Building on Mandela's vision

Kamal Uddin Ahmed | Published: September 28, 2018 21:51:01 | Updated: October 01, 2018 19:50:51

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa, centre, and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, left, attend the unveiling ceremony of the Nelson Mandela Statue which was presented as a gift from the Republic of South Africa on September 24, 2018, at United Nations headquarters in New York. —Photo: AP

This year (2018) marks the centennial of the birth of the iconic leader late Nelson Mandela. He was the first democratically elected President of South Africa, "a giant of history" and the global doyen of peace and justice. The UN General Assembly specially sponsored the "Nelson Mandela Peace Summit" on September 24, 2018, a day before the inauguration of the seventy-third session at the UN headquarters in New York.

Attended by nearly 100 heads of State and Government and representatives of the civil society, the high-level plenary meeting focussing on Nelson Mandela and world peace took place in accordance with General Assembly resolution 72/243 adopted on December 22, 2017. Prior to the Summit, a statue of Mandela, presented to the UN by the government of South Africa, was unveiled.

The summit had two main objectives. First, to honour and celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela and, second, renew the pledge and duty of the UN member States to revive and apply his values for the establishment of global peace and prosperity. Along with top UN officials, several heads of State and Government and the Chair of the African Union Commission addressed the Summit.

While opening the peace Summit, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the General Assembly said, "Throughout Mandela's life, he was always guided by the principles that are the bedrock of the United Nations, including the values of peace, solidarity, cooperation and respect for all humans."

She also stressed that Mandela's legacy symbolises "a light of hope for a world still torn apart by conflict and at the mercy of threats such as the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, tensions between nations with nuclear arms, land disputes and the oppression of minorities."

Addressing the Summit, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remembered Mandela as "one of humanity's great leaders" who embodied the highest values of the United Nations. He urged the leaders of today to draw encouragement from Mandela's values, wisdom, courage and determination to face the evil forces threatening the world.

Most speakers from African countries shared how Mandela played an important role in strengthening democracy and human rights. They noted that he had inspired generations to struggle against oppression and injustice.

In fact, a great tribute was paid to Mandela who moved his nation towards justice, equality and reconciliation. Mandela belongs to all ages and represents a beacon of hope for the people of the conflict-ridden nations across the world. His life-long dedication to fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. His autobiography titled, "Long Walk to Freedom" is certainly one of the exceptional depictions of his relentless struggle, sacrifice and reconciliation.

At the UN Mandela Peace Summit, the member States adopted a historic political declaration centred around the values and morals of Nelson Mandela. Thus, the UN declared the period from 2019-2028 as the "Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace" calling upon world leaders to intensify efforts in pursuance of international peace and security, development and human rights. The declaration reaffirmed that the ideals of Mandela be revived by placing human dignity at the core of all actions in the forthcoming decade.

The leaders also firmly committed to demonstrate mutual respect, tolerance, understanding and reconciliation in their relations. Moreover, the global leaders promised: "We resolve to move beyond words in the promotion of peaceful, just, inclusive and non-discriminatory societies, stressing the importance of the equal participation….for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security."

The declaration recognised the celebrated qualities like "humility, forgiveness and compassion" that made Mandela an unrivalled humanitarian. They related these qualities with UN's vital goals of disarmament, peace-building, conflict prevention, protection of human rights and poverty alleviation.

The declaration also recognised that "the world has changed significantly" since the founding of the United Nations, and conceded that "global peace eludes us to this day." However, the declaration carried a positive message i.e. "we must make the impossible possible." They appreciated South Africa for unilaterally dismantling its nuclear weapons programme as well as Mandela's call for "total elimination of nuclear weapons" from the world.

However, Mandela's vision and relentless efforts for a nuclear weapons free, democratic, tolerant and discrimination-free world with social justice still remains unrealised. Besides renewed power tensions and trade disputes, international peace and security is continuously threatened by violent conflicts and genocides in different parts of the world. Mandela's centenary is a reminder to us all that we must stand up for the most vulnerable and prepare a future that works for all.

Therefore, mere declarations and pledges by the UN are not enough. These must not remain in empty talks of the Summit. Moving beyond the pledge, determined and sincere efforts by the member States are needed to carry out the unanimous Summit resolutions and responsibilities to conflict prevention and resolution, peace-building and protection of human rights that Mandela had envisioned. There lies the significance of the UN affirmed "Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace" for a better, inclusive and fair world. These sincere efforts will indeed bein line with Mandela's urge to "walk the last mile together" in the pursuit of peace and social justice.

Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.

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