Building peace in the minds of men and women

Nelson Mandela International Day

Message from the Director-General

In 2018, the international community will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela’s birth. Nelson Mandela will continue to be remembered as one of the political giants of the 20th century. Five years after his death, the world misses the courage and vision of this freedom fighter, leader and unifier who changed history.

In his legendary speech delivered at the Rivonia Trial in South Africa in 1964, Nelson Mandela said “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. 

His mission as an anti-apartheid revolutionary was establishing equality and freedom for all women, men and children. He stood for the fundamental rights of all human beings, regardless of gender, nationality or race. This is also the very ideal for which Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years. Despite his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela continued to believe in these ideals, and upon his release, continued to put them into practice.

In 1990, he said “The real makers of history are the ordinary men and women (…), their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom”. 

In 2018, we are these men and women. We have a big task ahead to ensure that we leave no one behind, and to continue the work of this great man. This is the ideal that is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By adopting this Agenda, UNESCO Member States have committed to eradicating poverty, fighting inequality, building peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies, and securing the future of the planet and the wellbeing of future generations.

In this context, the call for UNESCO has never been so urgent. Our Organization remains committed to international cooperation rooted in the rights and responsibilities of all nations. 

Mandela’s life will continue to be a great source of inspiration for defenders of fundamental human rights across countries and across generations.


Audrey Azoulay, Director-General
Message on the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day