New York

18 July 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at General Assembly Informal Plenary Meeting on Nelson Mandela International Day

Let me extend a warm welcome to the special guests who have joined us for this year’s celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day, marking the 95th birthday of a global hero and icon of justice and equality.

Mr. Mlangeni: It is an honour to host you at United Nations Headquarters.  Like Nelson Mandela, you spoke out against the exploitation of human beings based on the colour of their skin.  Like him, you went to prison for seeking only to uphold the universal principle of equal rights.  And like him, you ultimately turned many years of hardship into progress, emerging from jail with a spirit of reconciliation and pursuing a life of service to your people and country.  Thank you for travelling so far to be with us today.

President Clinton:  Your tenure in office coincided with South Africa’s dramatic democratic transformation.  Thank you for the important support you provided during the final years of the struggle.

Reverend Jackson: Your activism over the years – for civil rights alongside Dr. King, for the abolition of apartheid, and for social justice across the world – has resonated deeply at the United Nations.

This year’s commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day comes as the globally revered Madiba remains in hospital.

At this difficult time, our thoughts are with Mr. Mandela, his family and all the people of South Africa.

We are united in concern.  We are also joined in admiration for a towering figure in the world-wide fight for equality and justice, a model of compassion and integrity, a man who took on and then gracefully relinquished the responsibility of power.

Nelson Mandela is a giant of our times.  He gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights.

On this International Day, the United Nations and the Mandela Foundation are calling on people around the world to devote at least 67 minutes of their time today to community service.  

Today and every day, we want to mobilize the human family to take action, inspire change, and build a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable world.

Here in New York, United Nations staff are helping to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. 

Elsewhere around the world, UN staff are engaging in various volunteer activities: preparing meals for the elderly, helping out in orphanages, cleaning up parks and organizing computer literacy workshops.

The animating spirit of this day is good works for people and the planet.  This is the best tribute we can pay to an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity.

Nelson Mandela has done as much as anyone to shape the very conscience of the international community.

From its earliest days, the United Nations General Assembly expressed its concern about issues of discrimination in South Africa.

Over the decades, the Organization wielded almost every tool at its disposal to support the movement for a democratic, non-racial country based on equality for all.

Through increasingly strong resolutions; through a far-reaching public awareness campaign; through the establishment of a special committee; through arms, oil and other economic embargoes as well as sports and cultural boycotts, the United Nations helped keep the international spotlight on injustice.

The victory over apartheid was that of South Africans.  

But it also showed what the United Nations itself could do in the face of grave global problems.

At the dawn of the struggle, the United Nations stood side-by-side with Nelson Mandela and all those who fought the inhumane system of apartheid.

Now, in the twilight of an extraordinary life, we send our prayers his way and give thanks that we have had the privilege of sharing some of his 95 years with him.

Let us all continue to be inspired by Nelson Mandela.  
At this moment of reflection on his life and work, let us pledge to live up to his example.

Thank you.