NELSON MANDELA AND THE STRUGGLE FOR UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS
By René Wadlow
It is appropriate that a major part of the commemoration for Nelson Mandela should fall on December 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mandela was both a major actor in developing human rights in South Africa and a symbol of the worldwide struggle for the respect of human rights. Pressure from human rights groups worldwide played an important part in his release from prison in 1990 as well as bringing an end to the deeply entrenched system of apartheid that enforced racial segregation in every aspect of South African life.
The efforts on the part of the Afrikaner-led National Party Government to enforce apartheid and to prevent opposition had led to many violations of human rights in South Africa: limits on press and expression, on the freedom of association, and the right to fair trial. Therefore, the dismantling of the apartheid system was a necessary pre-requisite for the establishment of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Nelson Mandela led the efforts to end apartheid, a victory without the blood bath that so many had predicted and feared. He led on the path of constructive reconciliation and an inclusive society.
There is still much to do to develop equality of opportunity in South African society. Years of discrimination, of lack of education and training, of lack of access to resources leave deep structural divides. However, much has been undertaken, and South Africa has the potential to be an economic and political leader in Africa.
Nelson Mandela is an example of courage and conviction to secure human rights, both in his own country and worldwide, an example of the long and continuing efforts needed for human freedom.
Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.