Statement by the UN Resident Coordinator Ms Christine Evans-Klock in commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day
Your Excellency, High Commissioner for South Africa, Thank you so much for organizing this commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day and for giving all of us the opportunity to give thanks for and celebrate his life on the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Your excellency, President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, it is an honour to be present with you at this commemoration.
South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Sisulu, – Allow me to join others this evening in welcoming you to Ghana for this important occasion.
My thanks also to the members of the Diplomatic Corps, distinguished guests, and my favorite saxophonist – thank you very much Steve Bidi.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we are here this evening because there are certain events and people who bind us together as humanity. People who make such a difference in one place that they impact the whole world. They inspire us all. And Nelson Mandela surely stands out as such a person.
I think if this were a less formal occasion and I could ask you, I am pretty sure that most of you here this evening could remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Nelson Mandela had been released from prison – on February 11th, 1990. And I imagine that many of you shared the same sentiment of optimism that I felt on that Sunday morning: that the world had just become a little bit better place.
Some twenty years later I participated in a meeting in Cape Town, it was a G20 committee preparatory meeting, which South Africa, as a G20 member, was hosting. And I made sure to add some personal time to my official duties so that I could make the pilgrimage to Robben Island, as I am sure many of you have done as well.
Despite everything I had read and watched on film of Nelson Mandela’s life, there was something profoundly moving about seeing that 4 square meter cell, without a proper bed, where he lived for 18 of the 27 years he spent in prison.
A visit to Robben Island is moving and inspiring, instead of dispiriting, because we know something of how the story went from there - from injustice and assault on dignity in prison to political leadership and electoral victories that ended institutionalized racism in South Africa.
That pathway nearly defies comprehension… of the depth of moral fortitude, of the level of confidence in the rightness of the cause of freedom and justice, and in the determination to lead a nation on the High Road, away from recrimination and retaliation and instead towards unity for the first time.
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Government of National Unity, and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, provided a model for post-conflict communities around the world.
One thing that is not hard to understand, then, is why the Member States of the United Nations would set aside a day to honour Nelson Mandela.
In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared the 18th of July "Nelson Mandela International Day," in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom. The Resolution (A/RES/64/13) recognizes Mr. Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity in: conflict resolution; race relations; promotion and protection of human rights; reconciliation; gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups; the fight against poverty; and the promotion of social justice.
The resolution acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.
Everyone is invited to mark Nelson Mandela International Day by making a difference in their own communities. Mandela Day is an occasion for all of us to take action and to inspire change.
Six years later, in December 2015, the UN General Assembly extended the scope of Nelson Mandela International Day to also be utilized to promote humane conditions of imprisonment, to raise awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society and to value the work of prison staff as a social service of particular importance.
The General Assembly resolution (A/RES/70/175) not only adopted the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, but also approved that they should be known as the "Nelson Mandela Rules" in order to honour the legacy of the late President of South Africa, who spent 27 years in prison in the course of his struggle for peace and freedom and justice.
I understand that the Nelson Mandela Foundation has dedicated this year's Mandela Day to Action Against Poverty, honouring his leadership and devotion to fighting poverty and promoting social justice for all.
This gives me opportunity to share with you one of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela, and I am sure that everyone here has one or two or more of those.
In his address for the "Make Poverty History" Campaign, in London, February 2005, he said this in a pointed reminder to the G7 finance ministers who were meeting at that time in London. He said:
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”
This quote is indeed a call to action, one that 196 UN Member States took up in 2015 in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end extreme poverty in all its forms. This continued the work of the Millennium Development Goals whereby Ghana, and the world overall, succeeded in decreasing by half the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty. The world is acting on his call to take action to go the rest of the way, and end extreme poverty by 2030.
Strengthening the credibility of public institutions that are essential to democracy and to the promotion of human rights and access to justice, and protecting their critical service to the public good, are continuous actions that we need to take to guarantee justice and freedom and thus ensure that no one is left behind in economic, social and environmental development.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured this evening to end my remarks by sharing with you the message from UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to commemorate Nelson Mandela International Day 2018. And I quote…
“Nelson Mandela was a towering global advocate for justice and equality.
“He continues to inspire the world through his example of courage and compassion.
“Nelson Mandela was held captive for many years but he never became a prisoner of his past.
“Instead he poured his energy into reconciliation and his vision of a peaceful, multi-ethnic, and democratic South Africa.
“On this day, marking the centennial of his birth, we commemorate Nelson Mandela’s lifetime of service.
“Rarely has one person in history done so much to stir people’s dreams and to move them to action.
“That struggle for equality, dignity and justice continues.