New York

21 July 2021

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to General Assembly Meeting on Nelson Mandela International Day [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Dear friends,

I am pleased to be with you today and to represent the Secretary-General as we celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day.

Today would have been the 102nd birthday of this extraordinary man who embodied the highest aspirations of the United Nations and the human family.

Nelson Mandela exemplified courage, compassion and an unwavering commitment to social justice and equality.

He led the struggle to end the racist apartheid system in his native South Africa and continued to fight against injustice throughout his life.

Madiba’s calls for solidarity and an end to racism are particularly relevant today, as social cohesion around the world is threatened by division.

Hate speech and the denial of facts are moving to the mainstream in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes alike, blurring the truth, questioning science and undermining democratic institutions.

We have seen the alarming trend of people with little or no knowledge of historical facts being infected by the virus of disinformation and distortion, and embracing violent ideologies.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made these ills more acute while also rolling back years of progress in the global fight against poverty and injustice.

As always in times of crisis, it is the marginalized and already discriminated against who suffer the most, often while being blamed for problems they did not cause.

People of African descent, people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, Indigenous Peoples, ethnic or religious groups and minorities, people who had to flee their homes as refugees – they bear the brunt of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.

These are the ills that Nelson Mandela stood up against to create his lasting legacy.

In September 2018, at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit held at United Nations Headquarters, nearly 100 representatives of government and civil society committed to redoubling efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world.

The gathering declared the years 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.

It is our individual responsibility to follow Madiba’s example of humility, forgiveness and compassion, while advocating for democracy and peace throughout the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the vital importance of human solidarity and unity, values championed and exemplified by Madiba in his lifelong fight for justice.

Recurring waves of infection across continents make it clear that no one is safe until all are safe.

And each of us has a part to play.

As we enter the third year of the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, let us be inspired by Madiba’s message that each of us can make a difference in promoting peace, human rights, harmony with nature and dignity for all.

If I may add a personal note, Madiba has been an inspiration for me ever since I was a young person trying to find my path.

I have taken to heart his profound words, that: “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one's time and energy to helping others without expecting anything in return.”

As we reflect on Madiba’s life and work, let us each stand up and be counted. Let us borrow a leaf from his stubborn optimism in the human endeavour.

Let us all honour his call to action and be energized by his legacy.

Thank you.