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Commemoration in honour of Nelson Mandela

17 December 2013
Commemoration in honour of Nelson Mandela

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Commemoration in honour of the former
President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela

Palais des Nations, Room XX
Tuesday, 17 December 2013 at 11:00 a.m.

Mr. Secretary-General
Ambassador Minty
Distinguished Representatives of the African Union
and the Regional Groups

It is truly a privilege to welcome you to this commemoration at the Palais des Nations to honour the life and achievements of the former President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela. I thank you all for being part of this special moment. I extend a warm thank you to my friend Ambassador Minty for having joined me in the initiative to enable us all here today to pay collective tribute to this giant of history.

I would first of all like to ask you to stand with me as we observe a minute of silence to pay our respects to Mr. Mandela.

Thank you.
As we have been reminded over the past weeks, Nelson Mandela touched the lives of people across the world – regardless of background and circumstances. His example gave hope to millions of Africans and inspired the entire world.

Today, we bring together the international community in Geneva, represented here on the podium through the coordinators of the five regional groups, for a global tribute to Mr. Mandela that reflects the extent and depth of the admiration for him.

It is a special honour to have with us Nelson Mandela’s friend and peer, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who not only shared a deep personal bond with the late President but also embodies the unique relationship between Mr. Mandela and the United Nations, formed in the collective struggle against apartheid and consolidated in the efforts to build a democratic South Africa, rooted in the rule of law and respect for the human rights of all.

It is now my pleasure to present to you the message of the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for our commemoration:

“I am honoured to join with all of you in paying tribute to the remarkable life and legacy of the late former President Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela was a singular figure on the global stage -- a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.

Just months after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela came here to the Palais des Nations in Geneva to deliver his first address to a United Nations audience. In his remarks to the 1990 International Labour Conference, he spoke of how he and his fellow political prisoners “drew inspiration” from the world’s support throughout the long and difficult struggle to help end the evil of apartheid.

In truth, it was Nelson Mandela who inspired us with his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways. At the same time, no one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations.

Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of his people and humanity, and he did so at great personal sacrifice. Remarkably, he emerged from 27 years of detention without rancor, determined to build a new South Africa based on dialogue and understanding.

Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us -- if we believe, dream and work together. Let us continue each day to be inspired by his lifelong example and his call to never cease working for a better and more just world.”

That was the end of the Secretary-General’s message.

Working at the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid in the 1980s, I am privileged to have met Mr. Mandela on several occasions. Each meeting with him left impressions for a life-time. His charisma, together with his ability to empathize with whoever he spoke to and to command respect with his genuine humility, was unique. I feel today a deep sense of personal loss, shared by millions who did not meet him in person – a testimony to the remarkable calibre of Nelson Mandela – as a leader, as a champion of national reconciliation and, most importantly, as an outstanding human being.

Mr. Mandela always remained true to his ideals. With steely determination, he never lost sight of his overall goal: a society in which all people are treated equally and fairly. Respect for human rights was at the centre of his political philosophy. His contribution to humanity goes beyond the African continent, beyond the fight for an individual country and beyond his time – his struggle was universal in scope and importance.

History has given us only few leaders of the moral stature, dignity, compassion and vision of Nelson Mandela. When they do come along, it is our solemn obligation to ensure that their achievements and legacy endure. With our commemoration today, we accept that obligation and pledge to continue his quest for a better world. All of us in the United Nations family in Geneva are committed to this quest.

Thank you very much for being with us today at this very important event.