UN Headquarters

18 July 2019

Remarks on Nelson Mandela International Day

António Guterres

Today, we commemorate the lifetime of service Nelson Mandela gave to South Africa and to the world.

We pay tribute to an extraordinary global advocate for dignity and equality, and one of the most iconic and inspirational leaders of our time.

Nelson Mandela exemplified courage, compassion, forgiveness and commitment to freedom, peace and social justice. 

He lived by these principles and was prepared to sacrifice his liberty and even his life for them.  

Madiba’s call for social cohesion and a culture of peace are particularly relevant today, with hate speech casting a growing shadow around the world.

Last month, I launched the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech to coordinate United Nations efforts to identify, prevent and confront this shameful phenomenon, which is progressively infecting mainstream discourse. 

And, in response to recent attacks on places of worship, I have also asked my team to develop an action plan to help safeguard religious sites.

As we work collectively for peace, stability, sustainable development and human rights for all, we would be well served to recall the example set by Nelson Mandela. 

In this building last year, at the September Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, nearly 100 Heads of State and Government, along with ministers, Member States and civil society representatives, committed to intensify efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world.

The gathering declared 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, saluting Mr. Mandela for his humility, forgiveness and compassion, acknowledging his contribution to the struggle for democracy and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.

As we enter the first year of the Decade, many conflicts continue with no sign of an end.

The multilateral system we have built is under strain.

And human rights are under siege from many quarters. 

In response, let us be guided by Nelson Mandela’s courage and wisdom to stand up for the values and principles of the United Nations Charter.

Our best tribute to a full life that Nelson Mandela devoted to the struggle for human rights is found in actions. 

As we do each year, the United Nations is calling on people and organizations around the world to mark the Day by making a difference in their communities. 

This year, in New York, the UN community -- diplomats and staff members -- are volunteering to support social justice by cooking for and serving disadvantaged people in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a neighbourhood that Madiba visited when he came to New York for the first time in 1990. 

Nelson Mandela’s message to the world is clear.

Every one of us can step up and act for enduring change. 

We all have the duty to do so and on this day of reflection on Nelson Mandela’s life and work, let us embrace his legacy and aspire to emulate his example. Thank you.