Nelson Mandela Day

Human Rights Council, 21st session Nelson Mandela International Day Panel

On September 21st, 2012, a panel spoke for Nelson Mandela International Day. Ms. Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated:

Madame President, Distinguished delegates, Dear colleagues,

I would like to welcome you to the second Human Rights Council’s Nelson Mandela International Day panel discussion. As requested by the Council in its resolution 20/18, today’s panel discussion focuses on how the values of reconciliation, peace, freedom and racial equality inspired by the life and actions of Nelson Mandela can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Today’s panel discussion is timely for three important reasons. Firstly, it honors a leader that remains unique in his ability to achieve what all human beings aspire for and cherish. It is aimed at inspiring individuals across the globe to take action to engrain Mandela’s values of reconciliation, racial harmony, peace and freedom in the realization of human rights for all. Secondly, it builds on the momentum for honoring and inculcating Mandela’s values created with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 64/13 which proclaimed 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day to be observed annually from 2010.  Finally, the panel builds on the outcome of the first panel held by the Human Rights Council in September 2011, emphasizing the priority, which the Council attaches to the values of Nelson Mandela.

The life of Nelson Mandela is a true testimony to what can be achieved with strength of character and personal commitment both in the lives of individuals and of nations. Nelson Mandela devoted his life to humanity. Despite suffering, discrimination and imprisonment for 27 years, he met his oppressors with magnanimity. President Mandela devoted his life to seeking racial harmony in a society where the dominant universe imposed apartheid and discrimination. He demonstrated by his actions and values an understanding that the purveyor of racism and discrimination, hatred and conflict is a captive of hatred, constricted behind the bars of prejudice and narrow mindedness and as such in need of enlightenment and liberation as much as the victim.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the panel discussion was aimed at inspiring individuals across the globe to take action to engrain Nelson Mandela’s values of reconciliation, racial harmony, peace and freedom in the realization of human rights for all.  The life of Nelson Mandela was a true testimony to what could be achieved with strength of character and personal commitment both in the lives of individuals and of nations.  In honoring him, they also had to think of all those who had been arbitrarily detained or denied a fair trial, and those who continued to suffer oppression, discrimination and prejudice.  They were not to be forgotten just because they were unknown.  Mr. Mandela’s resolute search for truth, justice and reconciliation endeared him to all, including his detractors.  As President, Nelson Mandela upheld the ideals and principles which he proclaimed during his trial and incarceration and continued with his philosophy of building bridges across the racial divide. The most stirring voice to come out of the southern tip of Africa, Nelson Mandela had brought his message of freedom, equality, racial harmony and human dignity to the entire world.  The best way to honor him for being such an inspiration was by applying his values and striving to live in a way that respected and enhanced the freedom of others.  Statements by Panelists FRANCIS GURRY, Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, said that, while not being an expert in human rights he intended to speak about his experience in multilateral work and the relevance of Nelson Mandela. There were at least two teachings from the life of Nelson Mandela that were relevant for multilateral work, on the one hand, the profound and sophisticated ethic of Ubuntu and, on the other, the need to deal with opposites.  Ubuntu had been characterized by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the idea that one could not exist as a human being in isolation but through interconnectedness.  No man was an island, entire of itself.  Each was a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  Mr. Gurry referred to John Donne’s poetry and Chinese poetry to underline the universality of the acknowledgement of human interdependence and its importance to addressing the challenges of global society.

On the other hand, multilateralism was challenged by its incapacity to deal with opposition and opposites, which was relevant to the work of intellectual property and the difficulty to balance interests and equities in the world of innovation.  There was no better guide on how to deal with opposition or the importance of interconnectedness than the life of Nelson Mandela and his own efforts to deal with oppression. JEAN-MARIE EHOUZOU, Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that President Mandela was undoubtedly the most influential political prisoner of the twentieth century, and one of the most important African reformers.  His long period of detention and his belief in the cause make Mr. Mandela an international human rights symbol.  In spite of the popularity of his party, President Mandela had chosen an inclusive and participatory approach, attempting to involve all political forces in South Africa.  This approach had given rise to a peaceful and constructive atmosphere and the promotion and protection of human rights.  This cult of the other was the cornerstone of all successful negotiations and processes of conflict resolution.  Only by understanding the fears and needs of the other could one establish a dialogue which was conducive to the re-establishment of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction.  President Mandela had also distinguished himself by his fight against poverty, and had compared the injustice of poverty and inequity to apartheid.  For him, winning over poverty was not a gesture of charity; it was an act of justice.  For President Mandela, the fight against poverty was based on the protection of fundamental human rights, the right to dignity and a decent live.  As long as poverty persisted, there was no real freedom.

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