On 18 July 2020
Remarks by President Tarja Halonen
Nelson Mandela’s personality was exceptional. His legacy continues to inspire us and guide us in our aspiration towards more peaceful, fair and equal world.
When the basic principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights are being questioned and when some people and some politicians wish to turn inwards and be more protective of their self-interests, Mandela’s vision is becoming ever more important.
His vision did not concern just one nation but the whole world.
His example encourages to understand the importance of co-operation and solidarity.
The Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted five years ago, are based on an idea of “global partnership”. These goals form a holistic framework that guide the work of the global community as a whole – this means everyone of us – to more peaceful and prosperous world.
The SDGs are based on an idea that most pressing problems, including climate change, inequality or pandemics, cannot be solved by individual people or countries alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has perhaps opened the eyes of many people to see that big, “strong” nations or great military powers have not fared well in the fight against this pandemic. High levels of military spending have not guaranteed protection of health.
Money alone cannot buy security. Equality is at least as important. It builds basic confidence and trust in the society, which is needed especially in hard times. When people trust their leaders and institutions, they are more willing to follow the necessary regulations.
For this, we need wise leaders.
We also need co-operation and solidarity. There has been multilateral cooperation in funding research and development for an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19.
But, co-operation and solidarity is needed to make the vaccine available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. This is in the interest of the whole world.
COVID-19 can also teach us many lessons. Experiences from this pandemic could be useful for mitigation of climate change. If we want to learn.
I think that the most powerful key to empower people is education.
A just world means respect for human rights and this encompasses health, education and social security.
Mandela held a profound understanding that to create a stable and prosperous society; all its members must be able to have ownership over it. When people have a feeling of being equal, also the society, as a whole, is better off.
Education is not only a human right but it also increases the possibility of breaking deprivation and exclusion cycles and therefore, advancing equality.
This requires access to quality education without discrimination.
It also requires investment in life-long education and training as well as on gender equality. We need women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math and we need men and boys in caring professions. We cannot lose human potential to pointless gender stereotypes.
This has always been true, but today in the time of rapid changes, global challenges and need of strong international co-operation in trade and science; education is ever more needed.
Undemocratic society can easily be a breeding ground for violence.
Violence and conflict hinder us from achieving needed reforms, including the Sustainable Development Goals. Violence has cross-generational, deteriorating effects on society and social behavior. As Mandela said, “peace is the most powerful weapon that any community or nation can have for development”.
Conflicts are more complicated than ever before and need more inclusive solutions. Women’s participation in peace negotiations increases the sustainability and the quality of peace. But still, women continue to be largely excluded from peace processes.
Global economic inequality is another concern. Many people are angry and bitter – and for a good reason. We, as the global community have reached many dreams but economically, the world is less, and less equal.
There is no silver bullet. Solution can only be found in solidarity and co-operation.
It is important to rebuild international co-operation networks; defend United Nations and multilateral collaboration; and build trust among people within and between nations.
Truth and reconciliation, listening and being heard, and restoring the dignity of the people, were key elements in South Africa’s transformation to a democracy.
It is still a method that work and the objectives of the reconciliation process resonate today.
Overcoming past atrocities and oppression in our societies, whether it is colonialism, racism or other forms of discrimination, needs honesty and truthful dialogue – and understanding how the present continues to be shaped by the past. Truth can be painful but it is necessary.
And to conclude,
In his Nobel Peace Prize lecture Mandela referred to the global anti-apartheid movement “as people who recognized that an injury to one is an injury to all”.
While apartheid is history, racism and discrimination continue to plague our societies. It is our common duty to uproot them.
We are equal and we are valuable. And we have shared responsibility. Let’s work together!