Secretary-General’s message to Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela Geneva, Switzerland, 17 December 2013

Geneva, Switzerland, 17 December 2013 – 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.