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It’s impossible to imagine a world without Mandela. His death will leave a massive hole, not just in South Africa but around the world.
He was a truly global leader who repeatedly rejected every injustice in the cause of human rights. He simply refused to accept injustice — and his courage helped change our entire world.
Mandela’s life of political struggle and self-sacrifice became and remains an example to millions around the globe.
In November 2006, Amnesty International declared Nelson Mandela an ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ in recognition of his work over many years of speaking out against human rights abuses not just in South Africa but around the world.
Accepting the award Mandela said: “Like Amnesty International, I have been struggling for justice and human rights, for long years. I have retired from public life now. But as long as injustice and inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. We must become stronger still.
On the same occasion the organization presented Nelson Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Foundation with five volumes of public reports and campaigns issued by Amnesty International between the 1960s and 1994 on human rights abuses in South Africa.
In accepting the Ambassador of Conscience award, Nelson Mandela graciously acknowledged Amnesty International’s contribution in the fight for human rights — despite the controversial decision taken in the organization’s early years not to adopt him as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ — someone imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of his or her beliefs.
That decision came in 1964 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial for offences relating to the ANC’s decision to move towards armed struggle against the apartheid regime.
This meant that Amnesty International’s members could not campaign for his automatic release as non-violent prisoner of conscience, as they had done when he had previously been sentenced to five years imprisonment for leaving the country illegally and “inciting” people to strike.
The decision followed a prolonged and heated internal debate within Amnesty International and was commented upon by the then-Secretary General of the organization:
“We recognize, with great sympathy, that where a Government has shown itself contemptuous of the Rule of Law and impervious to peaceful persuasion, that those to whom it has denied full human rights as set out in the United Nations Declaration, may feel or find themselves forced into a position in which the only road to freedom is violence. Such people, though they cannot qualify for adoption as Prisoners of Conscience within the definition of Amnesty International, can be, and often are, our active concern on humanitarian grounds.”
Of course human rights law is not a fixed quantity and as it has evolved so has Amnesty International’s approach, since calling for the release of prisoners charged with offences which violate the principle of legality and who have been subjected to unfair trials in a context of political repression.
Unjust systems cannot deliver just verdicts or just sentences. The justice system in which Mandela was tried under apartheid was founded on racism and did not provide him with a fair trial, nor could it possibly have done so.
Posted By: Kumilachew Gebremeskel Ambo