Nelson Mandela International Day

Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
on the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day 2016

We celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day every year to shine light on the legacy of a man who changed the 20th century and helped shape the 21st.

© UN photo/Eskinder Debebe, Amara Essy (left), of Cote d'Ivoire, President of the 49th session of the General Assembly, meets with President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. (3 October 1994)

This is a moment for all to renew with the values that inspired Nelson Mandela. Absolute determination. A deep commitment to justice, human rights and fundamental freedoms. A profound belief in the equality and dignity of every woman and man. A relentless engagement for dialogue and solidarity across all lines and divisions.

Nelson Mandela was a great statesman, a fierce advocate for equality, the founding father of peace in South Africa.

The red thread tying all of this together was an untiring, all-encompassing humanism. His was a vision of humanity as one, of women and men united around their essential dignity, brought together by their shared aspirations for a better world. 

Today, this message has never been so important for women and men across the world, struggling in societies undergoing deep transformation, and with so many facing the traumas of displacement and poverty. In times of turbulence, Nelson Mandela shows us the power of resisting oppression, of justice over inequality, of dignity over humiliation, of forgiveness over hatred.

As the world takes forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and strives to overcome new sources of adversity, let us recall the lessons of Nelson Mandela’s life, and the essential humanism that guided him:  

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

A UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and 1991 Laureate of the Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela’s legacy resonates with the mission of UNESCO, to empower all women and men on the basis of their equal rights and dignity, to promote dialogue and solidarity for justice and lasting peace. This action, this spirit has never been so important.

© UN photo/John Isaac, Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC), addressing the Special Committee against Apartheid. (24 September 1993)


                 Irina Bokova

About the Day

Every year on 18 July — the day Nelson Mandela was born — the UN joins a call by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to devote 67 minutes of time to helping others, as a way to mark Nelson Mandela International Day.

Official UN Website

Nelson Mandela International Day

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Related Information


Nelson Mandela was undoubtedly one of the great moral and political leaders of our time. He was revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. Nelson Mandela served as South Africa’s first democratically elected president from 1994 to 1999, overseeing his country’s transition from minority rule and winning international respect for promoting reconciliation. Since his retirement, he was active on behalf of a number of social and human rights organizations.

Source: Nelson Mandela