17 July 2020

General Assembly Honours Historic South African Leader with Announcement of United Nations Mandela Prize Laureates

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations General Assembly will mark Nelson Mandela International Day (18 July) with a virtual informal meeting on 20 July.  The meeting will also feature official recognition of the laureates of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.

The two laureates, Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Morissanda Kouyaté of Guinea, were officially announced today by the President of the General Assembly in his capacity as Chair of the Prize Committee.  They will attend the General Assembly meeting on 20 July.  The in-person award ceremony will be held at a later date at United Nations Headquarters New York.  

“The work of the Laureates made a significant difference to the lives of others as inspired by the life and values of Nelson Mandela”, said Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President of the General Assembly.  He added that this unique prize also serves as an inspiration to all who work tirelessly to contribute to and improve the well-being of others, and in so doing, promote the values of the United Nations.

Speakers at the meeting will include Assembly President Muhammad-Bande; António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Naledi Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, as well as Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Morissanda Kouyaté of Guinea, of the UN Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.  Also speaking will be a representative of the City of New York and chairs of regional groups:  Burkina Faso (African States); Cyprus (Asia-Pacific States); Estonia (Eastern European States); Saint Lucia (Latin American and Caribbean States); Israel (Western European and other States); and the United States (Host Country).

The Prize was established by the General Assembly in June 2014 to recognize the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.

Ms. 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 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since 1999, and founder and President of the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and of ELPIDA Friends’ Association of Children with cancer.  For more than 30 years, she has been fighting against childhood cancer and for a world without borders in health, helping thousands of children to be cured.

Dr. Kouyaté of Guinea is a leading advocate on ending violence against women and girls in Africa and Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (IAC).  He initiated efforts that resulted in Africa’s regional instrument on ending violence against women.  He carried out exceptional efforts in the fight against harmful traditional practices, particularly the elimination of female genital mutilation.

“As the United Nations marks its seventy-fifth anniversary in this fragile time, we reflect on the life and work of Nelson Mandela, who embodied the highest values of the United Nations and who took action and inspired change”, Secretary-General Guterres said in his message on the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day.  “…let us recall that we can, and must, be part of the quest for a better future of dignity, opportunity and prosperity for all people on a healthy planet.”

Every year, as part of the “Take Action, Inspire Change” campaign on Nelson Mandela International Day, individuals throughout the world are encouraged to devote 67 minutes to helping others — by volunteering in a hospital, tutoring a child, providing food for the homeless, or any other community service activity.  The 67-minute campaign is based on people devoting one minute of their time for every year that Nelson Mandela devoted to public service — as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker, and as the President of South Africa.

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, United Nations staff volunteers in New York City and in United Nations offices around the world are asked to mark Mandela Day by individually undertaking primarily virtual activities in honour of Nelson Mandela.  This includes becoming a digital first responder and helping stop the spread of misinformation on #COVID19 as part of the initiative.

Background on the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize:

The United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize is an honorary award originally established by General Assembly resolution 68/275 of 6 June 2014.  Its statute was approved by General Assembly resolution 69/269 of 2 April 2015.  It is presented once every five years as a tribute to the outstanding achievements and contributions of two individuals, one female and one male Laureate, who shall not be selected from the same geographic region.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared 18 July “Nelson Mandela International Day” in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.  General Assembly resolution 64/13 recognizes Mr. Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.

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For more information on the Laureates of the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize:

To view the live webcast of the General Assembly ceremony starting at 10 a.m. on 20 July, please visit

For further information, photos, videos, and other resources:

Media Contacts

UN Department of Global Communications:  Julia Hagl, e-mail:; Nora Yinuo Chen, e-mail:

For information media. Not an official record.