Address by Nelson Mandela on receiving the "Roosevelt Freedom Award" for his for his fight against discrimination and for equal rights and opportunities for all

8 June 2002

Your Majesty
Your Royal Highnesses
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

To join such an illustrious list of former recipients of the Roosevelt Freedom Award is in itself an honour that elevates us to a station we would not have ascribed to ourselves.

To be found worthy of an award honouring the memory of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and associating one with the principles for which they stood and lived, humbles us. We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others; we humbly accept your award us a vindication of the better efforts of that life.

Conditions in the world make it as urgent and important as ever to emphasise, defend and promote those values that the Roosevelts embodied in their lives and work: the enduring pillars of democracy, the centrality of human rights and the value of multilateralism.

One would have wished that our world in the beginning of the twenty-first century were one where the four freedoms to which President Roosevelt pointed as democratic essentials were universally realised and celebrated. Instead, all over the world we find those freedoms wanting or under threat, and subsequently conditions in which human beings suffer severely.

It may be instructive to remind ourselves of those freedoms which President Roosevelt proclaimed as being essential for democracy to flourish: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

There is at times a tendency to view civil liberties as distinct from socio-economic rights. They are sometimes postulated as the more abstract part of democracy and as of less immediate relevance to the masses of people who are poor and in want. There can be no more forceful refutation of that false distinction than the manner in which President Roosevelt formulated the generic freedoms of democracy.

All over our globe we find large masses of the population subject to the most abject forms of poverty and deprivation: hunger, lack of adequate shelter, illiteracy and ignorance, and the ravages of preventable diseases.

The scientific, technological and industrial progress humankind has made over the last century, outstripping the cumulative results of all that went before, is mocked by this gross inequality in the world. We have the capacity to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and medically treat the population of the planet. Communications technology has brought us so close together that we can no longer claim ignorance of the want and suffering of anyone else anywhere in the world.

In too many parts of the world war and violent conflict still cruelly disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens - women, men and children merely wishing to pursue lives of basic decency and dignity. Instability, dislocation, insecurity and fear are the lot of too many for us to claim that we live in a world that has seen the ideals of democracy and freedom realised.

The people of our own continent, Africa, have suffered enormously and for long under the scourge of such wars and conflicts, and in spite of the progress we have made towards the peaceful resolution of disputes large parts of the continent are still in the grips of war and rebellion. That such violent and blood-shedding conflicts have over the last decade played themselves out in parts of Europe was a chilling reminder of how universal the inclination to destruction is. And the current apparent rise of an intolerant and xenophobic right wing in Western Europe does not send encouraging signs about us having entrenched the freedom from fear in the world.

Freedom of worship, in its most profound sense of respect for and tolerance of differences and the active ability and wish to co-exist, has assumed a relevance and topicality of some urgency in our current world.

One has to commend the efforts by world leaders - in the Western countries, the developing world and the Arab and Muslim countries - to avoid the aftermath of September 11th becoming divisive primarily along religious lines. The challenge to overcome and eradicate religious intolerance and polarisation, however, remains strongly before us in the modern world.

One may venture to say that together with poverty and its attendant forms of social deprivation, the rise of religious intolerance, polarisation and conflict represent the major threats to peace, stability and freedom in our world.

We have to recommit ourselves as a global community to the freedom of every person, group, persuasion or approach to express itself freely and unfettered within the agreed conventions of civility and respect for the rights of others. Our differences are our strength as a species and as a world community. The reach of globalisation is not in order to render us all alike or subject to the values and definitions of any single dominant mode. The so-called global village offers us the opportunity to share in the wealth of our diversity, while recognising and celebrating our common humanity.

We need to strengthen multilateralism as the way in which we relate to one another as nations and groups of nations in this shrinking globalised world. Our world body the United Nations, to whose establishment and workings the Roosevelts contributed so much in their different ways, must be supported as the leading agency in dealing with all matters of international concern. We cannot allow, for our common well being, that the unilateral interests of single nations or groups of nations dictate international conduct and affairs.

The existence of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the work that it does and these awards that it confers are testimonies to the on-going struggles by men and women all over the globe to indeed make of our world the better place it can be. All of humanity should be the active beneficiaries of the freedoms of which President Roosevelt spoke and the rights that Mrs Roosevelt worked so tirelessly to have contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We thank you for honouring us for work we could only have done with the co-operation of millions of comrades and compatriots, and with the support of the international community and our world body. You inspire us to continue to give of the best that we are capable of.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation