Nelson Mandela, Honoring a Human Rights Legacy

5 December 2013

President Nelson Mandela, champion of human rights. President Nelson Mandela, champion of human rights.

On December 5, 2013 throngs of people around the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, his inspiring words of freedom and equality still ringing in the air.

“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.”

This event leads our thoughts to the day the world saw Nelson Mandela’s release after 28 years of incarceration for opposition to the government of South Africa, illustrated in a firsthand account from his autobiography: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Indelibly marked in history as a distinguished anti-apartheid leader and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela lived to serve the people, and to uphold and bring about true human rights across South Africa and the world as seen in this speech addressing the roaring crowd of supporters upon his release from prison.

“Friends, Comrades and Fellow South Africans, I greet you in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people."

His impact echoes through all cultures, races and creeds with the message that everyone has the right to be treated equally. In that light Nelson Mandela spent 20 years directing a campaign of non-violent, peaceful resistance. He believed that, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

In 1993, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and on May 10, 1994, he was inaugurated as the first black President of South Africa and held office until 1999. Throughout his presidency he strived to bring about a change from apartheid and minority rule to one of a black majority in South Africa. In 1996, Mandela signed a new constitution, establishing a democratic government for South Africa, and guaranteeing freedom of expression and the rights of minorities.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela.

Similar to Nelson Mandela’s aims of bringing freedom, equality and all human rights to populations around the world, the purpose of Youth for Human Rights International is to teach youth about human rights, specifically the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and inspire them to become advocates for tolerance and peace. YHRI is a nonprofit organization founded in 2001. Its president, Dr. Mary Shuttleworth, is an educator born and raised in apartheid South Africa, where she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of discrimination and the lack of basic human rights. YHRI focuses on activities and projects to do with youth specifically because they are our future. YHRI has now grown into a global movement, including hundreds of groups, clubs and chapters around the world.