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SG/SM/20181
20 July 2020

Against Fragile Global Backdrop, Secretary-General Calls for ‘New Social Contract’ in Spirit of Nelson Mandela, Marking International Day

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day, observed on 18 July, and the United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize laureate recognition, in New York today:

I am pleased to join you to celebrate the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela — one of the greatest leaders of our time, a moral giant whose legacy continues to guide us today.  Let me also express condolences to Madiba’s family and the people of South Africa on the untimely passing of his daughter, Zindzi, this month.

On this commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day, I am delighted to extend my warmest congratulations to the 2020 laureates of the United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize:  Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Morissana Kouyate of Guinea.  Both are recognized for their long-standing commitment to the service of humanity in the areas of human rights, access to health care and the empowerment of women and girls and the most vulnerable in society.

I commend them for advancing the United Nations mission and carrying on the extraordinary legacy of Nelson Mandela.  As Madiba himself once said:  “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”  This message was the core of the Nelson Mandela lecture I delivered this weekend.  High and rising levels of inequality threaten our well-being and our future.

Inequality damages everyone.  It is a brake on human development and opportunities, and is associated with unfair international relations, but also with economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime, and poor physical and mental health.

The answer lies in a new social contract to ensure economic and social justice and respect for human rights.  A new social contract within societies will enable young people to live in dignity.  It will ensure women have the same prospects and opportunities as men.  And it will protect the sick, the vulnerable and minorities of all kinds.

This year, we mark Nelson Mandela Day while COVID-19 continues to spread.  The pandemic endangers everyone, everywhere, especially the most vulnerable.  COVID-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of our societies, and it has laid bare risks we have ignored for decades:  inadequate health care; gaps in social protection; structural inequalities; environmental degradation; and the climate crisis.

In response, we need world leaders to foster unity and solidarity.  First, to reduce the common threat of the pandemic, and second, to promote a recovery that will build more sustainable, inclusive and gender-equal societies and economies.  Societies and economies that uphold the inherent dignity and worth of every person.

As we celebrate Madiba and his life-long struggle for justice and equality, we must recognize that we still face the persistent plague of racism.  This abomination violates the Charter of the United Nations and insults our core values.

Every day, in our work across the world, we must strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice and dignity.  We must combat racism in all its manifestations.

As the United Nations marks its seventy-fifth anniversary in this fragile time, let us 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.

Despite many years as a prisoner of conscience, Madiba retained his dignity and commitment to his ideals.  Let his example convince any Governments that keep such prisoners to release them.  There should be no prisoners of conscience in the twenty-first century.

On this Mandela Day, let us recall that we all have a part to play in the quest for a better future of dignity, opportunity and prosperity for all people on a healthy planet.

For information media. Not an official record.