Unanimously adopting a political declaration at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, nearly 100 Heads of State and Government, Ministers, Member States and representatives of civil society today committed to redoubling efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world, as they paid tribute to the late South African President’s celebrated qualities and service to humanity.
Recognizing the period from 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, the Declaration saluted Mr. Mandela for his humility, forgiveness and compassion, acknowledging as well his contribution to the struggle for democracy and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world (document A/73/L.1).
By the text, Heads of State and Government and Member States representatives reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the sovereign equality of all States and respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, as well as the duty of Member States to refrain from the threat or use of force. Recognizing that peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the United Nations system and the foundations for collective security and well‑being, the Declaration reaffirmed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“We resolve to move beyond words in the promotion of peaceful, just, inclusive and non‑discriminatory societies,” leaders pledged, as they stressed the importance of the equal participation and full involvement of women and youth.
They also declared that racism, xenophobia and related intolerance represent the very opposite of the purposes of the United Nations and emphasized their resolve to protect the rights of children, especially in armed conflict. “Protecting children contributes to breaking the cycle of violence and sows the seeds for future peace,” the Declaration said.
In addition, leaders reaffirmed that each State has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. They underscored that civil society can play an important role in preventing conflicts, contributing to peacebuilding and advancing efforts to sustain peace.
Further by the Declaration, they emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace by preventing conflict and addressing its root causes and strengthening the rule of law, poverty eradication, and social development. “It is clear that lasting peace is not realized just by the absence of armed conflict, but is achieved through a continuing positive, dynamic, inclusive and participatory process of dialogue,” they underscored.
They also welcomed the example set by South Africa in unilaterally dismantling its nuclear‑weapon programme and recalled the firm plea made by Mr. Mandela in favour of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. They further recommended “in the spirit of Nelson Mandela’s legacy” that the United Nations explore means to consider the needs of present and future generations in its decision‑making processes. “Our common humanity demands that we make the impossible possible,” they stated.
Opening the Summit, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said throughout Mr. Mandela’s life he was always guided by the principles that are the bedrock of the United Nations, including the values of peace, solidarity, cooperation and respect for all humans. His love for South Africa sparkled in his eyes, she added, describing how she got to know Mr. Mandela during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.
His legacy, she underscored, represents a light of hope for a world still torn apart by conflict and at the mercy of threats such as the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, tensions between nations with nuclear arms, land disputes and the oppression of minorities. This bleak backdrop constitutes a serious threat to peace and security that must be resolved. Some principles and values of the United Nations Charter have been called into doubt, such as the principle of multilateralism. The world needs a global compact, she emphasized, and the only forum for such a compact is the United Nations, which is the most representative body available for dialogue and reconciliation.
The Declaration is a testament to the key role that the United Nations has played in achieving peace and security in the world, she continued. Strong global leadership is needed. Only through multilateralism will it be possible to achieve peace and security. There are many challenges in the path to peace. How those challenges will be overcome, whether together or alone and divided, will be decided, she said, quoting Mr. Mandela, who said “it always seems impossible until it is done”.
António Guterres, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, remembered Mr. Mandela as “one of humanity’s great leaders” who embodied the highest values of the United Nations. As a political prisoner, he refused to allow his dignity to be undermined, and as President of his country, he championed women’s rights and its 1996 Constitution, which remains a beacon for human rights and equal opportunity. Beyond South Africa’s borders, Madiba was a profound influence for peace and democracy, including helping to broker the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi. “Everywhere, he was a champion for peace, forgiveness, humility, compassion, dignity and human rights,” he said.
Noting that 2017 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mr. Guterres recalled that Mr. Mandela spoke in the General Assembly about that document almost exactly 20 years ago, urging world leaders to build a world consistent with its provisions. Today, with human rights under growing pressure around the world, the international community should reflect on the example he set. “We need to face the forces that threaten us with the wisdom, courage and fortitude that Nelson Mandela embodied,” he said, emphasizing that that is the only way to build a just, peaceful and prosperous world as envisioned in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Describing Madiba as a global citizen whose legacy must continue to guide the international community, he drew attention to the statue of Mr. Mandela — donated by the Government of South Africa and unveiled earlier — and highlighted the Organization’s creation of the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize and the Nelson Mandela International Day to promote community service. “Today we remember a man of great wisdom, quiet dignity and towering achievement who worked tirelessly for peace and human dignity for people everywhere,” he said. That is the purpose of the United Nations and the responsibility of the world’s leaders who must build on Mr. Mandela’s legacy so that all people everywhere can enjoy peace, prosperity and inclusive sustainable development.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission, said it was in remembrance of the values embodied by Mr. Mandela that the African Union declared 2014–2024 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Reconciliation in Africa. Having grown up amidst suffering and adversity, Mr. Mandela — a giant of South Africa and the world — dedicated his humanism and the full force of his faith to the freedom and dignity of man. His qualities included courage, determination and the ability to pardon. Yet, more than everything else, his commitment to humanism found a place in history.
Pointing out that multilateralism is under attack from all sides, he said that if Mr. Mandela had spoken to the General Assembly today, he would have urged the international community not to be fatalistic or to abandon the struggle for life, or to resolve conflict through fight, blood, hatred and exclusion. Instead, Mr. Mandela would have invited everyone to redouble their efforts to dare to fight and to win. Emphasizing that the African Union is fully committed to Madiba’s values and legacy, he commended the people of the rainbow nation of South Africa for staying wedded to his universal message and ensuring that his legacy lives on.
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, recalled that Mr. Mandela had said the great challenge facing the world was answering the question of how to ensure peace and prosperity prevailed everywhere, given the interdependence of the international community. The signing of the United Nations Charter took place in a different world, one still reeling from the clash of great powers during Second World War. It was from that collective trauma the United Nations was born. Nations were seeking to reimagine a world where countries cooperated rather than clashed, and where friendly relations led to a better life for all.
Such noble ideas needed to be expressed in the actions of those who took up the mantle of leadership, he continued. One such leader, born in the eastern part of South Africa, would come to represent the hopes of millions of South Africans who dreamt of a life unshackled from a system that limited their potential based merely on the colour of their skin. The story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and the role played by the United Nations, which served as an important platform for the anti‑apartheid movement, is well known. That story illustrates humanity’s great capacity for goodness and hope.
While much has been done to ensure the world never goes to war with itself again, he noted, the Organization has faced complex challenges over the past seven decades. Millions of people have been killed, while others have been maimed, displaced and starved due to war and conflicts. Of these, women and children continue to bear a disproportionate burden of these troubles. The international community continues to grapple with the haunting spectre of modern atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica, as well as conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen, turmoil in parts of Africa and the struggles for self‑determination in Western Sahara and Palestine, he said.
Threats to peace and security result more from conflicts within States and have become increasingly interdependent, rather than conflicts between States, he continued. Terrorism, illicit flows of finance and the growing number of refugees pose significant threats to global peace and order. The United Nations can only succeed to the degree that global leaders provide leadership that transcends narrow national interests. Through this peace summit, the current generation of global leadership is being given not only the opportunity to reflect on peace, but also the chance to take measures necessary to end the wars that continue to take innocent lives.
Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach and Minister for Defence of Ireland, reaffirmed that his country will continue to uphold the ideals of the United Nations and to work with the international community to achieve the aims Mr. Mandela worked towards. Mr. Mandela’s story was characterized by struggle and triumph and his fight for freedom and dignity for all speaks to the shared vision of a common humanity.
Pointing out that Ireland is marking the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Britain and Ireland, he said his country has witnessed first‑hand the profound truths that Mr. Mandela demonstrated: violent conflict is not inevitable, and reconciliation is achieved by moving beyond the pain of the past towards truth and forgiveness. However, the most profound of Mr. Mandela’s truths, he underscored, is that “we can free the prisoner, and we can free the jailer as well”.
In an address to the Irish Parliament, Mr. Mandela attacked the “arrogance of racism” and honoured those who “dared to cry freedom”, Mr. Varadkar continued, adding that a voice can be silenced by death, but its message can never be suppressed. The international community must find shared solutions guided by the principles of multilateralism, freedom of the individual, human rights and democracy. It must heed the Summit’s Political Declaration as it faces the challenges of the twenty‑first century. “War and hatred come in many guises; peace has the same face the world over,” he stated.
Graça Machel, founding member of the Elders, evoked the United Nations earliest founding principles: to save humanity from the scourge of war and ensure the rights and dignity of all people, among others. Mr. Mandela’s legacy as a freedom fighter, peacemaker and statesman speaks to the core of the Organization’s greatest aspirations. Also spotlighting the legacy of late former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his moral fortitude and commitment to justice, she stated: “The United Nations finds itself at a time when it would be well served to revisit and reconnect to the vision of its Founders, as well as to take direction from [Mr.] Mandela’s ‘servant leadership’ and courage.”
Mr. Mandela spent nearly three decades as a political prisoner and many years thereafter negotiating the complexities of peacemaking and nation‑building, she recalled, warning against putting ego, partisan politics or geographical considerations above the rights of all human beings. He silenced his ego and took risks, while also taking into consideration the interests of others while remaining true to his ultimate goal of social justice.
Today, armed conflicts have increased, with long protracted ones that have ravaged communities for decades, she said. “Our collective consciousness must reject the lethargy that has made us accustomed to death and violence, as if wars are legitimate and somehow impossible to terminate,” she stressed, noting that there is no justification for the loss of life and suffering in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Myanmar and other conflict zones. “Celebrating Madiba is to work to end this senseless violence as a matter of priority and urgency,” she emphasized.
Leaders must reject rigid political dogma, greedy resource acquisition and the massive arms industry, Ms. Machel continued. Peacemaking requires not only a political response but also one by the private sector, civil society groups and citizens at the grassroots level. When Mr. Mandela founded the Elders in 2007, he gave the group the mandate of supporting courage where there is fear, fostering agreement where there is conflict and inspiring hope where there is despair. Today, the group continues its work in highlighting inspirational civil society organizations’ efforts to unite communities and achieve peace, justice, health and equality. Quoting Mr. Mandela in that respect, she concluded: “It is in your hands to make a better world for all those who live in it.”
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, welcomed the broad sentiments expressed in the Political Declaration, while pointing out that “these are words that get repeated time and time again without the political will, determination and courage to make them a reality”. Recalling that Mr. Mandela spent most of his life as a civil society activist, he underscored that activists and human rights defenders are imprisoned, tortured and killed around the world. In too many countries, civic space has been shut down. Martin Luther King, Jr., had refused to adjust to bigotry, racial discrimination and economic inequalities. Likewise, “we the people should never allow ourselves to accept injustice”, he said, stressing that the United Nations Charter starts with “We the peoples”, not “We the members of the United Nations”.
Millions of refugees have been subjected to inhumane treatment, the Rohingya populations are in an open‑air prison under a system of apartheid and the Palestinians in Gaza face a relentless military blockade which keeps them in poverty and misery, he continued. The international community should not adjust to the centuries‑old subjugation of indigenous peoples, the systematic exclusion of people living with disabilities and the marginalization of youth. They should not adjust to leaders who espouse xenophobic, fascist narratives or demean and undermine women. They should not adjust to the bloodbaths in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere. “It is shameful that some Governments preach peace while aggressively selling the very arms that prolong civilian suffering,” he stated.
Refusing to accept the deadlocks that haunt the United Nations Security Council is particularly important, he stressed. The permanent five members too often use their powers to shield themselves and others who are committing the worst crimes. There is a need for a renewed respect for United Nations conventions and norms. He also underlined the consequences of climate change for people affected by extreme weather and small island nations facing imminent threat to their very existence. “To the one leader who still denies climate change: we insist you start putting yourself on the right side of history,” he said. Reminding political leaders that “we honour Madiba by picking up the mantle of his struggles”, he urged them not to disappoint the powerless people who will live or die from their choices.
Heads of State and Government paid tribute to Mr. Mandela, recalling their country’s special connection to his life from his time as a freedom fighter and prisoner to eventually becoming South Africa’s President. Several African countries shared stories of how Mr. Mandela helped strengthen the continent’s democratic institutions and set an example of true leadership. Speakers, from all corners of the world, said Mr. Mandela inspired a generation in its struggle against oppression. They welcomed the Political Declaration as a tool of commitment to help actualize his ideals and continue his service to humanity.
Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, called Mr. Mandela a true leader who did what was right even when it was not popular. Recalling Rwanda’s tragic history and the lessons it learned about reconciliation and nation-building, he said that the world is fortunate to have Mr. Mandela’s example to refer to.
João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, President of Angola, said Mr. Mandela’s courage in the face of the apartheid regime and incarceration justify his recognition as a freedom fighter. Mr. Mandela fought for the freedom of his people and that of his oppressors.
Adam Barrow, President of the Gambia, said Mr. Mandela was a noble citizen of the world with a vision for global peace for all. Yet, racism, dislike for foreigners and intolerance — the evil he fought — persist today as ever. It is therefore wise and fitting that leaders draw from his wisdom and work closely to stamp out these vices.
Azali Assoumani, President of Comoros, recalled that Mr. Mandela categorically rejected racism. He opposed black domination and white domination alike. Mr. Mandela also helped strengthen the African Union and resolve crises in the region, including in Comoros.
Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, spoke on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), saying that the ideals embodied by Mr. Mandela — quiet dignity, extraordinary compassion and unflinching integrity — have inspired generations throughout the region. Mr. Mandela called for “unity in diversity”, he recalled, pledging the region’s commitment to do its best to emulate the leader’s ideals by enhancing peace, security and prosperity.
Dionisio Babo Soares, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor‑Leste, said that Mr. Mandela inspired his island nation in its struggle for independence. Mr. Mandela’s principles gave Timor‑Leste hope as it struggled against oppression and colonialization on its journey to independence.
Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, spoke on behalf of the Arab Group, recalling that Mr. Mandela made clear that the South African revolution will never achieve all its aims until all people, including the Palestinians, also gain their freedom. “It is for us now to continue what he did,” he stressed, underlining the ongoing quest for peace among all peoples.
Harriett Baldwin, Member of Parliament from the United Kingdom, said that Mr. Mandela spoke of human rights for all, the dehumanizing effects of poverty and childhoods deprived by conflict. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an opportunity to rise to his great challenge, she said, urging, among other things, that girls have access to education.
Nasser Bourita, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Morocco, shared memories of the friendship between his late father, King Hassan II, and Madiba, saying it stemmed from his country’s support for the African National Congress. “Nelson Mandela embodied the struggle of an entire people, but also that of a continent – our Africa,” he said, adding that Mr. Mandela demonstrated that dialogue and negotiation must be pursued with relentless resolve.
Abdelkader Messahel, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said Mr. Mandela was a loyal friend of his country and part and parcel of its history. As a son of Africa, Mr. Mandela is a symbol of freedom and peace worldwide. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that his “rainbow nation” dream becomes a reality.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, recalled the inspiration and privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela, adding that the greatest tribute that can be paid to Madiba is to foster a permanent dialogue between continents and civilizations under the principle of “one family across the world, a family of love”.
Others speaking today were Heads of State and Government of Colombia, Ghana, Austria, Ecuador, Egypt, Cuba, Namibia, Liberia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Kenya, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Iran, Cabo Verde, Portugal, Panama, Palau, Albania, Slovenia, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Canada, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Armenia, Norway, Malta, Jamaica, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, New Zealand, Georgia, Montenegro, Fiji, Lesotho, Andorra, Bahamas, Greece, Guyana, Netherlands, Honduras, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Samoa, Mauritius and Nigeria.
Also delivering statements were Ministers, senior officials and other speakers representing Belgium, Japan, Spain, Malaysia, Hungary, Qatar, Brazil, Senegal, Gabon, Venezuela, India, Argentina, Liechtenstein, Sudan, Uruguay, Libya, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Serbia, China, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Monaco, Guinea, Somalia, Solomon Islands and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the Holy See and the State of Palestine.
The General Assembly’s Nelson Mandela Peace Summit will resume on 2 October.