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Nelson Mandela International Day, July 18
For freedom, justice and democracy

General Assembly President's Remarks

President of the General Assembly His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Opening Remarks
UN General Assembly Informal Meeting on the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day
New York, 18 July 2012

Your Excellency Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development of the Republic of South Africa,

Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and former member of the anti-apartheid movement,

Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Last Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid,

Ms. Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General,

Mr. Enuga Reddy, First Principal Secretary of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a distinct honor to join you in observing the Nelson Mandela International Day.

Today we celebrate the birthday of a giant of history.

President Nelson Mandela is a pillar of the peace, justice, and nonviolent movement.

President Mandela – “Madiba”, as he is affectionately known– embodies the very culture of peace espoused by the United Nations.

His legacy inspires the United Nations in its labors to improve social equality and justice, and to pursue peace through dialogue and non-violence.

He devoted 67 years of his life to the service of his people and humanity.

It was the moral force of President Mandela’s nonviolent stance that tore down the apartheid system.

His fight came at un-thinkable personal cost:

President Mandela served 27 years behind bars.

Yet, when he emerged from his detention in 1990, he resolved not to avenge the injustices of his oppressors, but to lay the basis for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.

Or, in his words, a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

As the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, President Mandela was an exemplary leader.

He believed in dialogue and inclusiveness.

He chose reconciliation, not retribution.

In doing so, he averted the very real prospect of civil strife.

The Government of National Unity that he presided over, and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, became a model for transitional justice in post-conflict societies around the world.

Today, we see a world undergoing rapid change in the name of dignity, freedom and justice.

Millions in the Middle East have taken the path of nonviolent protest to defeat tyranny and achieve their political freedom.

President Mandela’s persistence in cultivating national consensus and social cohesion resonates deeply with the Arab Awakenings.

In this delicate phase of crafting new political orders, bridging society’s political and ideological divides will be the foundation of stable, democratic settlements.

President Mandela strove to achieve such an order, uniting South Africans behind the creation of what he called a “people-centered” society – one where people not only have the right to vote, but have bread and work as well.

Such fore-sight continues to inspire us today.

I would take this opportunity to mention the historical role played by the United Nations General Assembly in the global struggle against apartheid.

With its unique position as the world’s most universal, representative body, the General Assembly led the international community’s response, promoting anti-apartheid actions by governments and civil society and instituting an arms embargo – all the while drawing global attention to the inhumanity of apartheid.

The United Nations’ Special Committee against Apartheid, established by the General Assembly and courageously led by Mr. Gambari, became the preeminent vehicle for Member States to apply concerted pressure on the apartheid regime.

In such moments of crisis, success depends on the actions of remarkable individuals - such as President Mandela – and on the strength of our collective will, through organizations such as the UN.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world is indebted to President Mandela.

His lessons are our lessons- lessons for today and for the leaders of tomorrow.

The Nelson Mandela International Day, proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 64/13, is therefore but a modest tribute to the sacrifices offered by President Mandela and by the many anti-apartheid campaigners who spoke out for justice.

I would invite all Member States, organizations of the UN system, and communities and individuals worldwide, to observe this day and to continue to carry President Mandela’s torch of freedom and unity for Africa and beyond.

Addressing the General Assembly from this very platform in 1994, President Mandela warned that we “cannot rest while millions of our people suffer the pain and indignity of poverty in all its forms.”

He recognized that freedom from poverty, hunger and disease, and access to quality education, are key to unlocking peace and development worldwide.

Let us rise to the challenge to realize his vision.

Happy Birthday, Madiba.