Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the UN Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, UN General Assembly, 24 September 2018, New York, USA
Madam María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly,
Secretary General of the United Nations, António Gutteres,
Excellencies Heads of State and Government,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, allow me to express our humble appreciation to the United Nations convening this special summit in honor of the founding President of our democracy, Nelson Rolihahla Mandela.
In 1994, during his inaugural address to the UN General Assembly, President Mandela said:
“The great challenge of our age to the United Nations Organisation is to answer the question – given the interdependence of the nations of the world, what is it that we can and must do to ensure that democracy, peace and prosperity prevail everywhere!”
The signing of the United Nations Charter over 70 years ago took place in a world very different from our own.
It was a world still reeling from the clash of great powers in the Second World War that cost the lives of close to 5% of the world’s population at the time.
It is from this collective trauma that the United Nations was born.
Countries sought to reimagine a world where nations would cooperate rather than clash, and where friendly relations would lead to social progress, development and a better life for all.
For these noble ideas to be realised, however, they needed to find expression in the actions of those who took up the mantle of leadership at the most trying of times.
One such leader was born in the small village of Mvezo in the eastern parts of South Africa in 1918.
He would come to represent the hopes of millions of South Africans who dreamt of a life unshackled from a system that would limit their potential and stifle their possibilities based merely on the shade of their skin.
The story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, and the role played by leaders such as Nelson Mandela, is well known.
It is a story about humanity’s great capacity for goodness and hope.
It was this capacity that led to the establishment of the United Nations, which served as an important platform for the anti-apartheid movement, and which continues to be a platform for other struggles against oppression, war and global injustice.
Since the formation of the UN, the world has been faced with several crises that have tested the limits of diplomacy and the multilateral system.
Throughout these crises, the United Nations has endured as a force for stability and cooperation, and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
While has done much to ensure that the world would never go to war with itself again, the organisation faces more intricate and complex challenges.
Over the past seven decades, millions of people worldwide have been killed, maimed, displaced and starved as a result of war and conflicts.
Of these, women and children continue to bear a disproportionate burden.
While we have managed to avoid another world war, we continue to grapple with the haunting spectre of modern atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.
We are confronted by intra-state armed conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen; the protracted turmoil in Somalia and other parts of the African continent; and struggles for self-determination in Western Sahara and Palestine.
These reveal that the current threats to international peace and security result more from conflicts within states and the effect that these have across nations that have become increasingly interdependent, rather than the traditional conflicts between states.
Terrorism, transnational organised crime, illicit flows of finance and the growing number of refugees pose significant threats to global order.
No longer can we ignore the troubles of those in distant parts of the world, or fail to address the root causes of conflicts we often imagine are foreign to us.
To respond to these threats, we need a United Nations that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with challenges its founders could not have imagined.
It should not rely merely on the political interests of a few, as an impasse between the major powers often impedes the entire organisation’s ability to act.
Instead we should draw on the strength of the collective in resolving complex challenges.
The United Nations can only succeed to the degree that we, as global leaders, provide visionary leadership that transcends our ideological differences and narrow national interest.
Through this Peace Summit, the current generation of global leadership is given an opportunity not only to reflect on peace in the world, but to take those measures necessary to end the wars that continue to take millions of innocent lives.
We are called upon to act decisively to end the exposure of women and children to untold suffering including displacement, torture, rape, mutilation and murder.
We are called upon to ensure that women are afforded a special role in peace negotiations, political transition and in ensuring durable security.
We must be unanimous in our support for the work of the UN Secretary-General and the Executive Director for UN Women in ensuring that women take acentre stage on issues of peace and security and provide leadership in peace operations.
We welcome efforts towards achieving equal representation of women in leadership positions in UN peace missions.
In our search for peace, we dare not ignore the continued existence of weapons of mass destruction, whose capacity for human devastation is too dreadful to contemplate.
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, President Mandela address the UN General Assembly for the last time.
“We must ask a question, which might sound naïve to those who have elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction – why do they need them anyway?”
To this day, his question has been met with no satisfactory answer.
The truth is that there can be no justification for the existence of weapons that carry with them the potential to extinguish life on this planet.
We therefore applaud the adoption by the General Assembly last year of the groundbreaking Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
South Africa will soon deposit its instrument of ratification of this historic treaty.
We call on all peace loving states to ratify the treaty so that it comes into force without delay.
As we strive for peace, we cannot escape the reality that conflict and hostility have their roots in poverty, exclusion and marginalisation.
Unless we confront the conditions under which the poor of the world live, we will not succeed in building a peaceful and stable world.
It is for this reason that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is also very much an agenda for peace.
The Sustainable Development Goals entail a set of interdependent objectives whose fulfilment would be the ultimate act of conflict prevention.
We must ensure that the United Nations – in its form, operation and orientation – is able to maintain international peace and security, protect human rights and achieve sustainable development for all.
Today we are gathered as world leaders, representing the hopes of billions for a peaceful, prosperous world.
It is the desire for such a world that prompted this Peace Summit, to take stock of how the UN has performed in the pursuit of peace.
It provides a moment for us as heads of state and government to recommit ourselves to achieve the social and economic development necessary for the prevention of conflict.
It is an opportunity to pledge to each other and to our people our determination to seek peaceful solutions to our political differences; and to building peace in those countries emerging from the destruction of war, violence and the perpetuation of hate.
It is our deepest hope that this summit, in the name of one of our greatest exemplars of humanity, serves as a new dawn for the United Nations.
We hope the Summit will give expression to the Secretary-General’s call for a “surge in diplomacy”.
We hope we will rediscover the strength of will to save successive generations from war, and to overcome the hatred of our past and the narrow interests that blind us to the vision of a common future that is peaceful and prosperous.
We hope we will prove ourselves worthy as the bearers of the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency