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As Nelson Mandela knew deeply, there is no fair future without human rights for all

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In marking 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed and 10 years since The Elders' founder Nelson Mandela passed away, Elders consider Mandela's legacy on freedom and equality, the state of human rights today, and the role of current leaders in ensuring human rights for all.

Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Chair of The Elders, said:


Graça Machel, founder of the Graça Machel Trust, co-founder and Deputy Chair of The Elders, said:

This 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be a moment of global reckoning. The blatant disregard for the protection of human rights enshrined in the Declaration is painfully visible in every corner of the globe. The world has achieved unprecedented levels of scientific and technological advances, yet millions are excluded from access to quality healthcare and education opportunities, and languish in extreme poverty in a world of plenty. Far too many of us are tormented by fear of persecution and death over our religion, gender, political view or sexual orientation.

The fundamental rights and freedoms in the Declaration are universal and a birthright of every single human being - without exception. As Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” As we commemorate 75 years of the Declaration, let us spare no effort to uphold the ethics of our world order and push until there is freedom, peace, justice, equality and dignity for all.

Hina Jilani, pioneering lawyer and human rights champion, said:

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must not forget that universal rights and freedoms can never be embodied and protected by declarations alone. It is people who protect human rights. It is people who force change, who claim their rights and who realise their freedoms. Without those willing to struggle for justice, the Declaration amounts to nothing more than an empty dream.

Nelson Mandela embodied the essence of the Declaration, steadfastly battling to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. His triumph remains a source of endless inspiration for human rights defenders around the world who risk their lives fighting against injustice today.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said:

Over the past 75 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has acted as a vital framework for advancements in human rights across the world. It has served as the bedrock for landmark constitutions, legal frameworks and treaties, enabled people to obtain justice, and enforced accountability for violence and impunity.

Yet, for all these developments, we are far from a world where dignity and equality are universal. As millions of people continue to have their rights denied and abused by autocratic and populist regimes, the wisdom and moral clarity contained in the Declaration remains essential. The Elders’ founder Nelson Mandela embodied this wisdom and leaders today should remember his example. We must not rest until all people can live in equality, dignity and freedom.


Visit our human rights hub to learn more.

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