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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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New York, 19 December 2013 - Secretary-General's remarks at General Assembly Memorial for Nelson Mandela

I thank the President of the General Assembly for organizing this ceremony.

I extend a warm welcome to today’s special guests from many walks of life.

Those guests include Mr. Enuga Reddy, a retired staff member who was among the many UN Secretariat officials who played invaluable roles in the struggle against apartheid.

We join in this global assembly to honour our era’s greatest ambassador for human dignity.

Nelson Mandela was a human being with flaws and frailties like any of us. 

And yet from his humanity came humility; from humility came strength; from strength came transformation; from utter goodness came epic greatness. 

Isolated for years in a tiny cell, he emerged with a vision as big as all creation.

Unable to see his own children grow up, he became a father to his country and an inspiration to us all.

Last week, I had the unforgettable privilege, together with the President of the General Assembly, to take part in the service in his memory in Johannesburg. 

There were Kings and Queens – Presidents and Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers – many thousands, tens of thousands, of people united in tribute. 

The skies over Soweto opened up, as if in blessing.  The rain came down all day long.  It was a reminder that there can be no rainbow without rain – so, together, in Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation, we mourned a tragic loss and celebrated a triumphant life.

I saw once again how much Nelson Mandela meant to the people of South Africa – and the people of South Africa shared with me how much the United Nations meant to them.

Their struggle was our struggle. 

From its earliest days, the General Assembly took on the poison of racial discrimination in South Africa.

Through the years, the Assembly used every tool we had including sanctions, embargoes, and diplomatic isolation, to bring about change. 

A Special Committee against Apartheid, supported by the UN Centre against Apartheid and a Trust Fund, provided crucial support.

We refused to relent. 

In his first address to a United Nations audience upon his release, Nelson Mandela said: “Despite the thickness of the prison walls, all of us in Robben Island could hear your voices.”

Nelson Mandela came back to the United Nations again and again – as President, as global peacemaker, as transcendent moral voice. 

Each year, we mark the International Day against Racial Discrimination on the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre.   And, of course, we celebrate “Nelson Mandela International Day” on his birthday, July 18th, as a way to build on his contributions and foster a culture of peace and public service.

Through his extraordinary life, Nelson Mandela showed that tyranny and oppression never have the last word.  Justice triumphs in the end. 

I can understand when some say we will never see his like again.  But I see it differently. 

Because whenever people stand up for human rights; wherever people speak out for freedom and reach out for reconciliation – there is Nelson Mandela. 

That is the heritage of hope he bestowed on each and every one of us.  That is our inheritance.

Now it is our duty to build the better world that he showed is within our grasp. 

Let us follow his rainbow. 

Today and every day, let us be inspired by his passion, his compassion, and his undying conviction in the human spirit and the global good.

Thank you.


Statements on 19 December 2013