Address by President Nelson Mandela at a special commemorative meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on the ocassion of the 50th anniversary of the UN

23 October 1995

Mr President;
Mr Secretary-General;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

When distinguished leaders came together, half-a-century ago, to consign to the past a war that had pitted humanity against itself, the ruins and the smoke from the dying fires were the monument to what should not have been.

Fifty years after the formation of the United Nations, we meet to affirm our commitment to the founding ideal and the common desire to better the life of all human beings.

What challenges us, who define ourselves as states-persons, is the clarion call to dare to think that what we are about is people - the proverbial man and woman in the street. These, the poor, the hungry, the victims of petty tyrants, the objectives of policy, demand change.

What challenges us, is to ensure that none should enjoy lesser rights; and none tormented because they are born different, hold contrary political views or pray to God in a different manner.

We come from Africa and South Africa on this historic occasion to pay tribute to that founding ideal, and to thank the United Nations for challenge, with us, a system that defined fellow humans as lesser beings.

The youth at whom we have directed most of our awareness campaign on this golden jubilee, should marvel at the nobility of our intentions. They are also bound to wonder why it should be, that poverty still pervades the greater part of the globe; that wars continue to rage; and that many in positions of power and privilege pursue cold-hearted philosophies which terrifyingly proclaim: I am not your brother's keeper!

For, no one, in the North or the South, can escape the cold fact that we are a single humanity.

Mr President;

At the end of the Cold War, the poor had hoped that all humanity would earn a peace dividend, enabling this Organisation to address an expectation it was born to address. And they challenge us today to ensure their security not only in peace; but also in prosperity.

The changed world circumstances permit of neither the continued maldistribution of resources, nor the related maldistribution of decision-making power within this Organisation itself.

Indeed, the United Nations has to reassess its role, redefine its profile and reshape its structures. It should truly reflect the diversity of our universe and ensure equity among the nations in the exercise of power within the system of international relation, in general, and the Security Council, in particular.

We raise this matter to make the fundamental point that the agenda of the next century and the programme of action to promote it, can only be true to the purposes of this Organisation if they are set by all of us.

We must, without delay, constitute a new leadership for the new age, and bring sunshine into the hearts of billions, including women, the disabled and children!

Circumstances may tempt us to bend to the pressures of realpolitik. However, like the founders, we are faced with the task of ensuring the convergence of word and deed. Unlike them, the obstacles we face are fewer and the conditions more auspicious.

As the United Nations matures into the new millennium, it is called upon to facilitate the birth of a new world order of peace, democracy and prosperity for all.

Thus we can honour the memory of those who perished in pursuit of the founding ideal; and protect future generations from the pestilences of war, hunger, disease, ignorance and environmental degradation.

The time is now!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation