As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.
- Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Prize

The United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize aims to recognize the achievements of those who dedicated their lives to the service of humanity as guided by the purposes and principles of the UN, while honouring and paying homage to Mandela's extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition and social transformation. It is awarded every five years and was first awarded in 2015.

Please refer to the Statute of the United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize for nominee eligibility criteria, and for further important information on the selection and process.

The 2020 Prize is awarded to Mrs. Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté of Guinea, selected by the UN selection Committee which was advised by a group of eminent persons.

The laureates will be recognized at the annual commemoration by the General Assembly of Nelson Mandela International Day which, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, is being marked virtually on 20 July 2020, 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. (New York time). The in-person award ceremony will take place at a later date at United Nations Headquarters in New York.


2020 Laureates

Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis

Remarks PDF document


Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis is a Greek philanthropist and world advocate for human rights and the protection of children’s health and welfare. She is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO since 1999, founder and president of “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” and of “ELPIDA Friends’ Association of Children with cancer”.

She serves as member of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Advisory Board, as Trustee of MENTOR Foundation against drugs and of “Nizami Ganjavi International Center”, as member of the Leadership Council of “Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights”, as Board Member of “Ashinaga” Foundation, "The Hellenic Initiative”, "Concordia”, “Light of Africa Foundation”, as President of the Honorary Committee of Special Olympics Hellas. She holds a BA in History of Art, MPhil in Archaeology and Honorary Doctorates in Laws, Philosophy, Human Studies and Medicine.

For more than 30 years, she is fighting against childhood cancer and for a world without borders in health, helping thousands of children to be cured. In 1993, she created the first Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Greece where 1200 children from Greece, Mediterranean and Balkans, received bone marrow transplants, free of charge. In 2010, she created the first Pediatric Oncology Hospital in Greece, recording 150.000 hospitalizations of children, which has been affiliated with prominent hospitals such as Johns Hopkins (USA), Sick Kids (Canada), Princess Maxima Pediatric Oncology Center (Holland) etc. In 2014, she established a Bone Marrow Donor Registry providing transplants for children and adults all over the world. Envisioning 4 out of 4 children to be cured, she established the first “Cell and Gene Therapy Center” in Greece, in 2020.

She promotes the UN Sustainable Development Goals and she supports children, families, schools, people in need and refugees, as well as UNESCO programmes for peace, education, culture, climate change and cultural heritage.

In 2007, she adopted the Greek village, Makistos, destroyed by fires, and she rebuilt the whole village. In 2013, she launched the “Speak Truth to Power” in Greek schools, a human rights education programme of “Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights”, including Nelson Mandela’s ideals.

She was the keynote speaker at the Opening of the 70th Anniversary Year of UNESCO, organized in the memory of Nelson Mandela, at UNESCO Headquarters in 2014.

In 2015, she launched the “WE CARE” program providing medical care to refugee children in Greece and, in 2016, the “Welcoming Cities for the Refugees” program in cooperation with UNESCO and the “European Coalition of Cities against Racism”.

She has received numerous distinctions such as: “Woman of Europe” Award (1996), Athens Academy Award (1997), “Golden Cross of the Order of Benefaction” of the Hellenic Republic (2002), rank of Chevalier of the “Legion d’ Honneur” of the French Republic (2006), Office of the Great Lady of the Patriarchal Throne of St. Mark (2008), “Grand Prix de la Charte de Paris contre le cancer” (2014), “Ripple of Hope Award” of “Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights” (2015), “Mother Teresa Medal” of the Albanian Republic (2015), rank of the Officer of the “Legion d’ Honneur” of the French Republic (2015), Academy of Athens Golden Medal (2017), “Outstanding Offer” Medal of the Republic of Cyprus (2018), Medal of the “Order of Honour” from the President of Georgia (2018), Medal of “Dostluq” Order of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2018), “Malala Prize” from the European Students’ Council (2018), among others.

Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté

Remarks (FR) PDF document


Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté is a leading advocate on ending violence against women and girls in Africa. He initiated efforts to address violence against women with the African Union Commission, leading to the Maputo Protocol, Africa’s regional instrument on ending violence against women. Dr. Kouyaté carried out exceptional efforts in the fight against harmful traditional practices, particularly for the elimination of the Female Genital Mutilations: Initiative for the International Day on Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (A/RES/67/146). Dr. Kouyaté holds degrees in medicine from the University of Conakry, Guinea, and Johns Hopkins University and Clark Atlanta University in the USA.

In 1983, Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté experienced a seismic shift in his life’s trajectory. One afternoon, five women rushed into the clinic, carrying twin girls in their arms. The twin girls were in critical condition, hemorrhaging and covered in blood. Up until that point, Dr. Kouyaté had never heard of what was then commonly referred to as female circumcision but is now known as female genital mutilation (FGM).

Dr. Kouyaté and his team did everything they could to save the girls, his wife even donating blood, but the twins were unable to recover from the trauma of the procedure. After their death, Dr. Kouyaté was shaken to the core. In an effort to prevent future deaths, he took three days of personal leave to write a pamphlet on the dangers of female circumcision. It was the first step in this new direction of his life: ending female genital mutilation and all forms of violence against women and girls.

Soon after, Dr. Kouyaté co-organized a meeting in Dakar, Senegal with representatives from 16 African countries. Together, they formed the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Harmful Traditional Practices, whose mission is to end practices that endanger the health of women and children throughout Africa.

At the same time, Dr. Kouyaté founded the Guinean branch of the IAC, which began extensive in-country work on the topic. Over the past 35 years, Dr. Kouyaté has served Guinea in a variety of health-focused positions and has used each of these roles as an opportunity to leverage support to end FGM. He has also collaborated with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, World Bank, African Union and many other entities to provide expert testimony, facilitate international trainings and more. Further, he has galvanized governments to engage in policy reform while providing guidance on best approaches to prevent and respond to FGM.

Today, after serving as the President of the Red Cross of Conakry 3, Dr. Kouyaté serves as the Executive Director of the IAC, and is a working group member of Every Woman Treaty. Dr. Kouyaté was also selected as one of the 2018 Solidarity Honorees for his work ending gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices.

Selection Committee

In accordance with Article 4 (1) of the Statute, the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize recipients are selected by the 2020 selection Committee composed as follows:

  • Chair of the Committee
    H.E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of United Nations General Assembly's seventy-fourth session.
  • African Group
    H.E. Albert Shingiro, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Burundi to the United Nations.
  • Asia-Pacific Group
    H.E. Adela Raz, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations.
  • Eastern European Group
    H.E. Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations.
  • Latin American and Caribbean Group
    H.E. Jaime Hermida Castillo, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Nicaragua to the United Nations.
  • Western European Group and other States
    H.E. Maria Theofili, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations.
  • Ex-officio member of the Committee
    H.E. Jerry Matthews Matjila, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the United Nations.

In accordance with Article 4 (2) of the Statute, the following three eminent individuals have been selected to serve as honorary members of the Committee in an advisory capacity:

  • H.E. Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio,
    Former President of Portugal and 2015 Laureate of the Nelson Mandela Prize
    (nominated by H.E. Maria Theofili, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations and representative of the Western European and Others Group on the Prize committee)
  • H.E. Eduard Kukan,
    Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Former Member of the European Parliament
    (nominated by H.E. Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations and representative of the Eastern European Group on the Prize committee)
  • Mrs. Amina Bouayach,
    President of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) of Morocco
    (nominated by H.E. Albert Shingiro, Permanent Representative of Burundi to the United Nations and representative of the African Group on the Prize committee)

The UN Department of Global Communications has been designated to serve as the secretariat of the Committee.

More on the selection process >>