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UN chief urges world to draw lessons from Nelson Mandela’s story to free prisoners of conscience


South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela revisiting his prison cell on Robben Island, Jan. 1, 1994. /VCG Photo

Governments around the world ought to draw lessons from the story of Nelson Mandela and free any prisoner of conscience, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday.

The UN chief made the remarks in his message ahead of the 2020 Nelson Mandela International Day, which will be marked on Saturday.

“Despite many years as a prisoner of conscience, Madiba retained his dignity and commitment to his ideals,” said Guterres.

“Let his example propel any governments that keep such prisoners to release them. There should be no prisoners of conscience in the 21st century.”

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The Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated annually on 18 July in honour of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The day coincides with his birthday, and was officially declared by the UN in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010.

In his remarks, Guterres urged the world to fall back to the ideals exhibited by Mandela in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 13.5 million people and killed over 584,000.

“We mark this day at a time when the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic endangers everyone, everywhere, and especially the most vulnerable. In the face of these challenges, world leaders need to recognize the vital importance of unity and solidarity,” said Guterres.

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FILE PHOTO: A sculptor makes a sand sculpture depicting late South African President Nelson Mandela on July 17, 2015 at the North Beach in Durban, on the eve of Nelson Mandela International Day. /VCG Photo

The UN chief hailed Mandela as a person who embodied the highest values of the United Nations and who took action and inspired change.

Imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against white minority rule, Mandela emerged as South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, and grew to become a global symbol of peace and unity.

“Madiba was a moral giant of the 20th century, whose timeless legacy continues to guide us today,” said Guterres.

The theme of the 2020 Nelson Mandela International Day is “Take action, inspire change”.

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