Wed | Jul 17, 2019

Leaders honour Mandela at UN; his widow calls them to act

Published:Tuesday | September 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this June 27, 2013 file photo, large photographs of former South African President Nelson Mandela are displayed at the Nelson Mandela Legacy Exhibition at the Civic Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. The United Nations is seeking to harness the soaring symbolism of Mandela, whose South African journey from anti-apartheid leader to prisoner to president to global statesman is one of the 20th century's great stories of struggle, sacrifice and reconciliation. The unveiling of a statue of Mandela, born 100 years ago, with arms outstretched at the U.N. building in New York on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, opens a peace summit at the General Assembly. (AP Photo, File)
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar addresses the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters yesterday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)


World leaders looked to Nelson Mandela's legacy of championing peace, human rights and global cooperation but acknowledged that the world is far from achieving his ideals as the UN General Assembly's annual top-level meeting began Monday.

At a peace summit honouring the late South African leader, nations from around the world adopted a declaration recommitting to goals of building a peaceful, inclusive and fair world and "to revive the values for which Nelson Mandela stood" by emphasising human dignity. At the same time, they worried that the idea of taking multinational action to solve major problems is facing increasing doubt.

"As leaders of this time, you have moral imperative and the ability to bring the death and destructions we witness on a daily basis to an end," Mandela's widow, GraÁa Machel, told the heads of state and UN officials. She implored them to take on "ego-driven" decision-makers, political dogma, greed and the arms industry.

"Humankind will hold you accountable should you allow suffering to continue on your watch," she said.

The appeal for peace and collaboration comes as the UN's founding concepts of shared values and responsibility are being tested, from the 'America First' agenda of US President Donald Trump to the UK's impending divorce from the European Union and more.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Mandela's birth, and the UN is declaring 2019-2028 the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace. A US$1.8-million statue of a smiling Mandela with outstretched arms was unveiled at UN headquarters Monday.

Imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, Mandela became the international face of the struggle to end the country's apartheid system of white minority rule over the majority black population.

Four years after he walked out of jail, he became the country's first black president in its first multiracial elections. Over the ensuing decades, he became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and global statesman.

In a speech at the UN in 1994, he said its challenge was "to answer the question - given the interdependence of the nations of the world - what is it that we can and must do to ensure that democracy, peace and prosperity prevail everywhere?"

His question is all the more pressing now, UN leaders said.

"With human rights under growing pressure around the world, we would be well served to reflect on the example of this outstanding man," UN Secretary-General AntÛnio Guterres said.