure to achieve this vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterises the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.v It is made especially poignant and challenging by the fact that this coexistence of wealth and poverty, the perpetuation of the practice of the resolution of inter and intra-state conflicts by war and the denial of the democratic right of many across the world, all result from the acts of commission and omission particularly by those who occupy positions of leadership in politics, in the economy and in other spheres of human activity.
What I am trying to say is that all these social ills which constitute an offence against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not a pre-ordained result of the forces of nature or the product of a curse of the deities.
They are the consequences of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take, all of whom will not hesitate to pledge their devoted support for the vision conveyed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Declaration was proclaimed as Universal precisely because the founders of this Organisation and the nations of the world who joined hands to fight the scourge of fascism, including many who still had to achieve their own emancipation, understood this clearly that our human world was an interdependent whole.
Necessarily, the values of happiness, justice, human dignity, peace and prosperity have a universal application because each people and every individual is entitled to them.
Similarly, no people can truly say it is blessed with happiness, peace and prosperity where others, as human as itself, continue to be afflicted with misery, armed conflict and terrorism and deprivation.
Thus can we say that the challenge posed by the next 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the next century whose character it must help fashion, consists in whether humanity, and especially those who will occupy positions of leadership, will have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration and other human rights instruments that have been adopted since 1948.“
Mandela inspired by Declaration of Human Rights
The United Nations has paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, South Africa´s first black president who died yesterday at the age of 95.
On behalf of the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon extended in astatement his „deepest condolences to the people of South Africa and especially to Nelson Mandela’s family and loved ones.“
Mr. Ban said that Mandela´s 1994 address to the General Assembly, as the first democratically elected President of a free South Africa, was a defining moment. „In the decades-long fight against apartheid, the United Nations stood side-by-side with Nelson Mandela and all those in South Africa who faced unrelenting racism and discrimination,“ the Secretary-General said in a statement.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a fellow South African, noted that when Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, there was a burning desire in the country to „discriminate against those who had so ruthlessly discriminated against us.“
„He turned it all around with words. He told us to throw our spears and guns into the sea. He told us to set aside our desire for vengeance and work for a South Africa not just free of racism, but free of all types of discrimination. He showed us that a better future depended on reconciliation, not revenge.“
Pillay pointed out that Mandela had drawn strength from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during his incarceration on Robben Island. „ In his last address to the UN General Assembly in September 1998, he noted how the Universal Declaration had validated the struggle against apartheid, but also posed the challenge that “our freedom, once achieved, should be dedicated to the implementation of the perspectives contained in the Declaration.”
In a statement on behalf of the members of the Security Council, Gérard Araud, of France, the President of the SC noted that the 2009 adoption of Nelson Mandela International Day,was the first ever international day in honour of an individual. “The members of the Security Council consider this to be a reflection of the magnitude of Nelson Mandela’s contribution to freedom and justice. Nelson Mandela Day is a celebration of the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, and the ability to make an impact, just as Nelson Mandela did himself.”
Photo: Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall.
22 June 1990. UN-Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran.