The passing of Nelson Mandela is a sombre time, not just for South Africa but for the whole world. The coming together of numerous Presidents, Prime Ministers and Religious Leaders, of friends, allies, and even enemies to celebrate the life of Mandela is a sign of his impact on the international community. However, this blog does not seek to do what others can and have done better. As Obama stated, ‘It is hard to eulogise any man… how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice’. Instead, it looks at what legacy should we attempt to give to Mandela, and one fitting for a man who fought for justice and human rights for all. As Mandela himself said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’. The full enjoyment of Human Rights by all and the alleviation of poverty and disease are a challenge that Nelson Mandela fought for, and one that can and must be achieved. This is the only fitting legacy we can offer.
The international community has come so far since the signing, on the 10th December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet its first Article, that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights […]’ is still far from realised. Ban Ki-moon, in his address at Mandela’s commemoration stated that ‘our struggle continues – against inequality and intolerance and for prosperity and peace’. We must remember that there are innumerable people in the world that are vulnerable and in need of our help. Many are still fighting the battle that Mandela fought in South Africa. The example that Mandela provides is of a value that is hard to quantify. Mandela campaigned against Racism and Bigotry, focused on HIV/Aids, his dream for our children was one in which ‘every child’ has a first-class primary education, and the elimination of ‘all preventable diseases in society’ so that we can say ‘in theory and in practice’ that we regard our ‘children as the jewels in our society’.
There are many good news stories that are signs of what we can achieve. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS welcomed today a $12 billion commitment by international partners to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The number of people killed by malaria has been cut by nearly half in Africa, an amazing step forward. An independent United Nations human rights expert recently ‘welcomed the release of 44 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar’, a small victory but each one of these 44 is part of a family and a community, and their release will be greeted with joy. President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz A. Henczel, stated that ‘The United Nations Human Rights Council has achieved significant progress in the past year, implementing an increasing number of mandates’. Successes were far-reaching and would have a dramatic impact on those it sought to protect. These included resolutions on ‘the elimination of early and forced marriages, the question of the death penalty, as well as the role of freedom of opinion and women’s empowerment’.
All these instances show that progress is possible and is happening right now. Of course there are countless stories of terrifying poverty, disease and human rights violations, but these should spur us on to do more. Obama said ‘Nelson Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas’. Aung San Suu Kyi Burma’s pro-democracy leader paid her tribute, Mandela ‘stood for human rights and for equality in this world. He also made us understand that we can change the world’. It is up to all who want to be part of a fitting legacy to take these words, and Mandela’s example to heart.
‘We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference’. (Nelson Mandela).
Photo: UN photo – Oliver Chassot