At the UN summit to honor Nelson Mandela, Heads of State and Government, ministers, other country officials and representatives of civil society discussed efforts needed to pursue international peace and security. UN Member States adopted a political declaration that recognizes the period 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, and calls for redoubling efforts to pursue international peace and security, development and human rights.
The ‘Nelson Mandela Peace Summit’ was mandated by UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 72/243 of December 2017, in which UN Member States decided to hold a high-level plenary meeting on global peace in honor of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. The Summit took place in New York, US, on 24 September 2018, the day before the start of the UNGA 73 general debate. The Summit was preceded by the unveiling of a statue of Nelson Mandela, offered to the UN by the government of South Africa in recognition of Mandela’s lifelong efforts to promote peace and security and protect human rights.
Governments and other stakeholders praised Mandela for living by the principles that underpin the UN, and for representing the values of peace, solidarity, cooperation, equality and respect for all human beings. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of UNGA 73, remarked that the principle of multilateralism is currently being challenged, but moving away from multilateralism is to endanger our species and our planet. She called for a social contract based on shared responsibility, and said the only existing space to achieve this contract is the UN. She described the UNGA as the most representative and legitimate space for dialogue and reconciliation.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Mandela, also known as Madiba, was one of humanity’s great leaders and had devoted his life to serving his community as a lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, a peacemaker, a president and a respected elder. He remarked that as president of South Africa, Mandela expanded access to health care, education, housing, water, sanitation and electricity, and championed women’s rights and South Africa’s landmark 1996 Constitution, “which remains a beacon for human rights and equal opportunity.” Guterres noted that 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that human rights are currently under growing pressure around the world.
Speakers from Africa shared stories about Mandela’s role in strengthening democratic institutions, and said he inspired generations to struggle against oppression.
Representatives of several African countries shared stories about Mandela’s role in helping strengthening the region’s democratic institutions, noting that he inspired generations in its struggle against oppression. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union (AU), noted that the AU declared 2014-2024 as the ‘Nelson Mandela Decade for Reconciliation in Africa,’ and said this celebration of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela is a marker of freedom, solidarity and peace.
Cyril Ramphosa, President of South Africa, said since the formation of the UN, several crises that have tested the limits of diplomacy and the multilateral system, and the UN has endured as a force for stability, cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflict. Nowadays, he said, the UN faces more intricate and complex challenges, such as terrorism, transnational organized crime, illicit flows of finance and the growing number of refugees. He called for a UN that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with challenges its founders could not have imagined. He also called on the UN to not rely on the “political interests of a few,” saying an impasse between major powers often impedes the entire organization’s ability to act.
Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland (Taoiseach), remarked that peace is made “not with your friends, but with your enemies,” and reconciliation is achieved by “moving beyond the hurt and pain of the past towards truth and forgiveness.” He called for renewing efforts to advance gender equality around the world, and to give young people a greater say in the decisions that will affect them and the future of our planet.
GraçaMachel, founding member of The Elders, noted that global security has deteriorated “remarkably” in the past decade, and the number of armed conflicts has increased. She said there is no justification for the loss of life and suffering in places like Syria, Yemen, Palestine, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Myanmar, and cautioned against the Summit being “another talk shop.” She said that she and the president of South Africa launched the Global Peace initiative, an initiative of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) to bridge the gap between peace and development. She referred to the publication ‘Sparks of Hope,’ a compendium highlighting the courage and leadership of “change agents across the world,” and asked participants to the event to take inspiration from this work.
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said Nelson Mandela spent the vast majority of his life as a civil society activist, but today, as people gather to honor him, thousands of activists and human rights defenders around the world are imprisoned or have been tortured and killed. Naidoo asked to not adjust to the deadlocks that “continue to haunt the UN Security Council,” as the five permanent members use their power “not to prevent and stop suffering but shield themselves and others committing the worst crimes.” He also called for averting catastrophic climate change, noting that thousands are regularly devastated by extreme weather events. He called on “the one leader who still denies climate change” to put himself “on the right side of history.”
At the end of the opening segment, governments adopted the ‘Political Declaration Adopted at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit.’ The declaration is the result of intergovernmental consultations that took place from May to September 2018 under the facilitation of Jerry Matthews Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa, and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland. Per the declaration, Heads of State and government and other representatives of UN Member States recommend that the UN explore means to systematically consider the needs of present and future generations, including through inter-generational dialogue, within its decision-making processes. They also welcome the establishment of the UN High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, encouraging its further efforts and contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security and prevention of armed conflicts.
In the declaration, countries: note that sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security, and peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development; commit to redouble efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world; emphasize the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace; recognize the need to address threats to global peace and security, including challenges to the primacy of multilateralism; and reaffirm commitment to uphold the sovereign equality of all States, respect for their territorial integrity and political independence. They also: encourage parties to armed conflict to take immediate, concrete measures to end cycles of conflict and prevent relapse; recognize that there is no single template for peace, and commit to availing their best practices to those who seek different models for peace; stress the importance of the equal participation and full involvement of women and the meaningful participation of youth in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security; and resolve to ensure the protection, rights and well-being of children, especially in armed conflict.
Countries and groups of countries addressed the Summit during a plenary session throughout the day. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said there is no unilateralism or “happy protectionism” since the world needs openness, cooperation, rules and principles to resolve conflicts, eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, and develop free and fair trade that creates jobs and new opportunities for all. He called for mobilizing energy to reform, modernize and revitalize multilateral institutions, rather than disengaging from them.
Singapore for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that since its inception in 1967, ASEAN has worked to create a culture of dialogue, cooperation and consensus, and to support a common effort to achieve sustainable development. Saudi Arabia for the Arab Group said Nelson Mandela made clear that the South African revolution will never achieve all its aims until all people, including the Palestinians, also gain their freedom.
As noted by Secretary-General Guterres, in 2015, the UN decided to award the Nelson Mandela Prize every five years to two individuals who have made significant contributions to the service of humanity. In addition, Nelson Mandela International Day is observed each July, and is an occasion for all to take action and to promote and engage in community service.
The Summit followed the International Day of Peace on 21 September 2018, on the theme ‘The Right to Peace – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.’ The UNGA is expected to resume its tribute to Nelson Mandela on 2 October.