GA Informal Plenary

Secretary-General's Remarks to the General Assembly Informal Plenary on Nelson Mandela International Day — 2017

18 July

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be with you to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day, marking what would have been the 99th birthday of an extraordinary global advocate for justice and equality. Nelson Mandela continues to inspire the world through his example of courage and compassion, and his commitment to social justice and a culture of freedom and peace.

I had the honour of meeting Nelson Mandela several times, including during South Africa’s transition. Each time, I was struck by his wisdom, his compassion, and above all, his humility.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from Nelson Mandela is that to make progress, we must look forward, however difficult that may be. Nelson Mandela was known as prisoner 46664 for 18 years. But he never became a prisoner of his past. Sentenced to hard labour and solitary confinement on Robben Island, he rose above suffering and indignity to lead his country, and our world, to a brighter day. He did not succumb to bitterness or personal animosity, but poured his formidable energy into realizing his vision of a peaceful, multi-ethnic, democratic South Africa.

Nelson Mandela once said a saint could be defined as a sinner who keeps on trying. That is a powerful message of hope, in a world riven with fear and cynicism.

It is never too late to face the future, and to try again. Today we commemorate Nelson Mandela’s lifetime of service. The best tribute we can pay this great man is not words or in ceremonies, but actions that improve our world.

Today, the United Nations joins the Mandela Foundation in calling on people around the world to make a difference in their communities to bring about enduring change. United Nations staff around the world are marking this day by volunteering for public service, and the President of the General Assembly is giving a remarkable example on that, to inspire change and to build a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable world.

Each of us can make a difference in promoting peace, human rights, sustainable development, and lives of dignity for all.

Each of us can be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s example, and by his famous words: It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Let us all build on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.


Thank you.

António Guterres