Nelson Mandela International Day

As delivered

Statement by H.E. Mr Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, on the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day

18 July 2017


Mandela DaySecretary-General Guterres

The Honorable Minister of Environment of the Republic of South Africa, Her Excellency Edna Molewa


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Thank you for joining us today at a joyous event on the UN’s annual calendar, the celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day.


Each year this day allows us to deeply reflect on the extraordinary example set by this far-seeing man of conscience. It is remarkable to consider that today marks President Mandela’s 99th birthday.


We all know the essence of the amazing journey of his life. Of how he dedicated his life to liberating South Africa from the painful divisions of apartheid. Of how he was imprisoned for 27 years and emerged from detainment showing the world the triumph of the human spirit. How he became the voice of the power of tolerance over hatred, forgiveness over bitterness, and unity over division.


President Mandela championed the reconciliation of his people, and worked tirelessly for peace and democracy.


And he transcended South Africa’s borders, inspiring people across the world to overcome racism, protect human rights, promote social justice, and end poverty.


In so many ways, President Mandela’s fight for a just and fair world remains as relevant today as it was during his lifetime.


Violent conflicts continue to rage. In many places human rights and democratic values are being eroded, with hate crimes and threats against refugees, migrants and minorities on the rise.


Inequality is widening, with too many people dying from poverty, malnutrition and preventable causes. At the same time, our precious environment is being over-exploited, and climate action is still failing to keep pace with the rate of deleterious change.


In short, today’s world is one in desperate need of President Mandela’s values of empathy, kindness, and respect for our common humanity.


His values urge us to pursue implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with unswerving determination.


The Sustainable Development Goals stand for so much that President Mandela strove so hard to achieve: a world in which the elimination of poverty is pursued as a matter of social justice; in which all girls and boys are provided the nutrition, health, and education they need to achieve their hopes and dreams; a world in which freedom, justice, democracy and the rule of law prevail in all nations; and a world in which the protection of human rights extends to all people.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


To mark Nelson Mandela Day, people across the world are being encouraged to participate in at least 67 minutes of community service on this day, to honor the 67 years that President Mandela dedicated to public service.


For my part, I will be joining volunteers from the United Nations to put our 67 minutes of service into helping our host city maintain a healthy coastal ecosystem. We will be participating in an event organized by the New York Mayor’s office this afternoon to clean up Randall Island’s shoreline. All are welcome to join us in this community service this afternoon.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


President Mandela represented the best of humanity. His extraordinary strength of character, conviction and devotion to duty will be an inspiration for all time. Thus on this his 99th birthday, let us recommit to promoting his vision of freedom and equality for all, remembering his immortal words: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest”.


I thank you for your attention.

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